on traveling Turkey

Istanbul – Outside the Fishbowl

I’m here in Istanbul and it’s chilly. After 3 weeks in wintry Ukraine and a few more days here, I am tired of the cold. My head is cold. Today I will make it my main priority to find a Turkish Bath and warm these bones of mine.

I’ve been struggling a little bit here. Something in me just doesn’t like being a tourist, and so far that’s pretty much what I’ve been. I’ve wanted to spend more time in a mosque but haven’t figured out how to do that yet as the culture is something I don’t understand. I went to a large one yesterday, The Blue Mosque, but was cordoned off with all the other tourists. I did kneel in front of a huge pillar there and meditated for awhile which was really nice. I quickly felt more centered in my spiritual body than I have in a while.

The Turks here are actually very friendly and I found it very refreshing to navigate the public transportation system from the airport to my hotel and enlist the help of several people along the way, all of whom were courteous and seemed to go the extra kilometer in being helpful (calling my hotel, asking others questions on my behalf, bringing me to the right place, etc.). It was a marked distinction from Ukraine where I often felt more isolated when alone in public, due in part to the language barriers, and also just the willingness to help there seemed a little lacking.

Another thing that has become clear again for me while here is that I really hate being sold something. It has always bothered me. When I am more centered in my being, then I can smile and be non-reactive, but in general here, I feel a little disoriented and out of my body so the selling efforts I encounter can be a little difficult. It’s almost impossible here to look at a menu in a window or look at food on display without someone trying to grab your elbow, bring you inside the restaurant and sit you down. I’m also a little tired of people being my friend only wanting to bring me to their “family business.”  I remember now it was the Turkish shop owners in India last year that I found to be the most bothersome because it’s always about being your best friend and then trying to gouge you. Luckily I’m not much of a shopper so it’s easy to simply say that I’m not buying anything.. I need badly to stay out of the tourist areas, and yesterday I just kept walking and walking and walking until I managed to find a real neighborhood. Had a fun time interacting through a fence with children in a school playground, and seeing life unfolding in it’s own unique way here. I eventually ended up in clothing market where there would be a block or two of children’s clothes, then a block of underwear, then a block of robes and pajamas, then several sock stores,etc…. There were thousands of stores, everyone selling large inventories of stuff but very few people shopping. Seemed a little strange.

I always seem happiest when I am settled in to a place and can just be a more harmonious component of the life there than when I am seen and treated as consumer. My favorite travel times this past year were in Tiruvannamalai, India where I lived for several weeks, in Chamba, in the north of India with Shanti where for about 10 days we just fell into a groove with the local markets, spending time in England with different friends, and this recent time spent in L’viv with an extended time in an apartment with a kitchen in which to prepare food. As I look for the commonalities of these more positive experiences, not only was I more settled in to these places, but I also was with other people. I guess it’s true for me that I am happiest when I am more closely connected to other people. I think some of you may see me as a solo traveler, but in truth I am much happier in a place with more contact with people, and actually love traveling with a partner. Perhaps this is related to my struggle with Istanbul a little as well, since I am more disconnected from people here.. Sometimes too, I simply don’t connect with a place. Last summer, I really just didn’t connect with Budapest. Not sure why, but I very much felt like I do here, like I’m on the outside of the fishbowl looking in.

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