Olives, cheese, fresh bread, strong coffee. The traditional Turkish breakfast.
I had been late getting up, sleep still dancing on the edge of my vision, and was in a rush to get myself to the fabled Blue Mosque before it got too crowded.
I chatted with the friendly receptionist, Olga, and she directed me up the street. I was staying in the popular Sultanahmet area, just a stone’s throw from many of Istanbul’s most impressive mosques and historical sites.
I downed my coffee and made for the door.
A sound I had not heard for years, deep and hollow, hit me unexpectedly.
The air pressure changed, the hair on my arms raising.
Something was wrong.
It echoed across the city like a thunderclap.
I turned and looked at Olga, she saw the shock on my face.
‘It is just a dumpster truck, it is OK’
I knew, even as she said it, that she was wrong.
I looked upwards, birds taking to the sky, seeking to escape the source of the noise.
That was a bomb.
I paused, seconds trickling by, praying that I was wrong.
In the distance, the first mournful siren began, quickly followed by others.
Instinct took over, I needed to know what was going on, maybe I could help, I had to check it out.
I pounded up the cobblestones, locals coming out of their shops, eyes turned towards the horizon, none of us with enough information to make an informed decision.
It took me under a minute to get to Sultanahmet square.
Ambulances and police cars raced past me, I could hear screaming.
My worst fears were confirmed.
In the very center of the square, where I would quite possibly have been standing if I had awakened earlier, there had been an explosion.
Throngs of medical personnel raced to the scene, attempting to calm the wounded and save the dying.
The next ten minutes passed by in a whirlwind of activity.
More and more police arrived upon the street, two hundred emergency response vehicles passed me by.
Bomb squads moved in, the police shouted at us to keep back.
Concerned that I was simply getting in the way and aware that a second attack was likely, I turned to leave.
The streets began to empty, the police shutting everything down, gripping machine guns in one hand and waving at us with the other, their eyes scanning every window, every alley.
The atmosphere was tense.
I wandered back towards my hostel, in a state of disbelief.
An ancient Turkish chap in a battered cap sidled up to me.
“Good morning, where are you from”
“England, man” I responded, unsure where he was going with this.
“Today is a beautiful day, would you like to look at my carpet store”
I turned to him, flabbergasted at his timing.
“You think now is a good time to sell carpets?” I asked, gently.
“Brother, life does not stop, we must all carry on, later, when we know more, then we pray”
I admired his determination.
I slipped past him, disappearing into the fray of Turks and tourists keen to get as far away from the blast as possible.
I headed for a small tea shop and entered. The TV was playing, soon, the first reports would wash in.
I was greeted by a young man in a spotless apron who wordlessly poured me a mug of free apple tea and sat next to me whilst I babbled about what I had seen.
We sat together for a couple of hours as the news reports flew in, he translated for me.
It did not take long for the news to mention what everybody had been thinking; this was an ISIL sponsored attack.
Reports were conflicted but one thing was clear – this was a suicide bombing aimed at killing tourists.
“This will be very bad for Turkey, they want to hurt the tourists to damage the economy”
It sounded like a concise enough evaluation to me but, as I took to the streets, and the internet, to find out more, it became clear that this is not just about hurting tourism.
This is bigger than that.
ISIL is highly organised and, with a minimal amount of digging, it is possible to find their entire game plan by reading the group’s periodical magazine, Dabiq, which is circulated online.
Obviously, Dabiq is propaganda but, by reading enemy propaganda, you can learn a lot about what scares a group.
ISIL’s biggest challenge?
Trying to maintain the local population of tax-paying civilians to keep its fledgling regime afloat.
An attack in Istanbul was inevitable, Turkey has accepted more Syrian refugees than any other country, as of March 2015, it was estimated that Turkey had provided sanctuary to more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees.
Every individual who escapes Syria, every person who makes it across the border and onwards to Turkey or another refuge, this is a blow to ISIL.
ISIL wants to force the Turkish government to close the border, to cease accepting refugees, to meet this aggression with more aggression, to up the ante.
I am hoping this will not happen.
What we need right now, more than anything, is peace and understanding.
As soon as we give in to fear, as soon as we become suspicious, as soon as we close the gates to those in need, the enemy has won.
The streets of Istanbul are far from jovial. There is a quiet somberity hanging over the city and yet, the people remain friendly, delighted to see the few tourists who are still here.
Armed police guard every corner, smiling at everybody, guardian angels in black body armour, providing a sense of security.
Shrines of flowers and card, messages of support, photos of loved ones, fill the square.
The Muslim call to prayer, defiant in the face of terror, washes across the city five times a day.
The spirit of Istanbul is far from broken.
The people are angry, they are hurt and yet, everybody I have spoken to; Turks, Syrians, expats and tourists, we are all of one mind.
We will not be intimidated by mindless violence.
I was supposed to leave Turkey today, to make my way East, onwards to Iran and then Pakistan.
Instead, for a few days at least, I have opted to stay, to hang with my Turkish friends, to play darts, smoke shisha, explore the crowded alleys of the Grand Bazaar and to soak in the fascinating vibes of this ancient city.
In the wake of the bombing, I received numerous messages from friends and family.
One friend, who is due to come to Turkey, asked me for an honest assessment of the situation – surely I wanted to get the hell out of Istanbul?
This is an incredible place, the only city in the world that spans two continents, the gateway to Asia, the historical capital of the Byzantine empire and home to some of the friendliest people in Europe.
These days, with random attacks sporadically popping up across the globe, there is no telling where is and isn’t safe.
Now is not the time for panic or half-baked decisions.
Now is the time to say no to conflict, no to hatred, no to fear.
Now is the time to stand up, be counted, to support the Turks in their time of need and to ensure that the world continues to assist Syrian refugees determined to escape ISIL.
Now is the time for action. Do not cower.