Having a home is important.
When we started out on our trip, we found a certain amount of humor in the fact that we were officially unemployed and homeless. As time went on, though, we came to realize we weren't acutally homeless at all. We find ourselves a new home in every city and town we visit.
The first thing we do in each new home is to "nest" there: sticking photos of our loved ones on the mirror, putting our clothes away in the dresser, layout our toiletries out neatly on a shelf in the bathroom. These little things go a long way into turning a hostel room into a place you can call home for a week. And having a home is important.
Once the room you're staying in feels like your home, you have a place to escape to when the world outside the window gets too noisy or overwhelming. You have a place to go when you can't handle not understanding anything anyone is saying, or you want to be able to relax without anyone trying to sell you anything. Once you have a place like that to retreat to, the world outside the window isn't so intimidating anymore.
But you have to find the right place first. It has to be something in your price-range, obviously, but it has to be much more than that too, if it's going to be able to be a home. It has to be bright and clean, a place where you actively enjoy spending time, and it has to feel safe and friendly. Finding a place that fits all those requirements can be a challenge. And it tends to be the first thing you have to do when you get to a new town, before you know your way around, before you've had a chance to slip off your backpack.
Case in point: Istanbul.
When we first got to Istanbul, we were filled with excitement and wonder. Turkey was, without a doubt, the most exotic country by far we'd be visiting until we hit Southeast Asia. And after seven months of Spanish and English, there was something exciting about being in a place where neither of us spoke a lick of the language. We couldn't wait to get started.
It was on the train from the airport to the tourist district of Sultanhamet that I started to feel a little overwhelmed. The skies were dark and threatening to rain, and I was exhausted from jetlag and adrenaline fatigue. I desperately wanted to be able to take off my backpack and slide into bed somewhere, until I was ready to face Istanbul. I fervently hoped we'd find somewhere to stay quickly.
Alas, it was not to be so. The Lonely Planet guide we have is a couple of years old (it turns out they just released a new edition, dammit), and its descriptions and price listings for the first dozen places we checked out were way off. We were under a little bit of a budget crunch at the time, and had cut Italy and much of Greece under the assumption that Turkey would be a lot cheaper. Moreover, we had a flight booked out of Athens on December 20th, and needed to be able to stay in Turkey comfortably for a couple of months. In that first hour or two checking out hostels, we started to worry that we'd made a horrible mistake. (Well, ok, I started to worry. Jessica was positive and supportive during my moment of panic.)
And then we found a home.
Just a five-minute walk from the Hippodrome, Aya Sofia, and the Blue Mosque, there's a place called the Türkman Hotel and Pension. We found a room there that we instantly knew would be our home for the next week or two. It was bright and clean and felt comletely safe. The staff were friendly and welcoming, especially the clerk behind the desk, who looked a lot like Joey from Friends and who would spend the next fortnight teaching us a couple of words of Turkish every day. The room had cable TV, air-conditioning and a mini-fridge, splashy luxuries that we were thrilled to find falling within our budget. And then there was the view.
We had a huge balcony, and it looked out onto the Sea of Marmara. We could see the shores of Asia to our left, Europe to our right, and dozens and dozens of ships docked in the harbor before us. But most spectacularly, directly in front of us, between us and the sea, was a breathtakingly beautiful 500-year-old mosque.
We were home.
We checked in, slipped off our bags, and took a nice long nap. We were awoken by the sounds of singing, and stumbled out onto our balcony to hear the Muslim call to prayer, ringing out from "our" mosque and from the hundreds of others in Istanbul. Each mosque sang its own song, and they echoed through the city as sky began to darken into evening. We were rendered speechless by the beauty of it all.
Istanbul was an exciting new part of our adventure, and we couldn't wait to begin exploring it. In the two weeks that followed, we fell in love with it, and with Turkey itself.
And it never would have happened if we hadn't found that home.
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