The dust temporarily cleared when we flew out of Atatürk Airport early this morn. We're now more than a thousand kilometers away, shivering under a doona in a rented Tbilisi unit, yet my heart yearns for Turkey. And though my body's overly sore — beyond Efficascent Oil repair (yes I have a bottle in our first aid kit) — from a two-week spring fling with/mad dash around the country, I am still wishing the embassy gave my visa a few days more.
Because yeah, we would have stayed longer even with the anti-government clashes that erupted in Istanbul.
Yesterday, we warily roamed the streets in and around Sultanahmet Square. We noticed that the number of foreign tourists significantly declined. It was our last whole day in the city, we can't let it go to waste. Never mind the ongoing social unrest a few kilometers northeast and well, our aching legs. The plan was to drag our arses to the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest permanent enclosed markets in the world, after checking out of the dilapidated Atlantis Hotel at midday then meet up with a fellow travel blogger late afternoon.
The former was a plan that didn't fall through, because unbeknownst to us, the bazaar's closed on Sundays (Sundays?!). So we resolved to buying a few knickknacks from shops surrounding it. After our last lunch in the country, which did not consist any form of lamb — because ermergehd we had too much of it, we strolled back to the hotel to grab our luggage and transferred to the charming Naz Wooden House.
There was barely time to lay our heads down on tempting beds for I received a Facebook message from Sabrina, the bubbly blogger behind Just One Way Ticket, saying she has accomplished all her errands and that she's ready for tea. Cause yah know in Turkey it's always time for tea.
Sabrina and I were interviewed for a 2011 Couchsurfing video but we never met personally until that day. Her scenes were shot in Istanbul where she was couchsurfing/traveling that time. Ours (we were featured as a family) on the other hand were shot in Australia, where we were spending some time with relatives before continuing our round-the-world-trip.
Because we're both travel bloggers, we somehow found each other online early this year.
We fetched her from the hotel she's staying at for a five-day gig. She emerged from the lift looking like a ray of sunshine slicing through Istanbul's gloomy sky that afternoon. She just checked in that day, and came from her rented flat which sits in the area where clashes between protesters and Turkish police took place. I remember reading her Facebook status about being trapped in a Starbucks branch when the chaos began the night prior.
She witnessed the bedlam firsthand, while I, only saw a small parade of demonstrators along Kennedy Avenue. But we're both furious. If you've been following the news, you'd know about the fight for Taksim's Gezi Park (which will be turned into a commercial center). It's one of the few remaining green, open spaces in the city. There's a bigger story to tell which I do not know of, about what the Turkish Prime Minister and his ruling Justice and Development Party has or has not done for the country, but I find it difficult not to judge.
Peaceful protesters were doused with tear gas and pepper spray, the canisters thrown straight at them. Water cannons were used to shoo disoriented people out of the park. The news never made it to Turkey's telly. I surfed the channels and only saw dubbed foreign films, dubbed cartoons (to Luna's delight), and cooking shows. I read somewhere that Miss Turkey was on too, and I uhm, regret not being able to catch that.
Also on Saturday, Facebook didn't load properly when accessed from Istanbul, because "they throttled the bandwidth to the bare minimum". At first I thought the internet connection of the 70€ room we were bunked in last Saturday had a wonky connection cause I cannot see photos on Facebook, and I let myself utter a slew of ugly curses (cause hello, 70€?). Then I read that TechCrunch article which made me question... Where's the freedom of speech?
It's a heavy matter to tackle. Sabrina and I did not to dwell on it. Like in any meetup of two nomadic people, we exchanged stories about where we've been and where we're going. In between sips of Turkish tea and bites of gozleme sprouted topics like visa hassles, cheap flights and Philippine's stunning beaches.
It was too short a time.
We ended our tea session just before nightfall. Sabrina walked us to Hagia Sophia where we bade farewell with a double beso. A shiny-happy ending to our whirlwind, fifteen-day visit. A kind of ending I am hoping for the Turkish fighting to save a park.
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