Last year, I arrived in Istanbul from Bucharest at 11PM and ordered a car to the Blue Mosque, where I spent 6 hours of a long layover wandering.
The central square had just closed down. The cobblestone paths scattered about the roads leading to the Old City ensured I hit my head on the roof of the cab. When I got out near the Mehmet Akif Ersoy Park, I saw the monuments and sacred buildings glowing in the moonlight. The Hagia Sophia was glowing. The Blue Mosque was glowing. It was past twelve, and the ocean breeze was still billowing through the streets, the roaming dogs of the city still meandered about the Sultan Ahmet Park. I kept looking back at the mosque, with a deep desire to go inside. But the timing wasn't right; I had to get lost in brand new surroundings. I had to take everything in while I still could.
The sea of Marmara was expansive, biting, dark blue in the moonlight. The animals kept me company as I admired the transplanted obelisks from Ancient Egypt, another wonder of the old world for me to take in. I could hear the murmur of seagulls. In the cafe near the center, I could vaguely make out figures: a bartender, a waiter, a few passerby. I wouldn't go in for another few hours, eager for a smoke and an authentic Turkish coffee that I hoped I could afford with the few lira I had. I couldn't be bothered by caffeine when I had the sea breeze, when I had the square, when I was in the midst of the most gorgeous bout of sensory overload, the kind only seasoned travelers know well.
I continued to walk in silence, admiring the small memorials erected to victims of the recent attack in Ankara, the one that was drowned out in the wake of Brussels and Paris. There was a quiet humility to these, a heartbreaking quality that didn't feel as grandiose as the candlelit vigils on every international news channel, on the same reports that were now buzzing on the television's in the 3 AM café, the only English words I had heard the entire night. I decided to go in and order baklava and a small Turkish Coffee. As I rummaged through the remaining grounds for a fortune, the waiter came to check on me and I asked if the mosque was open.
As my luck would have it, it closed before midnight that day. I spent the remainder of the evening as I had spent it; wandering under the well-lit monuments, meandering about new lands, wondering when I would be lucky enough to come back and sing praise inside the sacred dome, shoes off, taking in sights that can't be captured with a camera, taking in spirituality at its most refined. I don't doubt, someday, I will.