Istanbul has been good for my soul.
Arriving at dawn and watching the morning light spread gold across the water, I can’t help but feel … soothed.
Later, I’ll be assaulted by the sights and sounds of the Spice Market in full swing: stallholders offering a morsel of rose-scented lokum or sticky, nutty kadayif; simit sellers plying their wares, the sesame-coated rings piled high upon their heads; eager trinket sellers insistently offering the best, the cheapest, the finest quality baubles…
… but for now, I’m enjoying the cool peace of the morning, punctuated only by the greedy screech of the fish-hungry gulls that swoop and wheel around the half-empty ferry.
For once, I’m not travelling alone, and my (male) travel buddy provides easy-going company, as well as welcome protection from the unwelcome attentions a solo blonde tourist typically attracts.
We spend a couple of days eagerly pacing the length and breadth of Istanbul. But as the week wears on, the temperature rises steadily and soon we’re content to laze in a shady corner with our noses in our respective books or drinking endless glasses of sweet, black tea in our favourite hangout – a leafy outdoor café overlooking the Bosphorus.
With tea in hand, and a light breeze gently ruffling my hair, I feel truly content.
Although it’s blazing hot and I’ve spent most of my time looking pink, sweaty and unappealing, the change of scene has done me good. I can’t say I’ve forgotten all about Uni Boy and my sudden demotion from the position of part-time squeeze, but I’m certainly able to view things in a more positive light.
Travelling always helps me to put things in perspective. With my mind occupied by new sights, sounds and smells, there’s no space for unhappy thoughts or mournful musings. And I can’t help but wonder if contentment breeds contentment, because when I check my email, I’ve got several affectionate messages from Uni Boy.
Puzzling, but not unpleasant.
On the last night, my travel buddy sits on the terrace with a glass of wine while I go scouting for food. It’s my first solo venture, and I soon get a taste of the luxurious protection I’ve been enjoying simply by being in male company: I’ve barely walked 500 metres, but I’ve been approached, petted and flattered by three separate gentlemen, all eager to show me their carpets, their plates, their various assorted trinkets.
Finally, I make it to my destination. As I wait for my food, the cashier flashes me his most winning smile.
“How many people are in Istanbul?”
At first, I think he’s quizzing me on my local knowledge, but then I realise he’s asking me if I’m travelling alone.
“Two,” I reply, holding two fingers aloft, for clarity.
“Where is my friend?” he asks, looking momentarily downcast.
“My friend is at home, waiting for me,” I say.
“When my friend is sleep, you come here!” he says, triumphantly.
I smile politely as I decline his kind offer, and again as he attempts to snare my affections with a free orange juice. Insistently waving away his suggestions of a midnight tryst, I finally make it onto the street, where I fix my gaze on the pavement as I navigate the various hawkers and traders vying for my attention.
Back on the terrace, the food is soon devoured and I decide to check my email. Before I know it, I’m chatting to Uni Boy, and we’re flirting outrageously.
“When are you back?” he writes.
“Tomorrow evening, late,” I reply.
“See you then?” he says.
I hesitate. I know I should say no. But the devil on my shoulder is shouting louder than the angel, and my tragic addiction to hugs and kisses needs feeding. In truth, my internal struggle lasts … ooh, about five seconds.
“Sure,” I reply, berating myself only slightly. “See you then.”
And I smile.