With its cobbled streets and ageing buildings covered in greenery, Demirci Reşit is much like any other street in the city of Istanbul – except it’s not. Home to an ancient Greek stadium which was once upon a time used for chariot and horse races, Demirci Reşit is steeped in history. But it’s not the ancient stadium or hippodrome which has attracted thousands of tourists to the area every year. Nor is it the almost unlivable dilapidated wooden building next door, occupied by two middle-aged women with a habit of blowing kisses to passersby. It was the Ayasofya Hotel run by 68-year-old Australian woman Gaye Reeves (above) which continually saw tourists flooding into the area.
Housing thousands of travellers every year from all reaches of the globe, the Ayasofya Hotel has been a melting pot of cultures. From burqa-wearing Middle Eastern women to Aussie men with shorts around their bums, the Ayasofya is known for bringing unlikely groups of people together. Much like its clientele, the hotel’s owner is just as unlikely. Gaye Reeves, a sixty-eight-year-old expat from Melbourne, has run the Ayasofya for the past eight years. A former company secretary for an exporting business, Gaye signed a lease for the hotel on a whim while visiting Turkey eight years ago. “I was living around the corner and I saw this beautiful old hotel for lease so I thought ‘Yeah, I’ll do this,’ and I walked in and did it.”
Just another adventure
With no prior experience in the hospitality industry, and limited knowledge of the Turkish culture and language, Gaye was taking an enormous risk – a risk that not all of her friends and family supported. “I remember having dinner at a friend’s place and this financial advisor was there and he said, ‘Oh you can’t possibly do this because it’s a foreign country,’ and I simply thanked him for his advice.”
For Gaye however, moving to Turkey and opening a hotel was just another adventure. Not content with staying in one spot for too long, she had spent the previous few years before relocating to Turkey renovating and moving houses. “I was always doing mad things, this was just another mad thing.”