If someone had shown me a picture of the Bosphorus strait before I saw it in person, I would have dissed it as photoshopped; how can a water body in the middle of a major city retain such a cobalt blue color? Istanbul is full of surprises that way, and as I walk to the shore of the Bosphorus through a by-lane of Sultanahmet, the old city, I find myself smiling. Turkish women, wearing colorful head scarves, are picnicking in the park overlooking the blue waters. Their men are precariously balancing themselves on the big rocks along the shore, fishing with such enthusiasm as I haven’t seen before.
4 days ago, I landed on the azure blue waters of Istanbul, with starry eyed dreams of my first Middle Eastern experience. Between thanking Turkish Airlines for sponsoring my flight tickets and tying several lose ends before my first international trip after a 10 month hiatus in India, I had almost no time to delve into the depths of Google and form pre-conceived notions of the country. And I’m glad for that, because how can one even begin to imagine that ancient Asian traditions can reside within European influences with perfect harmony, without experiencing it first hand?
For an eternity, I’ve dreamt about cooling off in a hamam, having real Turkish pide & shisha on a rooftop cafe, hot ballooning over the caves of Cappadocia, having Turkish tea with the locals, catching some sun on the Medditeranian coast, placing one foot in Europe & the other in Asia, traversing the Black Sea coast, and falling in love with the half ancient half modern city of Istanbul. The closest I’ve been to Turkey so far is Arab street in Singapore, and I’m pretty sure that even with its rustic ambiance, carpet shops, and late night shisha cafes, it doesn’t come close.
Four years and several trips later, I can tell you that most first timers don’t get Europe right. I hear all the time from people who want to squeeze 3 countries in one week, hop from city to city and museum to museum, and stick to the food they know. Europe to me is about letting go off of these notions. As with anywhere else in the world, Europe is as much about charm of its countryside villages as it is about the grandeur of its cities. It is about people-watching from small cafes serving up farm-to-table food. It is about losing yourself in the cobblestoned streets, speaking a different language for a few days, and embracing a culture that has long enticed poets and writers. From the complexities of the Schengen visa to reliable travel resources, I’ve compiled travel tips to save you ‘basic research’ time on Google: Get a Schengen Visa and be smart about it. Getting a European tourist visa is perhaps the most complicated when you hold an Indian passport, but there’s a method …
This is the 1st post of my Travel Secrets series. If you don’t know me personally, you’ve probably wondered how I afford my travels, where I find the time, the company or the inspiration to travel, and whether my parents are okay with it (it is safe to assume that most Indian parents won’t be). I have hereby decided to come clean with my secrets in a new series that I’m not very creatively calling ‘Travel Secrets’, and I hope to inspire you to follow your dream to travel the world.
I walk out of the room, letting the door creak behind me and reveal its age yet again. The sun has finally gone into hiding behind the clouds, and I’m hopeful it won’t appear again to snatch the relief from the heat. Lost in my thoughts, I find myself at the entrance to the tea gardens and staring at the very white hair of a lady in a wheelchair, with her back towards me. It takes me a minute to recollect myself, and another to realize that she must be the heiress of this massive 150-year-old tea estate.
The idea of travelling solo is often laced with thoughts of loneliness, and fairly so; we humans thrive in company and travel is no exception. Stings of loneliness strike at the most unlikely moments on the road – the nostalgia of a familiar song, a face that reminds you of someone you know, a thought that would’ve sounded better aloud.