There I go, my suitcase trailing behind me. The bus just stopped on the empty corner of a big square in the center of Istanbul, and as everyone else got off I thought it best to follow suit. I have no idea where to go, so I decide to move in the general direction of where the crowd seems to be. As usual, I’m ill-prepared. It doesn’t matter. In my pocket sits the booking confirmation with the address of my hostel, and it’s only 4.30 in the afternoon. I have sixteen hours before I’m expected at the course I’m here to take.
There seems to be a bigger street that everyone is moving towards a bit further down the square, and again, I decide to follow. But before I get a clear view of it, I get called out. ‘Hello! You there, Miss!’ A friendly looking older man who clearly works at the neat restaurant to my right asks me in for a coffee. Smiling I point to my suitcase: ‘I have to go!’ Where am I going, he asks, and I get out the address. He has never heard of the hostel, but the big street I was going for will indeed take me in the right direction. I promise to come back for coffee – ‘on the house!’ – when I have more time, and lightheartedly continue my way.
The big street turns out to be the Istiklal Caddesi, one of Istanbul’s main shopping streets. Despite the many well-known chain stores, there is plenty to see. The architecture is a mix of grand European looking buildings and tightly packed tall houses with ornate but sagging timber additions sticking out of the plaster walls. There is food everywhere. In red and white colored mobile carts chestnuts are being roasted and ring-shaped breads with poppy-seeds are on display, and the smell of grilled meat that comes from the small restaurants dances with that of stewed vegetables and beans and the sweetness of syrup-infused baklava. A wave of contentment washes over me. I feel right being here. And I still have no clue where my hostel is.
Although it’s rather busy, my suitcase still draws attention and it doesn’t take long before I’m approached again. ‘What’s your name?‘ A younger man this time, closer to my age. He introduces himself as Rambo – it’s really there, in black and white on the business card he hands over. Like the original Rambo he seems to spend a lot of time on his appearance (hi there, muscles!), and apparently wants to save the world. Starting with me. He walks me to the hostel, and waits on the sidewalk as I check in. Not much later we sit in a tiny eatery where on his recommendations the most scrumptious things get ladled onto my plate. We’re having a great time, and Rambo decides that for the full Istanbul-experience me must visit a rooftop club to dance.
Hours later we stand in front of my hostel again, and with a kiss on my cheek he says goodbye. ‘You can always call me,’ he says, and I know he hopes I will. It won’t happen, there will be no time once the course starts in a few hours, but I’m happy I took the leap tonight. I’ve enjoyed myself immensely, and I’ve seen the city as I never would have on my own or with the people I will meet at the course. I’ve seen it with Rambo.
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