On my first backpacking trip through Europe when I was 17, my travel partner and I spent a few days at a hostel villa in Tuscany. After a few weeks of city-to-city backpacking all I wanted to do was breathe, so I plucked a VHS of Serendipity from the hostel library and spent a few happy hours watching a bad 90's chick flick.
“You really shouldn't spend the day doing something you can do at home,” my travel partner said.
“But I'm so tired!” I'm sure I whined.
That moment taught me an important lesson about travel- living your life to the fullest at every moment quickly becomes exhausting. So on my first full day in Istanbul, I did absolutely nothing. And it was wonderful.
My cousin Suzy and her boyfriend, Serkan, showed me around their beloved neighborhood of Taksim. Taksim is a neighborhood located on the Asian side of Istanbul- the side known for being residential, upscale and largely tourist-free.
I spent the day becoming familiar with the salty sea air, the vibrant rugs hanging from light poles, the vendors selling roasted chestnuts and the call the prayer, which came like clockwork.
I was walking on the street when I heard the call to prayer for the first time, and it stopped me in my tracks- it was a woman's voice on megaphone, a high-pitched song I couldn't understand.
I loved stumbling upon the unfamiliar amidst the commonplace, like this minaret wedged between shopping centers.
We then made our way to the water's edge, and for the first time in too long I smelled salt in the air and I heard the caws of seagulls and the crash of waves. I hadn't realized until then how much I had missed water, the sea, nature.
And I know this is becoming cliché, but sometimes it really is great to observe local life and boast the title of the only tourist in a foreign land.
We stopped to enjoy some piping hot black tea, or Çay, pronounced exactly like “chai.” It burned my fingers a little to hold the scalding tea but when I asked why it was always served in glass, Serkan responded, “So you can see the beautiful color.” Which is as good a reason as any.
It was an afternoon in which nothing was accomplished, where we checked no must-see sites off of a list. And it was just what I needed.
Do you ever like to spend a day doing nothing while traveling?
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