Story by Leila Mekhdiyeva
Illustration by Mila Khan
I woke up that morning from the sound of someone’s voice singing. Second later I remembered where I was, and that song wasn’t a song at all. It was Azaan, the Muslim call to prayer. I looked at the time – it was 04:51 AM. I still had not gotten used to it, even though it was my second day in Istanbul. I tried to fade off to sleep, but I couldn’t. I was too fascinated with the sound of the call to prayer that morning. Of course, I didn’t understand a word, it was in Arabic. And as an Englishman, of course, I didn’t speak either Turkish or Arabic, but I still could differentiate them.
Two minutes later I got up from my bed and opened the curtains in my hotel room. The hotel itself was close to the main touristic places in Istanbul – Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as Blue Mosque, and Hagia Sophia museum, which for the centuries of its existence used to be both a church and a mosque, depending on who was in power at that time and whether the city was called Constantinople or Istanbul.
It was the time of the sunrise. The city, which during the day was full of tourists and locals convincing tourists to buy this or that, was now very calm and almost silent. And magnificent Istanbul was lighting up in a new way for me.
But what drew my gaze that morning was the sea, the Bosphorus strait to be clearer. The sea looked calm and friendly. I knew it was waiting for me.
How can I describe and tell what makes the sea so special to me? I simply can’t, as some things simply belong to us. Make us feel complete. Make us feel alive. For me it was the sea. Wherever I was I needed it. Wherever the sea was I had to be there. That was the reason why I came to Istanbul for a week. This city with its rich history, culture and the unique mix between Europe and Middle East, of course, also hypnotized me. But frankly, my special connection with the sea was always greater than any other aspects of traveling somewhere.
I kept staring at the horizon separating the sea and the uprising sun that early morning, the call to prayer already stopped and Istanbul was quiet and calm now. I didn’t want to wait anymore, as I had a plan for every single day of the trip. That day I was going on a boat tour to cross the geographic line between Europe and Asia. Thinking how ironic it was for Londoner to cross the line between two different worlds, on a boat somewhere in the Bosphorus strait.