Three months ago, I flew to the United States via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. It was the best deal I could find and I decided it would be fun to visit Istanbul during my layover, even if it was just for eight hours.

In the blog post I wrote about that eight hour layover, I finished by saying, “Next time, Istanbul, I’m coming for a week.”

I meant what I said; eight hours in Istanbul is certainly not enough and I wanted to come back for a longer stay. But let’s face it: Istanbul is a long way from Joburg. I knew I wanted to come back but had no idea when such an opportunity would arise – months, years, maybe never.

I guess the travel gods heard my prayer. Because a couple of weeks ago I received an invitation to attend an international conference called the World Tourism Forum, as part of a global delegation of bloggers, during the first week of February. Guess where the World Tourism Forum takes place? That’s right. Istanbul.

The conference lasts for three days but I’m going to stay for a week afterward. (See? I meant what I said.) I haven’t made specific plans yet and I’ll probably just wing it to some extent. But I’m sure I’ll have no problem filling the time.

Here are a few of the things I’m looking forward to when I’m back in Istanbul:

1) The photography. Istanbul (and all of Turkey for that matter, from what I’ve seen and heard) is a photographer’s dream. It’s an ancient place with layer upon layer of colors and textures and shapes.

2) The architecture. I only had time to visit the Blue Mosque and walk past the Hagia Sophia last time. But I saw enough to know that Istanbul has some of the most beautiful and historic buildings in the world.

3) The food. Again, my layover only allowed me time for a quick breakfast and some coffee and baklava. But Turkish food is one of my favorite cuisines, as you know if you’ve read my posts about Turkish restaurants in Joburg. I’ll be experiencing the real thing this time, and lots of it.

4) The people. From what I’ve experienced so far, both here in Johannesburg and briefly in Istanbul, Turkish people are friendly, kind, funny, and welcoming. I’m looking forward to meeting tons of people and shooting a lot of portraits.

5) The cats. CATS! When I was in Istanbul last year, the very first photo that I shot was of a cat. They’re everywhere, literally. Cat-watching can entertain me for hours, if not days, and I can’t wait to get up close in personal with every one of Istanbul’s millions of cats.

One interesting plot twist: It’s winter in Turkey, and it will be cold. (I’m looking at my iPhone weather app now and I see that the high temperature in Istanbul today will be 2 degrees Celsius.) I haven’t experienced winter in the Northern Hemisphere – like actual winter, with below-freezing temperatures and snow – since I moved to South Africa in 2010. So that will be interesting. But I’m up for the challenge.

Istanbul, here I come. For a week.

My flight to Istanbul will be provided courtesy of Turkish Airlines. To get an idea of what the city has to offer, watch this awesome two-minute video about Istanbul.
by HEATHER MASON

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