Wednesday, April 11, 2007

How to make a long story...long

What we did in Istanbul- day by day, taken and expanded from notes Rich wrote in my little Mulberry notebook.

Friday March 30…I want Iskender.

Flew from Oslo to Istanbul, arrived at hotel and given a sales pitch for activities and apple tea on rooftop of hotel. Decided against taking hotel sponsored tours at overinflated prices and instead took the tram to Aksaray district and ate at Sait Iskender, where I had had amazing food when I stayed with Mom and Dad at the hotel across the street lastOctober. Aksaray District is kind of rough, rumored to be all Russian Mafia run, but once you’ve been there you aren’t scared anymore and it’s fine. I think Rich wigged a bit, though. Defintiely not a touristy area.

Saturday, March 31 Rain, Fish, the Orient Express and a Broken Ass.

Busy Day. Also very cold, rainy, windy. Crap weather. We saw Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern, walked around area, had lunch at local restaurant, Karadeniz, which ended up being one of the best cheapest meals we had there. Went and saw tomb of Sultan Ahmet, local ladies very rude to me. Walked around the Hippodrome, then wandered through Cavalry bazaar (old stables behind the Blue Mosque). Were going to go in to the Blue Mosque but I fell down hard on uneven pavement outside and decided, right, that’s it, bugger this tourist shit, I need a break. (If I was 70 or so that fall would have been a hip breaker).

Went back to hotel for brief rest and to sooth my bruised self. Glad I fell on fat part of hip and not the boney part. Did wrench my arm fairly well, though. Ow.

Took ibuprofen, and carried on via tram to Sirkeci station, to the old train station that used to be the end of the Orient Express. Had beer in the old very beautiful restaurant there. Rich said that when he was a baby he and his family took the orient Express Train from France to Istanbul. Cool.

Carried on from there to the Galata Bridge and then had dinner at pne of the many fish restaurants under the bridge. I don’t necessarily recommend them. The fish is fresh but the pricing is a bit strange and they are definitely out to screw you so you have to be VERY aware of prices and hidden charges. This is the biggest overall problem with Istanbul…everyone will screw you out of your money in the nicest way possible. You have to ask the price of everything you touch, eat or look at and then bargain hard. Never order food without first asking the price.

Sunday April 11, 2007 Palaces and More Fish

Weather started off crappy, but got better by afternoon.

Went to Blue Mosque, I did not fall, so that was fortuitous.

Saw the Baths of Roxelana, a very very beautiful hammam that is no longer in use, but is instead a fixed price carpet shop run by the state. They have left the hammam in its original state, however, and it is a shame that it is not still in use as it is exquisite. The rugs were decent prices, though. We both would have liked to have bought one, but apparently have opposite tastes in carpets (he wants brown and I don’t) so never settled on one. We were both united in our desire to NOT buy a rug from a traditional carpet seller. I was just not in the mood to bargain and did not want the hard sell. Strange, I was generally not in a shoppy mood the whole trip.

Went to Topkapi palace, waited forever to get into the harems. Breezed through rest of palace, too crowded to see the jewels, however, and no matter how impressive I am not willing to wait in a line that long.

Had lunch at Konalyi Café, on the back side of the Topkapi, overlooking the Bosphorus. Day was sunny and our overpriced lunch very satisfying.

Walked through Gulhane park, Great flowers. Tulip season, tulips are very popular in Turkey and Turkish art.

Tea at Cafer Aga Courtyard, an old medrese (Islamic school). Very nice, sunny, warm and not overpriced, huzzah!

Rested at hotel.

Tram across the Golden Horn to Beyoglu for a wander and fish dinner. Very fresh fish. Great atmosphere. Tea and dessert at one of the pasaji that are popular, got ripped off by waiter by forgetting cardinal rule and not asking price of dessert. Charged us 4x usual cost of baklava and tea. Grrr.r….

Walked back down very steep hill past Galata Tower (Genoese, 15th Cent.) and across bridge back to hotel. Saw largest rat I’ve ever seen. Cats everywhere, but this rat was a beast. The Cat Killer.

Monday April 2 Cruisin’

Took Bosphorus Cruise…10 turkish lira round trip for all day boat ride, great deal. Boat stops at Anadolu Kavagi for three hours, so we had a nice fish lunch and took a ‘short walk’ (according to guidebook) up to castle on top of hill. “Short Walk” is a bit of an understatement, more like “giant fucking uphill hike” but we made it and had views of the Black Sea and the Bosphorus. Then clambered back down where lunch was highly deserved. Gorgeous day.

After boat tour, ended about 4:30, went to New Mosque (new as in 15th century), the Egyptian Bazaar, the pet market outside there, Rustem Pasa Mosque (gorgeous little jewel of a mosque) and then wandered around the alleyways behind the Egyptian Bazaar. Many alleyways all bustling with activity and shops. Took tram back to Sultanahmet area and had dinner at the Sultanahmet Khoftesi, the original one, where you get a great basic meal for cheap. Yum. Once again the cheap places are the best. Crashed at about 10pm.

Tuesday April 3 Shop til you Drop

Rich geeked out at the Archeological Museum all morning and most of afternoon. Saw some Byzantine ruins (many of those around) and then wandered through Gulhane Park where he had tea.

I went to the Grand Bazaar, where I bought some beautiful Iznik style plates and bowls and house hold stuff. (I wanted new dishes.) I had a nice lunch at the Bazaar guided by my new friend Mustafa, who sold me some of the plates I bought. I had met him on my previous visit. He remembered my parents. I was also offered portage services by men who apparently were so blown away by my touristy green eyed beauty they could just not resist calling to me (or was it my wallet they called?) I didn’t mind being called ‘Elizabeth Taylor’, though.

Rich and I met back up at 3pm, went back to the Beyoglu district and walked all the way up Istiklal Caddesi to Taksim Square. Ate at a brew pub style restaurant, that was nice. Decent beer. Found a Starbucks, a treat as we don’t have them in Norway. Tried to see Galata Tower, closed, so called it a day and trammed back to hotel.

Wednesday April 4 The Bad Day, or You People Suck

Took Tram to Beyazit, negotiated back streets to find Suleymaniye Mosque. I was not allowed inside, even though I wore a scarf over my hair, thick black leggings (pants, really) and a knee length dress. They made me wear an extra skirt. I was pretty annoyed and frankly embarrassed, not helped by fairly severe PMS, and the knowledge that I had made an effort to cover myself when i dressed that morning and indeed only showed skin at ankles and wrists. How come I was not considered decent when bleach blonde Russian girls were going in and out in skin tight jeans and their bellies were showing? Anyhow, I didn’t think that mosque was as nice as the New Mosque. So there.

After that we went and wandered around the back streets behind the Grand Bazaar for a bit where I was continually eyed and stared at by men (WHY WHY WHY????) and Rich studiously ignored my obvious discomfort and pleas for him to please stick close to me. He was too busy being photo auteur. I was very glad to reach the Grand Bazaar where they were more used to red headed green eyed tourists. We ate lunch there, not so great, were overcharged yet again by a baby faced restaurant waiter, and then wandered over to the Mozaic Museum (interesting, hard to find). Shopped a bit in the Cavalry bazaar, then rested at the hotel for a bit before having some beers at a restaurant around the corner. All in all it was not a great day for me, the cultural differences were too harsh and I felt very, very foreign.

Thursday April 5 the Good Day, or You People Rule!

The thing about Istanbul, and, I bet, Turkey, is just when you are ready to tell everyone to go fuck themselves and you didn’t want to visit their stinky old country anymore anyway and you are just going to stay in the hotel and eat worms because nobody likes you, something happens and all the nice people in town come out and make you feel better. After that crappy day before, I met so many nice people everywhere. (Ok so we did have one incident where a cab driver kicked us out of his cab after we questioned whether he was using the meter or not.) (This by the way is always a legitimate question and it was just him being irascible that he was trying to get something by us and we caught him.)

It was a rainy day and we went out to see St Savior Church in Chora, a beautiful jewel like Byzantine church with some of the most remarkable mosaics in the world. It had been converted to a mosque and all the Christian mosaics were whitewashed over , which preserved them for 500+ years until they were rediscovered in the 1860’s.. They glittered and glowed and were stunning. The church\mosque is now a museum. Which was a relief for me as I did not want to have a repeat of the previous day’s experience, so it was nice to just pay and go in and not remove shoes or cover up or worry about cultural differences or anything.

After that I bought a couple of hot rolls from a really nice woman in a wonderfully aromatic bakery, then we bought some things from a guy who sold gorgoues well priced ceramics, then we caught a cab back to Sultanahmet area. (This cab driver did not kick us out.) Near our hotel was a church that was even older than Hagia Sophia, called SS Sergius and Bacchus (now a mosque) or Little Hagia Sophia, and that was such a nice experience. The guy who watched over the mosque was very nice, he put our shoes carefully on shelves inside the mosque, and let me go up the stairs and all over. The place was ancient in the extreme (5th century!) but perfectly maintained and lovely. No mosaics, that I could see, but just clean airy space and thick arched walls. The stone floors were a little worn under the carpets, making for uneven walking upstairs, and the stairs were built for giants, but oh what a place. I took lots of pictures. We had tea in the courtyard (mederse) outside. Many cats.

Rested and had late lunch at a restaurant we had found the night before near our hotel.

I went back to the Calvary Bazaar to consider buying this gorgeous Iznik patterned bowl I saw the other day. Rich went to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic arts, but found it too crowded, so ended up at the bazaar as well. I did end up buying the bowl, after spending a good half hour talking to the shop owner, who was the son of the former Imam of the blue Mosque. We talked about how it was being a ‘preacher’s son’ in the US vs being an Imam’s son, very similar. And we talked about traveling and stuff. Rich was in a shop nearby, negotiating over an oil painting of the Bosphorus and Golden Horn he liked. That day we both sort of shot our wads on things we had seen previously. We went back to the carpet store but could not decide again. Grr.

I went back to the hotel ahead of him, and stopped to talk to one of the guys who worked at our hotel. Told him we saw about a million churches and mosques that day…and he asked did I want to see one more…just under my feet? I said sure, warily, so he took me into a carpet shop, down some stairs into a basement, and there, in situ, were mosaics from an ancient church. Down another floor and there were arches and a bit of painting left and a tiny spring filled with the clearest, stillest water I have ever seen. Down in a basement, under a carpet store, in a nondescript building right next door to our hotel! A 5th century church! Holy crap! I did not have a camera, and Rich was not with me, so I feel like it was my little secret that only I knew about. So cool, as he did not need to take me down there and did it on his own free will. This day totally redeemed my opinion of Istanbul, like somehow Karma knew I had been beaten enough the day before and I needed to see a better side of things.

We finished the evening, Rich and I, with an excellent dinner at the Orient Express restaurant in the old train station and a beer at a ‘British Pub’ that most Istanbullus would never be able to afford.

Flew back to oslo the next morning early early. Slept.

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