Something I loved about Istanbul was meeting friendly and helpful people on the streets. Whenever we got lost or had to find a bus stop, all we had to do was ask around, and hospitable, caring people would help out without expecting anything in return but a warm smile.
Our host was lovely, bringing up warm home-baked aniseed and nut cookies for breakfast which we could eat in the garden, surrounded by apricot trees, cats and glass blue eyes.
And then there was the captain of the boat we took – he allowed us to sit in his cabin and look out onto the Bosphorus, providing us with free refreshments. He didn’t even mind my exclamations and cries of joy when I spotted a school of dolphins swimming along the boats in the distance. I remembered seeing them when I was around six years old, but was not sure if they actually existed in the centre of Istanbul or if my younger self had conjured them up in her mind. It was satisfying to experience once more the thrill of seeing dolphins in a bustling city center.
In the evening we ran into a man who led us to the bus stop, and whom we later coined ‘the intellectual’. It turns out he was a publisher who had studied Russian literature at Istanbul university, and he knew all the subtleties of Pushkin’s works, perhaps more extensively than a native speaker. He had fond memories of visiting Moscow and St.Petersburg and was eager to share a stream of anecdotes told half in Russian and half in English.
These encounters perfectly encaptured my first impressions of Istanbul. It felt new and mysterious yet homely and welcoming simultaneously, as though I’d experienced the city before, as a younger version of myself, or perhaps as another person in another life. Istanbul to me seemed like the Turkish alphabet – I knew most letters and could understand some words, yet the text was overall written in another language which recquired closer study to be fully understood and interpreted correctly.