Travelling never stops teaching. About the places and people around you, and about yourself. It makes you appreciate the country you grew up in, the love and protection of your family. It makes you realise that not all people have good intentions but much more often than this, kindness is universal.
I witness people blindly step over the homeless to take a photo of a monument. I see people remain in packs of their own country, shuffling bored between organised tours. I see people my age “experience” a city only from the same dimly lit clubs that could be found anywhere in the world, that they wouldn’t be able to locate on a map once sobered the next day and leaving for the next. I have grown a lot within myself from my travels, and can admit that I have also played these parts before. These days I am reminding myself to put my phone away, ask more questions, reach out to locals and help as often as possible. To expect safety and unforgettable experiences while travelling we need to arrive with understanding and compassion.
Make friends with the locals. Ask them about their trades and their families, and what they like to do in their part of the world- not what they think tourists would like to do. Eat the traditional delicacies and street food. Learn the local culture. Take the bus. Make sure the first phrase you learn in a foreign language is “Thank you”. Be spontaneous, but smart. Appreciate their religion despite your differences.
I’ve been struggling with a lot of anxiety lately. I had anxiety and PTSD many years ago and either learnt to address or suppress it, but it has caught up with me again and hitting harder than ever. If any of my readers have suffered anxiety they would know how inexplainable it is. That one moment you can be completely fine and on top of the world, the next clutching your chest without breath or reason.
Stepping in to the Blue Mosque was like taking that one deep breath after involuntarily holding for too long. Istanbul’s city streets can become chaotic with crowds in the heat of the day, and while the crowds flow in to the Blue Mosque alongside me I stopped feeling suppressed by them.
There is a dwarfing ambience from the cascading domes and miranets, with nearly every inch of interior covered in blue İznik tiles. The prayer space caters for a huge number of worshippers, but only a few were there during my visit in-between the call to prayer. The Blue Mosque (formally known as Sultan Ahmed Mosque) as well as a Turkish Bath at The Cağaloğlu Hamam are my personal favourite tourist experiences of Istanbul, both with a peaceful harmony that continues to sink in after leaving.
Photos by myself and James Thompson