Adventures in Istanbul: Day 1


Author’s Note: I’ve decided to make my travels in Istanbul a series, since I experience so much in my six days there. Thus, this read will be a little longer than usual, for you faithful blog readers accustomed to my 1,000 word essays. Thanks for following along!!

The idea of traveling alone can be overwhelming, especially to a foreign country. From the flight to the accommodations to the process of ordering at a restaurant, everything just seems easier with a partner in tourism. There’s no silent battle waged over the armrest, no terror over booking an Airbnb, no intense inner turmoil and self-loathing over having made the wrong choice with the mousakas. It all just feels better shared, particularly when prone to anxiety attacks. Which is probably why I’d never taken a solo trip until Istanbul.

I hadn’t planned on visiting Turkey by myself this summer. When I’d booked my flight to Hungary, I’d allotted an additional six days to hit another country, but I’d assumed I would meet up with friends somewhere. There was Sophie in Tel Aviv, Sam in Ibiza, Danielle in San Sebastian. I had plenty of options.

But I chose Istanbul. Why? Well, for one my parents had been in the fall and raved about it. “In my top five cities, right up there with Bangkok and Paris,” my mom gushed. For another, it was a cheap, quick flight from Budapest, and how often did I find myself on that side of the European continent? And finally, I longed for a strong dose of culture. Not that beautiful beaches with beautiful people doesn’t constitute a culture of a certain type, it just wasn’t what I was after (especially since I’m dating the love of my life and not interested in a hot summer fling.) I booked my trip.

“It’s going to be amazing,” Daniel reassured me before I left. I was starting to get nervous.

“I wish you were coming with me,” I said, knowing full well he couldn’t take the time off work.

“Australia, love. Anyway, you need to have this experience.” He kissed me deeply, only strengthening my desire for his travel companionship. But he was right. I did need to have this experience. Because after 29 years of globetrotting with family and friends, it was time to achieve travel independence. And learn that I’m never actually alone.*

In fact, before I even got to Istanbul I discovered I would have someone to ooh and aah over the Hagia Sophia with: Amanda. One of Ally’s friends in Budapest, she had recently booked a quick trip to Turkey, arriving the day after me and leaving the day before. We exchanged information immediately, and rejoiced over being able to stay out after dark. (One of the promises I made to my parents – I would not explore nightlife by my lonesome.)

I flew in on a Wednesday afternoon. I was quite ill, battling some Hungarian malady, but excitement still coursed its way through my achy, overheated body. I took the train into town, because A) I love public transportation in other cities and B) it cost only $2. As we passed through the outskirts, kebap shops and local mosques whirring by, I felt a sense of rightness. I’m meant to be here. This city is incredible. This adventure is mine.

Following the emailed instructions from my hotel, I exited at Cemberlitas. I opened up Google Maps to where I’d marked the hotel, then made the mistake of clicking the locate button. It sent me back to Hungary and spiraling into self-doubt. Why didn’t I print out instructions? Haven’t I learned anything from my mom and Rick Steves? I can’t believe I’m here alone dependent on my iPhone! I took a deep breath, and reminded myself there was such a thing as wifi. It took all of three minutes to find a café and jump on their network. Crisis averted. I relaxed – this wouldn’t be so hard.

Google maps reliably directed me to the Blue Istanbul Hotel, a short five minute walk from the train stop. I paused in front of my new home for the next six days. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, with its kitschy old patio furniture, chipped paint, and rather ominous blue lighting, but it had a certain charm to it. Like the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I thought hopefully, entering.

“You must be Emmy,” the concierge smiled, pronouncing my name the same way the Turkish waiters at my first ever restaurant job did.

“That’s me,” I confirmed. I must’ve been their only single American female customer.

“You didn’t want to be picked up from the airport?” he asked, surprised.

I shook my head and grinned. “Nah, I like people-watching.” He nodded, his eyes meeting mine, twinkling with understanding. I liked him. He took my passport and started checking me in.

“Would you like a coffee or tea?”

“Sure, that’d be great,” I replied.

He sent one of the young staff to grab the welcome drink, and he returned a couple of minutes later. I sniffled slightly as I reached for the cup.

“Oh, you’re sick!” the concierge intuited. “You must have mint tea! One minute.” And he sent the boy off again. “Please, sit, relax. And you must also have some soup. We will get you soup.”

I drank the tea in the lobby, then was directed to the dining room to wait for the soup. I wondered if they treated all the guests this way, or if I was receiving extra care because of my solo status. Either way, I felt warmed by the gesture, literally and figuratively. The flavorful golden soup tasted amazing going down, nevermind I had no idea what it was.

I finished my soup, thanked the concierge, and was shown to my room on the fifth floor. The space was painfully cramped (no morning yoga here!), but had a beautiful view onto the Sea of Marmara. I wheeled my suitcase in, careful to avoid knocking over the tiny table, and placed it in the armoir. I pulled back the gauze curtain, opened the doors onto the one foot “balcony,” and stepped out into the warm evening air. To the left minarets emerged from Little Hagia Sofia, out in front dozens of shipping boats peppered the water, and to the right the sun began its descent. Perfection.

I enjoyed the stillness for a few minutes before heading back out. Even though I felt wretched, I was determined to at least see something around the neighborhood before nightfall. The concierge was of course eager to help, providing me with a map and a list of destinations.

“You’ve been so helpful,” I said gratefully, pocketing the materials. “What’s your name?”

“Bahattin,” he replied. “It’s my pleasure.” Any imperfections in the décor were quickly erased in the presence of that smile.

I left in search of the Hagia Sofia, less than a mile walk from my house. It was closed to visitors, but I figured I could at least see the outside. I stumbled first upon the Arasta Bazaar, the shops closing for the evening. I browsed freely with no pressure from salesmen. Lanterns, carpets, scarves, spices.

From the bazaar I found myself around the back side of Sultanhamet, also called the Blue Mosque. There was no one in sight. Am I allowed in? I wondered, creeping up the stairs to the large entrance. Two woman in shawls meandered in my direction. I guess so.

I made my way into the outer arcade and found other visitors and worshippers weaving in and out of its walls. Stairs led up to the enclosed courtyard. I felt underdressed, in my jeans and tee-shirt, but I followed the other tourists and ascended the steps anyway. Only Muslims were allowed into the covered prayer hall at this time of day, but I was quite content to simply stand in the middle of the open courtyard and admire the crescent moon hanging delicately above the domed walls.

I don’t know if it was God, or the history of the city permeating the air, or just the fact of being alone in a foreign land, but I felt transcendent in that moment. I’m doing this every night, I thought, caught somewhere between tears and laughter. I lingered a few minutes longer, then headed back to the hotel, careful to keep my promise to my parents. I walked in my room just in time to hear the nightly prayers echo across my balcony. What a life, I smiled, what a world.

*Unless I decided to pull a Christopher McCandless. Or got stuck up in space like Sandra Bullock in Gravity. But that’s not happening anytime soon. Or ever.

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How to Get Mixy: Guidelines from the South of France


What does it mean to be “mixy?” This is a question that I’ve been asked many times over the past several months- by friends, acquaintances, strangers, myself. When I decided to book the Mix of France this summer, a 5-night affair promising lots and lots of mixiness, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. A gathering of hand-crafted cocktail enthusiasts? An ethnically diverse blend of sunbathers? My go to response was “it’ll be Adult Spring Break.” The Cancun college tradition, only classier. Way classier. But this doesn’t even begin to encapsulate mixy. Because mixy is a state of being. It’s like the definition of cool, but cooler. It’s…mixy.

Hosting a 30th birthday party in Cannes with 77 friends, one hotel, and hundreds of bottles of rosé, Grey Goose and Moët et Chandon is mixy. This is how the incomparable Mike Basch chose to blow out his 20s, and it is only appropriate that he is the one who has spearheaded the Mixy Movement. According to him, “mix” is gathering together hip friends from different social circles around the world and allowing them to blend. The hotel serves as a sort of Petri dish where chemical reactions can occur, molecules combining and recombining, a science experiment in social anthropology. While this definition is not incorrect, it’s far too limiting, like defining love as people caring for one another. It needs further explanation. So what is mixy?

Mixy is pre-gaming for the Mix in another country. It’s dancing in Barcelona until 3am then hopping a flight the next morning with a raging hangover. It’s shooting a film in Paris, visiting friends in London, throwing an epic going away party with a hundred friends, staying out all night in New York, then jetsetting to Nice. It’s taking a helicopter into Cannes, sharing a luxury taxi with new friends, working through that hangover together. It’s also booking a last minute flight, deciding on Sunday that Friday you’ll be partying in the South of France. It’s doing whatever it takes to make sure you are part of the Mix.

Mixy is drinking a bottle of rosé at lunch the first day, and two bottles on the beach. It’s consuming more rosé in five days then most non-French will drink in their lives. It’s rosé at breakfast, it’s magnums of rosé at Nikki Beach, it’s rosé at dinner. It’s seeing the world through rosé colored glasses. You should try it sometime, it’s beautiful.

Mixy is partying for five days straight. And five nights. It’s dancing at baoli until 4am, then waking up to take a boat to St. Tropez. It’s 16 hours of dancing, from Nikki Beach to the tables of Brasserie des Arts to VIP. It’s boats of sushi, and more magnums of rosé, and perfectly cooked seabass and filet. It’s a woman in the bathroom line at dinner saying “I wish I were at your table, you guys look like you’re having the most amazing time.” And of course, we are. (Note: spraying 50 bottles of Piper into the air for two minutes might seem mixy, but it’s not. Wasted alcohol = not mixy.)

Mixy is representing countries from all over the world. It’s speaking several languages, and talking in sexy accents. It’s being British and saying whatever the hell you please, because god dammit if it doesn’t still sound charming. It’s being well-traveled and well-versed in other cultures. It’s cosmopolitan.

Mixy is working hard and playing hard. It’s booking a movie on vacation (not me, another wonderful actress), it’s managing a company from a beach chair, it’s waking up early for the market, then drinking rosé. It’s networking with other people in your industry, and those not in your industry. It’s learning about derivatives, then doing a Superman on a stop sign just before dawn (okay, no one learned about derivatives, but a few people work in them.) It’s spending the money you earned, because after all, we only live once. WOLO.

Mixy is running on the Croisette, jumping rope like a maniac, powering through an ab workout. Getting sick is not mixy, but it’s inevitable for all but the most seasoned alcoholics. It’s pushing your body to the limit, then going further in the name of Mix. Sleep when you die, be healthy when you’re home. Anyways, the wine has no sulfites (or maybe it does, but placebo effect), the food is fresh and preservative free, and the sun gives you Vitamin D: all very mixy.

Most importantly, mixy is getting to know some of the coolest people you’ve ever met. It’s guys and girls, singles and couples, old friends and new. It’s a summer fling you’ll think about for years (and pray to someday revisit), it’s the girl in London you’ll stay with next fall, it’s the couple in Germany who invites you to the “secret Oktoberfest” in April. It’s a party in room 352, or 260, or 431. Heck, it’s a party in every room of the Carlton, that’s how mixy the Mix is. And it continues in Istanbul, Tel Aviv, London, Paris, Vienna, New York, Los Angeles, all over the world. Because in the end, Mike is right: mixy is about the people. We brought the mix because we were the Mix.

The question now is: are you ready to get mixy??

Summer Cleaning



This week, not one but three of my friends cleaned out their closets. (Well, one was a storage unit, but same difference). It must have something to do with the changing of the seasons, the departure from May and the arrival of the summer months. It goes from warm to hot in Southern California, and suddenly everyone feels the need to strip down, declutter, show off their bikini bodies. For my three friends, getting rid of their stuff was a way of simplifying their lives, figuring out the essentials, clearing the physical and spiritual space for new possibilities. For me, it was Christmas in June. New bed, new couch, new clothes – woohoo! Never mind that every inch of my closet space is filled to the brim: bring on the stuff!!

I am, by nature, a hoarder. Old boyfriends’ t-shirts, decade old Easter cards from my Grandmother, Ikea dishes – as far as back as I can remember, I have had a difficult time parting with just about everything. Growing up, I maintained huge collections of myriad things – stuffed animals, Barbies, My Little Ponies, hair barrettes. It wasn’t because I was a collector, though, it was because I couldn’t bare to get rid of anything. And I do mean anything- I even saved used gum. I had a massive wad of it hidden away- dozens and dozens, maybe even hundreds of sticks worth, all chewed and stuck together- just in case. In case of what? Well, that’s a good question. A Wrigley factory explosion? A Guinness book of World Records attempt? A way to shut up my brother? Who knows.

My mom has postulated that my inability to throw stuff out stems from my early childhood years spent in Thailand. Living in a third world country, you learn not to waste. Everything has value, can be repurposed, may come in handy at a later date. People subsist on almost nothing, a dollar a day or even a week. When you can’t afford much, what you do have increases in value. If you own only one pair of shoes, or have just a little bit of rice for each meal, these become precious. Not that we were living quite under those circumstances, but as a missionary family we were surrounded by it. It’s an interesting theory.

Whatever the case, my struggle with hoarding has extended into adulthood. I can think of fifty things off the top of my head I could toss right now: a chipped red mug above my stove, a bag of clothes from high school at the top of my closet, candle jars burned a quarter inch to their life, perfume that probably smells like rubbing alcohol. Even as I type this I wonder why I haven’t thrown these things out. The answer: a potent combination of sentimentality and What if?

What if I get an audition for a cowgirl from the 1990s? Better hold onto that button up Abercrombie top and Gap jean jacket. What if I shoot another short film at a café? I’ll need as many mugs as I can get, chipped or not (and the red matches so well with my kitchen.) What if I’m out of disinfectant and need something to make my bathroom smell “fresh?” Better hold onto that Escada perfume from 2004! And you just never know when you’ll be hosting a séance – those candles have to stay.

This level of attachment isn’t healthy, I know. I hear Hannah talk about getting rid of her bright colored clothes because her wardrobe has matured into variations of “black and white,” and I think of how wonderful it would be to be able to open my drawers. Instead, I drive to her house and adopt all of the rejects – these shirts need homes, and I will make sure they find a little space in the back of my closet. Katelyn comes to town to clear out the storage unit she’s been holding onto for four years and I jump to it. Lamps, books, a TV, picture frames. I already own all of these things, but it didn’t stop me from taking them. This stuff is in great condition, and it was hers, and it has a history, and… and… what if?

Like I said, I’ve known I’ve had a problem for a long time, but I don’t think I really realized how bad it was until I started unpacking the espresso machine. My friend and I had given Katelyn the Delonghi as a birthday present 6 years ago, in an effort to save her money on her three latte a day Starbucks habit. It hadn’t worked, and the machine was practically brand new. My identical machine, however, had been run to the ground, so I was replacing it with hers. As I took my worn out Delonghi off the shelf and put it in a box in my mud room, my eyes landed on yet one more espresso machine – a Villa Spidem. I’d inherited this one from a friend a couple years back, had loved it, but it had since stopped working. I had kept telling myself I would have it repaired, but it had been lying dormant for over a year. I knew what I had to do.

Katelyn was removing a tool kit from my trunk when I stepped outside, Spidem in hand. “I keep saying I’m going to fix this, it’s an expensive machine, but I haven’t. It’ll probably cost a couple hundred dollars.” She shrugged. “Toss it.” She said it so effortlessly, like it was spoiled milk or rotting meat (two things I do not hold onto). “Yeah, you’re right.” I opened up the lid to the garbage can, and stared into the dark abyss. Goodbye, espresso machine, see you on the flip side. I held it over the mouth of the can one moment longer, and let go.

And a remarkable thing happened. The second I closed the lid, I felt lighter, somehow lifted. Now that it was gone, all the energy I’d been expending holding onto it and thinking about it was freed up. I had done it! I’d actually gotten rid of something! What a relief! I felt proud of myself, like I’d taken a step closer to Englightenment. I understand you, Buddha! I get it now! I practically patted myself on the back. And then a feeling of dread swept over me. Now that I knew what I knew- I mean, really knew it- it was time for me to do my own summer cleaning.

I hope the Goodwill’s ready.