I’m not a fearless traveler. I don’t bounce into a country, speak a new language badly but confidently, adventurously trek into backstreet restaurants and proceed to try the most ethnic dish on the menu.
No, that’s not me. I can be timid. It can take me days to warm up, to feel comfortable in new surroundings. I don’t walk around scared, but I do feel unsure a lot of the time.
|Dolmabahce Palace, right on the Bosphorous.
The easy way out, I suppose, would have been to have joined a tour group, or to have stayed in a hotel in the touristy part of town. I’d be assured of groups of English speakers, menus in English, easy transportation (in English!) to and from the sights.
Ah, but again – that’s not me.
My dad likes to say that I was the kid who started preparing my mom and him for my eventual flight from my childhood home. I went to summer camp (I was a homesick child who hated summer camp; I went anyway), then enrolling in a residential high school summer program. I went away to college, lived abroad for a semester, moved to San Francisco. These were not easy things to do at the time. I was taking risks, becoming more independent. And I grew – a lot.
|My apartment is on top of that hill, in a neighborhood called Cihangir.
So when I was planning this trip to Turkey, I decided to rent an apartment in a non-touristy part of the city. I admit that it’s been challenging at times – I have to navigate menus and bus maps and decipher the many types of Turkish cheese sold at the market. But it’s also been so rewarding. I’ve met a lot of lovely (mostly Turkish) people, including Billur, my social and super-helpful landlady. I’ve discovered neighborhood bars, gotten recommendations for restaurants and cafes. Along the way, I’ve fallen in love with this beautiful, sprawling, chaotic city.
In the end, isn’t this why we travel? Not just to see the sights, but to stretch ourselves, to have our own fears and beliefs challenged, and – of course – to have an amazing time.