Monday, October 31, 2011

Benghazi Bound

As most of you know by now, I am doing a short-term contract with a refugee resettlement organization in Libya until the end of the year. In the usual development world last-minute fashion I didn’t have my ticket or official travel authorization until five hours before heading out for my new adventure. After packing like a maniac I set out from Nairobi to Benghazi with 40 kgs of luggage (80 pounds) and my travel guitar. I was blessed with a routing that gave me a 22 hour layover in Istanbul to explore.

I arrived in Istanbul around 10:30 in the morning and had arranged for a taxi to take me to my hotel in the old city first thing. It was a gray day of spitting rain leaving a cold layer of wet on everything, myself included. Undeterred I dropped my things at the hotel, checked my email and then set off meandering the narrow stone streets and storefronts. As my first order of business I stopped for warm shawarma and rice and a Turkish coffee before setting off to the sites. Even with the weather there was a line to get in everywhere. I saw the Ayasofya Church turned Mosque turned Museum; the blue mosque; tombs of former rulers; Basilica Cistern; the grand Bazaar; and wandered the Sultanahmet District. I topped my first set of wandering off with apple tea and a baklava sampler.

After a short drying out period and nap, I headed back out in the rain and found a nice restaurant carved into one of the steep hills descending towards the port. I set myself up by the window with a warming glass of red wine, my book, and a delicious meal. As the sun set and the streets filled with tourists heading to late dinners and bars, I headed back to the hotel, crawled into bed and attempted to sleep…of course waking every hour to make sure I had not missed my 4am departure.

I won’t say much more about Istanbul except I would really love to go back and explore some more. It is a beautiful city full of diverse rich history, good food, and great public transit. Plus they have some pretty wonderful leather makers…and scarves. We all know how I feel about scarves. There is such wonderful shopping to be done and I simply could not partake since I was already overloaded with bags and on my way to a new country…

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