Kadikoy, Istanbul. (PHOTO: Marisa Crous)
A friend of mine who loves to travel never visits the same city, even country, twice. Similarly, my brother lives by the same philosophy. He is 35 and has been to over 50 countries, a list with very few repeats.
And the repeats were usually for work, or because of other obligations, not necessarily out of choice.
Many "real travellers" have this approach. The thought-process being: "There are so many places in the world to explore, why not keep moving forward instead of reversing, rewinding, repeating."
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However, on a recent trip to Istanbul, I realised I love repeating.
I was in Istanbul 5 years ago for four days. Memories of awe-inspiring architecture, epicurean delights and ferry-rides to surrounding islands have stayed with me since, nudging me to return to relish its splendour.
Now, I think my approach to holidaying can be summed up as sitting somewhere between owning a beach house in Gansbaai and hopping from country to country, I don't like the idea of being restricted by one place, but revisiting certain places twice, or even thrice as I have done with Athens, is my vibe.
A bit soppy perhaps, but getting to know a city can be an intimate experience. You already made memories there (hopefully good ones), so nostalgia might play a part as you walk past the same restaurant, see the same views and who knows, maybe even spot the same people.
Seeing that quirky waiter that served you that potent Raki (Turkish anise-flavoured alcoholic drink) back in 2013 or popping into the same jewellery store you shopped at last time, or even staying at the same Airbnb again because your host, Cem was just so great; to me, these moments make the world seem smaller.
(Beautiful greenery spotted in Beyoglu district, PHOTO: Marisa Crous)
In a city like Istanbul, which is very densely populated, and has over 3 million people, seeing the same person - a stranger, basically - twice in 5 years, really puts things in perspective. It's a romantic idea, but as we live our lives here, in Cape Town, in PE, there are people living theirs around the world, it's all routine, and considering the world's scale, we are all, in the end, just exactly the same.
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Get lost, on purpose
(Apartment building in Kadiköy, PHOTO: Marisa Crous)
You arrive in a new city, and it's overwhelming. Especially a city like Istanbul, which never seems to sleep. Cars, taxis, public transport and people are always on the move; and you are but a number trying to navigate your way (both physically and mentally) through this congested space.
Getting lost the first time around a new city is usually accidental. But it happens.
Slight panic sets in, your phone's battery is about to die, and nothing looks familiar in your immediate surroundings.
The second time around a city, just see where the streets take you. Slip on your most comfortable pair of tekkies, slap on some sunscreen, make sure you have your power bank charged, and strap on that FitBit baby, we are going places.
STRONG RECOMMENDATION: get lost.
(Walking around at night near Taksim Square. Kiliç Ali Pasa Hamami, PHOTO: Marisa Crous)
You already have a pretty good idea of the city, and how it is set up, i.e. the neighbourhoods, the centre, etc. So going to a specific 'hood and just walking around till your next caffeine fix is my strongest recommendation. And till your feet hurt.
Really take your mind on a holiday by letting it do some unscheduled, unconstrained wandering.
(Besiktas, PHOTO: Marisa Crous)
(PICS) Istanbul neighbourhood guide: From bustling Besiktas to cool Kadiköy
You get a more immersive experience
I was once in Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin. And I remember just wanting to sit at this one coffee shop, drink my brew and watch the world go by. But my friends wanted to go to the World War II museums.
We stood in queues for most of the day. And when the day was over, I felt like I missed out.
Many define a "good traveller" as someone who ticks all the top attractions off their list and "takes in most of the city" as TripAdvisor reviews say they should.
But this is too rigid, as ultimately it's up to you. And you have to ask yourself at the end: "Am I enjoying this experience, or am I just here to tell others I was here". Aka, for the selfie.
For me, I want to feel like I'm almost close to being a local. Even just for a week. The city, the island, it becomes yours as much as it is theirs. You go where locals go, shop in their supermarkets and live in apartments instead of hotels.
It's faux immersion, but happy-making, nonetheless.
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