Asian and European; Catholic, Muslim and Jewish; Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman; Chaotic, dense and calm; Ancient and cosmopolitan… This is Istanbul, a city with more history, culture, personality, and contrast than most of the world.

Istanbul’s streets are fragrant with the smell of corn and chestnuts. The city displays a mosaic of colors in its mosques, women’s veils, and beautiful lamps. From the stores and restaurants, one can hear sensual music, and its favorite flavors are the pistachio for the famous baklava, and apple for its tea.

I stopped first in this city before my trip to Cappadocia. Honestly, I thought two days would be enough. What a huge mistake! I had not realized how enormous Istanbul was, full of mosques, temples, museum, markets, towers… and with population of 15 million people!

But wait! When one first arrives, the overpopulation, the noise, the chaos, the language, and the 95-degree heat is the worst welcoming combination. At least it was for me.  After traveling on a bus for 90 minutes, and being scammed by a taxi driver who charged me a looot more money for the ride, I would say I kind of freaked out. OMG! Where did I arrive? Will I be safe? These were the questions that I kept repeating in my mind while waiting for my room.

“Don’t be afraid,” the receptionist told me, as he opened the big city map. After enlightening me of the landmarks and places to go, he emphasized that I would be safe and wouldn’t regret coming.

So I followed his advice, and started my short adventure to ancient Constantinople. And seriously, I had to hurry up! At that time, I only had day and a half.

One more time, it’s true! Don’t believe in first impressions. Once I was out of my hotel, I began to realize how beautiful the neighborhood, Sultanahmet, was. It was full of colors, with little streets, restaurants, cats, dogs… and the view of the two most important landmarks: Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia church.

Hagia Sofia or Ayasofya

Two medallions in Arabic, dedicated to Ala and the prophet Muhammad, made me bristle. They were right next to Jesus Christ in the arms of the Virgin Mary. Was this the church where the first fusion of cultures and creeds was observed?

In the 3rd Century, it was first a Byzantine Orthodox Cathedral, then it became Catholic. In 1453, with the Ottoman conquest, it became a mosque, and only in 1935 did it finally become a museum.

Hagia Sofia is an architectural jewel, composed of an altar and magnificent chandeliers. It holds marble pillars from the Ottoman era, eight huge medallions with Arabic calligraphy, tiles, Byzantine mosaics, imposing columns, a huge dome and stained glass windows. All together they caused a visual ecstasy.

Its entrance is 60 lira, equivalent to 10 US dollars. And you can completely explore it in two hours.

Bosphorus by ferry

The sunset was approaching. I had read that the best view was from the Bosphorus, the strait where Asia and Europe shake hands. There was only a short time to choose a cruise. The simplest option was a ferry to cross to the other continent: the Asian district of Uskudar.

Ferries departed every 20 minutes and the ticket was less than 1 US dollar. They were spacious and comfortable. On the trip, the seagulls escorted us. It was the best place for a panoramic photo of the city, where the illuminated mosques, the lighthouses, the bridge, and the Galata Tower were framed.

Once back, it would have been unforgivable not to dine on one of the terraces along the Bosphorus and under the Galata bridge. Dozens of Turks would use their skills to convince us to stay in their restaurant.

The Blue Mosque

8 a.m.! I had few hours left to finish this journey. I went quickly to the Blue Mosque, the symbol of Muslim beauty and an icon of Turkey.

Also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the outside had an ascending staircase of domes and semi-domes that ended with a larger one. Inside, it was covered by 20 thousand handmade blue colored tiles.

The light entered through its 200 windows, and was decorated with verses of the Koran.  The floor was covered with well-preserved carpets, of course you must enter without shoes and your head must be covered. Only Muslims have access to the prayer area, so the route can be short. The entrance was free.

The Topkapi Palace

The history and treasures of the Otoman Empire, which lasted about 500 years, were in the Topkapi Palace. It was giant, and its rooms portrayed the richness and extravagance of the sultans. There were rooms for their harems, their libraries, and their artillery. The imperial dagger was wielded with gold and emeralds. The palace also holds the fourth largest diamond in the world.

The Grand Bazaar

My favorite moment of the trip had arrived: shopping. How does one not to go crazy among the near 4,000 stores that encompass the Grand Bazaar? It’s impossible not to get lost among lamps, chandeliers, carpets, cushions, plates, cups, scarves, wallets, bags, jewelry…

It’s a mixture of the traditional, like amulets with eyes, and the modern, like the replicas of shoes, purses, and clothing, such as Chanel, Gucci, Versace and Louis Vuitton.

I wanted everything! And, with every step I took, the vendors didn’t make it easy for me. They tried to get my attention by inviting me for an apple tea, and trying to convince me to buy what I didn’t need.

In the Grand Bazaar, the bargaining culture was a priority. I squeezed that skill until I bought a bag, in which I was asked for 1,500 lire and finally paid only 500.

Galata Tower

The night came to Istanbul. Too late to go up to the viewpoint of the highest tower in Istanbul: the Galata, located in the European district Beyoglu. But, it was early enough to tour the immediate area.

Its streets were narrow and, being a hill, you had to climb stairs. Upon arrival, the imposing medieval tower welcomed me with illuminated blue and orange colors.

Around it, music, art and traditional dishes merged. Inevitably, I delighted in the traditional sweet baklava and my last Turkish tea in this city. All the while contemplating the magnitude of the tower.

To return to the hotel in Sultanahmet, the fastest way was with the tram. It is safe, convenient and the ticket was worth less than 1 USD. Of course, I would be lying if I said that I understood how the ‘Istanbulkart’ worked. The directions were in Turkish, but I was lucky that there was always someone willing to help me.

This was how, and almost without feeling in my feet, I squeezed out my two days in this monumental city. I failed to reach the Egyptian Bazaar, the Asian neighborhoods, the history museum, or the other mosques. They will be the reminder that I must return someday. With more time and with more bags to take all the lamps with me.

Hagia Sofia


Ten years of journey


It’s October 2nd. Your suitcase is ready. You still don’t know if the return will be in 6 months or in a couple of years. Worried? I know. You forgot to give the I94 back that day when you came back home in June. Well, that paper will change your plans. Don’t forget to bring the ID of the magazine.

Hey, it’s you. 10 years older, 10 pounds heavier and 10 thousand grey hair. Couple wrinkles, but I can tell, still looks like the old you.

Why am I writing to you? Just nostalgia. I miss writing. No, you will never go back to journalism as you hope to right now and I want to apologize. Your perspectives and priorities have been changed in all these years. But, good news. Finally, after studying in three schools, you speak English. Of course still afraid to talk on the phone.

New York is difficult. VERY. That is aggressive, intense, fascinating, noisy and extremely demanding, yes, like no other city in the world. Your life will be a challenge, full of ups and downs like a roller-coaster. Even though the patience,  tolerance, and resistance are going to help in the road.

This is not a vacation anymore. You will live the other face of the coin when it comes to rent, insurance, MTA’s card and Federal and State taxes. In the beginning looking for an apartment will be your worst nightmare. Jumping between apartments at Queens and The Bronx will all be part of the journey. Unfortunately, the Upper East Side and West Village are still in your dreams.

You will be working in a bakery, selling ice creams, making Christmas baskets until one day will find stability in the Hospitality business. But with the time you will become an Immigration Lawyer, financial adviser, economist, travel agent, guide tourist, plumber, electrical technician, handywoman…

Without any doubt, you will love and hate the city, even on the same day or an hour. When you enjoy a night with a glass of Moet on top of a nice building and then you are stuck in traffic on the bridge or on the train. Your favorite season will be Spring (after the allergies), Fall makes you feel sentimental and the sad days are when you hang all the coats and jackets in your closet.

Your friends will become your family. During these years some of them will disappoint you. True friends will help you anytime, with hospital appointments, giving you a hand and a couch to sleep on. Likewise, you will be that shoulder. And with the time you will have a lot of nephews.

I will warn you, a lot of times you will be scared. But there is one particular situation the fear will run through your veins until it feels like you can breathe. Believe me, this event is going to change your situation for good. It will be the door of your freedom, to the world, and after that, nothing stops you.

You will travel like you’ve never imagined, visiting places you read about in books. A little bit of Asia, Africa, Oceania and more of Europe. Will love the sunset. Traveling will enrich you so much and share it with your family even more.

Now you are a ‘Newyorker’. People say it when you’ve been here for more than 8 years. You are always late or in a rush and never keep quiet. Know your rights and vote for Hillary!

Finally, you found that stability and peace that you were working hard for through the years. For moments you thought it was your biggest mistake. But trust me. You have learned to accept that life doesn’t follow a pre-determined plan. Every person and opportunity appeared and happens at the right time.

You and I love New York. I feel an immense amount of gratitude toward this city that helped me grow into who I am today at my 36th’s. It’s become part of my identity. There’s still a lot to learn and experience. More museums, streets, neighborhoods, corners, building, restaurants, bars, exhibitions. A lot to try and work.

You have no idea how much longer you’ll be here, but you are completely certain it will not be another 10 years.


NY: Diez años de travesía


Hoy es 2 de octubre. Tienes las maletas listas. No sabes si regresarás en seis meses o años. Estás preocupada. Sé que se te olvidó entregar el I94 cuando volviste en junio. Ese papel cambiarán tus planes. No olvides llevar tu carnet de la revista.

Hola soy tú. 10 años mayor, 10 libras de más y decenas de canas. Un par de arrugas, pero puedes decir que aún luces como en este instante.

Porqué te escribo. Solo nostalgia. Extraño escribir. No, nunca pudiste ejercer tu profesión como lo quieres tanto. Discúlpame. Tus perspectivas, expectativas y tus prioridades fueron cambiando con el tiempo. Eso sí, luego de estudiar en tres escuelas, finalmente hablas inglés.  Aunque sigues estresándote al hablarlo por teléfono.

Que New York es difícil,  DIFICILISIMO. Que es agresiva, intensa, fascinante, ruidosa, extremadamente exigente. Si, como ninguna otra ciudad. Tu vida aquí será un deporte de velocidad y reflejos. Una constante montaña rusa.  Pero la tolerancia, la paciencia y la resistencia te ayudarán en esta carrera.

Estas ya no son vacaciones. Tú misma vivirás el otro lado de la moneda, donde todo girará sobre una renta, una tarjeta del tren y los impuestos. Al principio buscar donde vivir será tu pesadilla. Saltarás de departamento en departamento entre Queens y El Bronx. El Upper East Side y West Village seguirán solo en tus sueños.

Trabajarás en una panadería, venderás helados, decorarás canastas navideñas, hasta que finalmente te quedarás en restaurantes. Y la vida te convertirá en abogada de migración, agente de viaje, guía turística, asesora financiera, plomera, electricista…   

Sin duda amarás y odiarás la ciudad, incluso en la misma hora. Cuando estés disfrutando de una copa de Moet en un rascacielos frente al Empire State y luego permanezcas 30 minutos dentro de un tren sin moverse. La primavera será tu estación favorita y el otoño te pondrá melancólica. Y el invierno… sin palabras.

Tus amigos serán tu familia. Algunos con el tiempo te decepcionaron. Los verdadero son los que te acompañarán al hospital, te darán una mano, un sofá para dormir. Pero tú también serás ese hombro e incluso ayudarás a una de tus amigas a tener su bebé.

Te diré que en unos años sentirás miedo. Pero en una situación concreta, el temor correrá por tus venas hasta sentir que no puedes respirar. Creerás que ese episodio será tu puerta a la libertad. Al mundo. Luego nadie te detendrá.

Viajarás como nunca pensaste hacerlo. Conocerás sitios que desde pequeña veías en las enciclopedias. Conocerás un poquito África, Oceanía, Asia y más de Europa. Amarás ver las caídas de sol desde diferentes partes del mundo. Viajar te enriquecerá tanto y compartir con la familia mucho más. 

Ahora eres newyorker. Asi dicen cuando tienes más de 8 años. Caminas apurada, no te quedas callada y reaccionas cuando alguien se mete contigo. Votas en las elecciones.

Finalmente encontraste esa estabilidad. Por un tiempo pensarás que toda esta travesía había sido un error. Pero confía que todo ocurrió en el momento oportuno.

Amas New York. Has aprendido tanto y falta mucho. Museos, barrios, calles, restaurantes y esquinas por conocer. Comida que probar y trabajos por experimentar. Aún no sabes cuanto tiempo te quedarás, pero ya estás segura que no serán otros 10.