I’m sitting in my hotel room in Sirkeci – a busy neighbourhood in the old city of Istanbul. The face of my hotel is head on to a street of cafes and restaurants and I’ve tuned to the ebb and flow of diners over the past hour or so. It’s late afternoon and the rattle of dishes and conversation is slightly hushed. The ding-ding and rumble of the passing tram remains a constant as does the roaring of taxi engines fighting uphill on the narrow, cobbled lanes and the rattle of suitcase wheels being tugged across stones.
Most of our tour group dispersed last night or this morning. We few stragglers have plans to meet for dinner later for a last hurrah. I’ve packed and re-packed and I’m pretty well ready to head out in the morning and bid a final farewell to Turkey and to Istanbul.
Two weeks has turned out to be sufficient time to turn a group of 16 strangers into a team of sorts. I’m pretty certain that many of us will stay in touch somehow, despite distance. Social media definitely facilitates that these days – but I have a much older model for how that might work. I had a great aunt who traveled extensively. Aunt Ferne was eccentric, certainly, but a pretty gutsy lady nonetheless. I’m not sure how many foreign countries she visited but it was an impressive number and over the years she had met hundreds of travel companions. Each Christmas she would spend weeks addressing her yearly greetings to these friends and sometimes along the way would encounter them in a different corner of the world. This was long before Facebook, so I remain hopeful that this fleeting connection with a wonderful group of travellers isn’t at an end.
Last night at dinner – and again at breakfast – I listened to my companions review their feelings about Turkey and our trip together. The word that occurred most in these reflections was ‘surprised’ -and pleasantly so. Before departure, some of them were near to changing their plans because of friends’ or family’s trepidation about traveling in this area – and every one of them seems eager to encourage those friends to come here to see for themselves. I loved hearing these reactions, because I keep falling in love with this country over and over; it’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my affections.
Just before the tour, I was thinking that I might have exhausted my travel plans for Turkey. By now, I imagined, I would have seen pretty well everything that I had hoped to see and it might be time to set sail for some other destination. Instead, the little I’ve seen makes me ever more conscious of how little I’ve seen. This vast and varied and complex country holds both the mystery of the unknown and the certainty of dear friendships, continuously calling me back. I could happily explore for many years to come.
One last goodbye then – but there’s comfort in knowing it’s not a final one. Farewell, Turkey, see you later. Insha’Allah.