My new hotel in Istanbul, the Alp Guesthouse, was a small and wonderfully charming place in this city of more than 12 million. In fact, urban sprawl has created an Istanbul larger in area than the state of Rhode Island and with a bigger population than Greece or Belgium. My hotel was made up of just fourteen newly-refurbished rooms in a small Ottoman-style, wood-paneled, four-story house (almost similar to some American colonial wood houses). It sits on a side street in Sultanahmet, the old quarter of Istanbul between the Blue Mosque and the mighty Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea and eventually, the Mediterranean.
My room was a calm oasis with a queen canopy bed with white fluffy sheets, dark wood floors and trim, and a newly marble-tiled bathroom. It had a lovely large window overlooking the ‘backyard’ with all the delights of spring–green leafy trees full of chirping birds set against a nearly constant deep blue sky. Just beyond the trees was a reminder of the city I was in–an old brick mosque, small in comparison to others around Istanbul, topped with a tall stone minaret tower that bellowed the calls to prayer five times a day. It was lovely to look at, but the loud operatic chants at 4:45am were quite the alarming wake-up call that certainly had me jumping from bed to ‘pray’ they would stop.
Murat was the soft-spoken hotel owner. In the three weeks I stayed there, I think we spoke a total of five minutes to each other. He only had two other guys that worked the front desk—Eren and Mustafa. Eren was a tall, dark, good-looking younger guy who seemed book smart, but acted pretty immature. He would greet me daily with a kind of boyish pout, wondering why I wasn’t ‘hanging out’ with him more.
He wanted to take me to dinner and, although I didn’t really like him all that much, I said I would go, but was quite frank in saying it would just be ‘as friends.’ I wanted to be super clear since guys here seem to think all foreign women jump into bed after one glass of wine. He always responded to my honesty with “oh, come on Lisa,” accompanied with more pouting and loud exhaling, as if my answer to his advances must be wrong and I was just toying with him. He was harmless so it was all just mildly entertaining until he started ‘petting’ me one day. I guess he figured even though I had already said I wasn’t interested that if he stroked my arm… I would be put under some magic spell or something. No such luck for him and of course I had to yell at him to “stop touching me!”
Mustafa worked the ‘other’ shift every day from 8pm to 8am. He literally slept in the lobby once all the guests were tucked in for the night. He was quite the opposite of Eren—more mature and determined to improve his English for his future business success. He was working here strictly to get experience and to meet people from all over the world and talk with them. One day he took me sightseeing around town in exchange for my English. He just wanted me for my mother tongue—not my actual tongue—that was a nice change from most guys around these parts. He was a pretty sharp guy who also owned a retail clothing business. He has hopes of owning his own hotel one day… and I think he will.
I also got to know some other guests from America, Brazil, & France as they visited and moved on, as well as some of the neighboring hotel owners and workers. I stayed at this hotel for nearly three weeks… so it became a bit like ‘home’ and this was my family, albeit a dysfunctional one.
Just like all the hotels around the old quarter, the Alp Hotel has a lovely rooftop terrace with glass-topped tables, umbrellas, and cushioned wicker chairs where a lovely Turkish breakfast was served every morning. The unblocked views of the other rooftops and the Bosphorus, just a kilometer or so away, were breathtaking.
I even “borrowed” the facilities in the kitchen up there one day to cook dinner for Eren and Mustafa and some other guests. I opened a bottle of red and whipped up some salad and pasta with olive oil, garlic, eggplant, and tomatoes. But I really loved my quiet mornings up there, (well, late mornings—I would typically sleep in, roll out of bed around 10am and get up to the roof just in time to grab the last scraps of food and avoid the earlier riser’s chatter) sipping my coffee, nibbling on toast with Feta cheese, watching the sea gulls and crows fight over any food morsels and bread bits that they scavenged from other terraces. I would let the sun warm my arms as I read my book and would look up occasionally to the sea to watch the huge, almost ominous-looking freighter ships ply the gray waters.
One day, I watched a man on an adjacent rooftop fly a blue and white kite in the winds coming off the sea. I have always seen people in parks flying kites back home and wondered ‘what’s the point?’ It seemed you could only amuse yourself flying a kite for maybe ten minutes, max. But now, in my relaxed state, the kite looked so pretty darting and soaring against the bright blue sky of Istanbul. Small things are starting to mean a lot more because I’m not so preoccupied with the crazy ‘real world’ B.S. that usually gets in the way of enjoying the simple beauty of life around us.
Very rarely in my adult life have I allowed myself to do nothing. I’ve always kept myself super busy with work, friends, exercising, volunteering, tennis lessons, guitar class, teaching… and just about anything I could do to enrich myself and also at the same time avoid that horrible state of boredom I so loathe. Even during my trip, I have either kept myself busy sightseeing and still being a ‘tourist’ or I have stayed somewhere and found a job or some other way to immerse myself more into the local fabric of society. I had been back in Istanbul for two weeks and even though I had been traveling for eight months already, this finally felt like vacation… I was getting better at the art of doing nothing and I was enjoying it.