Sunday 15th February 2015.
It was now 12.50am and my first impression was that this is a crazy airport, beautiful but at the same time very hectic.
We were all over the place trying to find a taxi and it was now 2:00 am. As we finished getting our cash out, we found the main entrance and came out of the airport gates. A few guys approached us giving us different rates but we were so tired at that point all we wanted to do was sleep. After debating I just said to my brother “let’s just do it”. We got out to the main parking and a guy took us to a shared taxi and said 70 liras which equals to 25 euros roughly. We were now on our way to Istanbul.
The driver was mad, texting, phoning whilst driving and I really thought we were going to crash. I prayed all the way until we arrived safe. Al hamdulilah.
We simply entered the hotel and straight away presented our passports, the reservation was on my name and the receptionist wanted to keep our passports to fill in his paperwork but I said: “no” just make a photocopy. He was a bit shocked but I didn’t really care.
I woke up quite early on that morning for breakfast but I really didn’t want to come out of bed. I was just so low on energy I had to force myself. This day was one of the craziest days I’ve had in a while.
We started walking in opposite way and first thing I did was taking my camera out to load a fresh roll of Kodak Portra 160.
The more we walked the more we discovered more beautiful architecture.
What I loved about Istanbul is the fact that some places looked so much like Tokyo!
It was true that the more you walk the more you feel confused and feel like you are stuck in a place where Asia, Europe and the Middle East meet.
At some point we got lost and asked a brother if he knew where Suleymanye Camii (mosque) was and he said it was the other way so we have to walk back. He offered tea but we were on a mission so we have to just carry on our journey.
The buses looked so beautiful and old with so much character which is something that really strikes your attention.
As we walked we heard the Adhaan (call for prayer) so we stopped in Sehzade Camii to pray Dhuhr.
We felt so much better after Salat. We proceeded to walk further and felt really hungry but we were quite anxious about the food as we didn’t know anything about it. We then found a little cafe called the “Sultan Ahmet” cafe which boasted a lovely salad counter and the smell of the grilled food just attracted us quicky. We ate there the food was stunning and very satisfying so I told my brother that from now this is where where I will be eating. The brother who was serving us was a brother from Syria who had fled his country to escape the war and to find a better place in Turkey. He was Muslim and Kurdish and his family was from Alep.
We finished the food and thanked them for their hospitality. We made our way to the Masjid again to pray Asr.
I realised that there were also so many errant cats, I saw this beautiful cat hiding behind the bushes with the greenest eyes ever.
We continued our journey after spending time in the Arab district then all of sudden all I could hear was ambulances or police. A brother came out of his car and in a hurry started speaking Arabic to me. I said: “No” not from here. He thought I was Arab. He said in English, “please don’t go towards the East side of the city, there is a fight between Kurds and Arabs”. He kindly advised me to take another route and to be careful.
It was at that time that we decided to go home as we were so tired.
Back at the hotel we tried to plan our trip for the next day but we fell asleep and three hours later we woke up to the sound of the Adhaan, we quickly done wudhu and walked to the masjid, we realised that there was always 10 minutes between Adhaan and Iqaama! So we proceeded to the Sehzade Masjid.
We felt kind of weak because of the traveling it really took its toll on us.
We left the masjid and tried to find a place to eat but it was sunday night and all the restaurants were closed which was quite sad. It was 8.20pm and we hadn’t had food for a long time so my head was spinning. I told you I was not well so at that point I was really down as I couldn’t even enjoy any of this trip.
We walked from the University of Istanbul all the way to Aksaray where we found the Sultan Ahmet cafe closed. It was a real disappointment but we had to carry on looking so we continued trolling a good 500 meters and saw this beautiful place written in Arabic and I got drawn to it. A brother (waiter) said: “Come in my brothers”, we were so happy to see that it was Arab food and that the light was cool and we were so hungry. Usually that puts me off when people ask me to go in but this brother had so much class and character it was impossible for me to say no. Masha Allah.
He started by asking me in English: ” Where are you from?” I replied: “London”, He suddenly grabbed my arm and shoulder and said: “You telling me the truth?” I started laughing and said: “Why would I lie”? He said: “Sorry people here love English people and we all would love to go there”.
The brother’s name was Aladdin and he likes to be called Alaa. He sat us down and went through the menu with us as it was written in Arabic. He called his friend Medhat who began to converse with us in English. Alaa said he was feeling shy because he thought his English was poor. His English was awesome.
Medhat read me like a book he said I was either Arab or Black with a dash of Pakistani lol, he knew I was from North London near Finsbury Park (he said:” your clothes style says it all” haha). I told him we were originally from Mauritius and we started chatting. He explained to us the life in Istanbul.
My brother took a different meal to mine, I then asked Alaa a sensitive question and I apologised for it. I asked him what life was like in Syria (he mentioned that he was from Damascus) and told me that he had to flee the country as it began to be so unstable because of Assad’s regime. He flew to Turkey to find a better life. He was so distressed about it but at the same time very passionate. May Allah give him Jannah
At that very moment I began to be passionate about his story and my heart started to break. I nearly cried. We turned our heads to the TV in the restaurant and we saw the Kaaba in Mecca and uttered: ” Insha Allah we will get there one day”. We all replied: “Ameen”.
Yassir, another brother from Syria then came to join us and we chatted for a few more hours. I was laughing so much and having so much fun. Alaa said: “these guys Medhat (from Egypt) and Yassir (Syria) are my family, I don’t have any family but you two (my brother and I) are my family too”.
We told him: “you are family too, we are one Ummah”. He hugged us and I nearly cried, never once in my life have I felt so close to the Ummah and my love for it was so big.
This trip began to be spiritually moving.
We finished the meal and enjoyed a last cup of Turkish tea because the restaurant was closing and it was about 12.15am.
Yassir told us that he will take us to Taksim tomorrow to plan our journey for the week. Medhat is in tourism so he knew what to do.
Although difficult this was a beautiful day. Al hamdulilah