Dear Istanbul

Planning a short layover in Istanbul was one of the best decisions I made as a functioning adult. After landing at the beautiful Ataturk Havalimani airport and checking in my carry on at the baggage locker, I hailed a cab and rushed off to Sultanahmet district, the epitome of grandeur and romanticism.

Quirky architecture

Hot models of SuvariūüėČ

My¬†cab driver was an older gentleman with the¬†kindest green eyes and a warm smile but he did not know where my first destination Basilica Cistern¬†was. I got a little nervous as expected since I did not know the language¬†but a fellow Turkish traveler¬†hearing this exchange next to me had tried his best to translate, yet the driver seemed¬†unsure. Nobody knew the Turkish name for Basilica Cistern so¬†I simply gave up and told him to take me to ‘Aya Sofia’. I had done enough research to know that the attractions I was curious about¬†were walking distance to each other.
The cab ride through the highway of Istanbul was splendid to say the least. I was in awe of the quirky architecture displayed in many buildings and the air, though very hot and humid sang to my relaxed mood. We were driving in parallel to the Bosphorous sea and soon enough, I was dropped off on a street with carpet boutiques and kebab shops.

Highway in Istanbul

Since I had “tourist” plastered on my forehead, I was lured into one of the carpet boutiques by one of the shopkeepers who showed me few of their carpet and rug collection. He was very eager and ready to ship the carpets via DHL¬†to my residence¬†but I politely declined and instead stared at the workmanship of the lady who was threading a rug. I had to take my leave right after and started my walk uphill on a cobblestone path.

Upon¬†arrival to¬†the crowded and bustling¬†Sultanahmet Square, I was in pure shock for the first few minutes¬†as I took in my surrounding and the ancient history that¬†I was in the midst of. I was standing by the benches in the middle point, under the blazing heat of the Turkish sun, surrounded¬†by the magnanimity of Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Obelisk of Theodosius.¬†But I was on a mission and I started looking for any signs of Basilica Cistern. I found the entrance soon enough, bought a ticket for 20 TL and walked the long stairs down.¬†The air instantly turned cool and I¬†could¬†hear the breeze¬†and soft echoes of visitors conversations. I was welcomed by the dim lit enclosing, the grand columns help up high and sounds of the water as I stood in one private spot and just breathed. I was standing inside the largest¬†ancient cistern, constructed back in the 6th century and for a history nerd like myself, this could easily be the definition of heaven. I walked around the cistern, touched the gothic-looking columns at times and also played with a few colorful coy fishes before heading to the Medusa heads. This small area was the most crowded and I didn’t find the twin Medusa heads that inspiring¬†to ogle¬†over so I took¬†a selfie or two and headed out.

I walked towards Hagia Sophia and bought a ticket for 40 TL. Upon entrance through the imperial gate to this once-upon-a-time cathedral, later an imperial mosque and now a world-renowned museum, I felt at peace and in sound serenity. Hagia Sophia had been on my bucket list since I was 12yo when I read about the Ottoman Empire and to have finally walked into this opulent Byzantine architecture brought my heart to a sigh. There are no words to describe the kind of peace I felt when I walked the long stone path to the upper gallery to see scriptures of old Quranic relics and stunning Arabic calligraphy hanging on the sides. I was reliving history and loving every second of it.

Cobblestone pathway to Upper Gallery
Hagia Sophia – Upper Gallery

Afterwards, I stepped out into the “largest carpet of tulips” in the world and noticed how this was a big attraction for the people around me. I sneaked into a private spot and took few selfies too. This space was a beautiful, well-maintained rectangular garden of tulips and all the flowers seemed to have bloomed with so much personality and love. I liked observing the affection the people had for these bright, multi-colored tulips; I guess flowers do bring out the hidden delight from even the most reluctant.

Tulip Garden

For light lunch, I grabbed beef kebabs to go from a street vendor and sat on a quiet bench to eat and see long, bright red, packed trams pass by. I was also genuinely surprised to see that the kebab vendor sold pork sausages. As a first time visitor, this was a prime example of the secularism this wonderful city boasted and rightfully represented. I pray to the deity above that this level of secularism maintains for many generations to come and no threat of extremism will overpower this freedom.

StreetTrams

Since time was of rapid fluid essence, I made the major mistake of hailing a yellow cab from Sultanahmet to head to Ataturk Havalimani airport. The main driver along with his sidekick on the passenger seat were the most impulsive, unusual characters I had the misfortune of meeting. I simply told the driver to take a shortcut if possible and he ended up making so many illegal turns, driving super reckless in unbelievable speed and at one point dared to drive the wrong way on a highway while a bus was approaching. I shut my eyes and prayed that I get out of this adventure alive while stuck on a constant panic mode. Upon the arrival to the airport almost an hour later, these scumbags tells me that this shit of a ride cost me 300 TL. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing through my overall shock but I paid up with little arguments and left the cab. Travel tip: Avoid the yellow cabs at all costs — they are scammers and will try to trick you to pay in American dollars or Euros.

No matter the mixed experience I had between exalted high to severe panic attacks, I wouldn’t hesitate to book a ticket to Istanbul again for a much longer trip — there is so much to do and explore in this suave, culturally rich, historically revered city and my nerdy heart wants more, more, more. I simply yearn for you and I miss you, Dear Istanbul.

Blue Mosque

Charleston’s Allure

Charleston, I fell in love with you, at first sight.

Every city has her own character. When traveling, you identify instinctively or simply wait longer to resonate. I was instantly taken by the warmth of the sunshine, the color of the bricks downtown, the architecturally beautiful churches, the occasional cobblestone paths, the fountains, the easy-going attitude of the people and the food.

Charleston Four Corners of Law 

Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist –¬†Brownstone Cathedral built in 1854

I had the most satisfying meal of southern barbecue at Cumberland Smokehouse; beef brisket, collard greens — you name it. My friends and I came across this gem of a spot almost by accident. We yelped hard and waited on a line or two to very happening restaurants in downtown but eventually lost patience and started driving elsewhere when we passed this cabin-looking venue. It was the best decision made, thank the food lords in heaven.

DSC00149Beef brisket with pickles and white bread

My favorite among the sides were the baked beans, mac & cheese. For dessert, there was banana pudding with a secret recipe that the kind waiter indulged us with. Service here was super courteous, quick and the food was absolutely orgasmic. Instead of relying on yelpers reviews and stars, sometimes it’s all about keeping an eye open and making a spontaneous decision.

DSC00148Mac & cheese, collard greens, mashed potatoes & baked beans

Banana pudding

For quick brunch, Sweetwater Cafe in James Island is a cute spot. Menu has a nice selection of eggs benedict and ordering a side of hash with crabmeat totally hits the spot too.

Spinach and green tomatoes egg benedict

Hash with crabmeat

When in Charleston, one must also have oysters. Pearlz Oyster Bar in downtown is a cool, hip spot serving the most delicious fresh oysters. Order a beer, savor the taste of these shelled babies and just live the moment.

    Oysters with horseradish

When doing quick research on what to do in Charleston, a lot of locals and travelers suggested Angel Oak Park that is the home of an ages old live oak tree. The exact age is disputed to be between 500-1,500 years old.

Road to Angel Oak Park

DSC00245Angel Oak Tree

Magnificent bark

I had a splendid time looking acutely at the variety of colors and texture of this ancient tree. Touching these beautiful barks gave out a sense of serenity and calmness momentarily; almost felt like touching a part of history.

Pier at Bowen’s Island

Since Charleston is filled with warm and kind people, one of the locals at a store suggested we head to Bowen’s Island. As evident in the pictures, it was a drive worth it.

Bowen’s Island Restaurant

Green meadows & oyster shells

I couldn’t make time to go¬†on one of the historic¬†gullah tour this trip¬†and I’d like¬†to go back again and again¬†to explore more. Charleston is that perfect picturesque city dripping in history and beauty and a short weekend just doesn’t cut it.

Arthur Ravenal Jr. Bridge

New York City – Gates to Trance Heaven

I’m a New Yorker. Not born here, but bred here. I love everything about this vibrant city, I equally hate many things about this complicated city. However, one thing I can never complain about is the diverse music scene here — whether it is blaring in lounges, clubs, upscale bars, house parties in the city, Queens or Brooklyn. Yes, I will speak for those three specific boroughs because I’m usually laughing and dancing in spots around there.

I’m a huge trance music fan. When I say huge, I mean YUUUUUGE in Sanders term – I am absolutely taken with everything about this genre of music. I love how listening to Mir Omar’s podcast, Gareth Emery’s EFL or Anjuna Deep’s podcast at work keeps me motivated. I love how Above & Beyond, Eric Prydz, Gai Barone music keeps me healthy emotionally. I love how Armin Van Buuren & Araab Muzik makes me want to put on some fresh heels and simply dance away.

I have been to EDCNY festivals few times, I have seen Armin Van Buuren, Above & Beyond, Andrew Bayer perform magical 5 hour long sets in Madison Square Garden, I have been equally mesmerized with Gareth Emery and Eric Prydz live sets in Terminal 5 recently. The immense diversified crowds, the energy that emanates from the surrounding is just awe inspiring. There is barely ever any negativity, just PLUR.

I respect trance music, I appreciate pure trance even more. I love losing myself for those few hours watching these DJs spin the best they got — to which my emotions can relate to, can dance to without any inhibitions. I jump at the first instance when a ticket for one of my favorite DJs goes on sale and I feel so fortunate to live in a city so pivotal that these DJs need to include in their tour dates. I am blessed and I’m a bubble wrapped in excitement when I dress up and head to these venues to just lose myself in the magnetism of trance music. My mind is completely entranced and my heart is in ecstasy for that period of time and that to me is unquestionable freedom.

It can be at times difficult to explain with mere words what these legendary DJs mean to my life, my philosophy, my temperament, my ambitions and my optimism. Unadulterated happiness, my dear friends, has not one specific definition.

 Eric Prydz РTerminal 5

Birth of my Wings

As a child, I had the privilege to travel to quite a few cities¬†with my parents. Dhaka, Medina, New Delhi, Athens, Dubai, Orlando, Michigan, New York, Toronto etc. My memories from those days are as clear & vibrant like it was just yesterday, packing multiple suitcases & trotting from one airport to the next — I will forever be grateful to my father and mother for planting that travel bug in me at that tender young age.

I embarked on my first solo journey by hopping into a greyhound to Charlotte when I was just 19. I barely had money — I just had a duffel bag packed with many colorful Gap t-shirts, a gloss, nail polish, a nokia phone, a sony digital camera and jeans. I was too damn excited to commute to Port Authority from my home in Queens and take that 18 hour long bus ride down south. Roundtrip on greyhound¬†was exhausting at best but I was a young girl with¬†guts & I’d¬†go wherever my heart would take me.

My travels abroad or in the continental USA had however diminished significantly in those critical years of my 20s. I did go on road trips to Montreal, Ann-Arbor, Boston, Washington DC, Lake George here and there but now that I look back, I wish I had planned extensive trips to the mid-west, the west coast, Middle East, Africa or Europe. But regrets aside, I hope to partake in many adventures¬†with different cultures now. I plan to embark on a trip to South Asia in spring and I’m looking into a multi-city tour in Europe for later on this year. Should I visit Dublin, Paris and London first or should I take a 5day trip to Iceland instead? Maybe a long week trip to Berlin & Italy? Decisions, decisions! yet, I can’t wait. The in-depth research, the planning, the bubbling excitement to leave my comfort zone to venture out & be in awe with the nature, the inhabitants, the cuisines, the art, the hustle & bustle in different metropolis. So much to see, to love, to learn, to be wary of.

This year marks the Birth of my Wings. Fly me.

My sister & I in front of the magnificent Taj Mahal, Agra. [1992]