sunday post: wonderful

Sunday, November 4:  There are so many places in this world that are simply WONDERFUL.  I’ve seen many of them in the past 6 years, but one that is closest to my heart is Cappadocia in Turkey.   Here are some photos of a place that is absolutely wonderful.

Click on any of the images below to get a full-sized slide show.

This post is in response to Jakesprinter’s Sunday Post Challenge: Wonderful. 

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travel theme: on display

Sunday, October 14: Ailsa’s (Where’s my backpack?) Travel Theme challenge for this week is: On Display. She writes: No matter where you go, there’s always something for sale somewhere. The items on display in local stores are often evocative of the flavours and aesthetics of the culture you’re in and make for really interesting photographs.

I love the colorful things on display in the flower and spice markets near the New Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.  These are a feast of sights and aromas: Turkish delight, lentils and beans, dried figs and apricots, pistachios and hazelnuts, saffron, henna, olive oil soap.

Click on any of the photos in the gallery for a full-sized slide show.

the grand bazaar & farewell to turkey :-(

enjoying some quiet before tackling the grand bazaar

Tuesday: In the morning, I stop at an outdoor cafe near the Hippodrome to have some mango juice and Turkish coffee.  A girl is “on display” there making some kind of bread.  I “take a rest,” as they say in Korea, gathering energy, of which I have absolutely none remaining.  I linger and enjoy the quiet street and my drinks, watching as the tourist area bustles to life around me.  I wonder if I will catch a glimpse of long-lost Genghis, since this is close to where I met him two days ago, but he is nowhere in sight.  He probably wouldn’t speak to me anyway, since I never showed up last night.

a girl making bread at the outdoor cafe

I head up, finally, for my long-awaited shopping trip in the world’s oldest shopping mall, the Grand Bazaar, or in Turkish, Kapalı çarşı, meaning Covered Bazaar. It sprawls over a huge area in the center of Istanbul and was a thriving market even in Byzantine times; when the Ottomans arrived, it became even bigger.  It has over 58 covered streets and 1,200 shops, many of which are grouped by goods, such as jewelry, pottery, spice or carpets.  A shopper’s paradise… 🙂

the jewelry street at the grand bazaar

After buying my carpet, which was totally above and beyond my budget, I don’t have much money to shop, but I do have specific things in mind that I have determined to buy.  One is a colorful lamp.  The other is a ceramic plate or two.  Lastly, I want to buy some copper earrings that have colorful designs on the fronts and are shaped like either rectangles, diamonds, or teardrops.  I pass through a huge street brimming with gold jewelry, but I can only look longingly at the goods that are way out of my price range.  Apparently Turks love gold because it’s an investment in something tangible other than the constantly fluctuating currency.

beautiful everythings

By this time in my trip, I am utterly exhausted and don’t have the energy and enthusiasm for shopping that I usually have.  I know what I want to buy and I am on a quest for those particular items.  Usually I could spend an entire day, and many lira, shopping in a place such as this, but sadly, I am just too tired.  When I first find the Bazaar, it is totally overwhelming.  There are countless shops and a seemingly infinite number of beautiful things.  I enter through the gold and silver markets; jewelry gleams in every shop window but I don’t see the simple copper earrings I want.  These are very expensive pieces.  I can’t help but look, but I do so quietly; I don’t dare ask anyone about prices because I do not want to get involved in any haggling over something that is clearly out of my range.  So I unobtrusively walk through, just looking.

As the bazaar is covered and lit by thousands of light bulbs, it is quite warm and stifling.  I meander and wander through the maze of streets, knowing that I will never exit this place in the same place I entered.  I realize within a brief time that I am hopelessly lost.  Oh well, wherever I end up, I will just take a taxi back to my hotel, so it doesn’t really matter.

evil eyes for sale

I find a ceramic shop that has similar plates to what I have seen at the ceramic factory and at Harun’s shop.  So I buy 3 beautiful and very different plates, which the shopkeeper wraps carefully in bubble wrap.  I take them away and continue my journey.

I stop at several lamp shops.  I had been ready to pay 65 lira for a Turkish lamp at Harun’s shop, so I believe here I should be able to find one cheaper.  I find a shop where the lamps I like are around 55 lira and determine I will settle on one here.  I find one in rainbow colors of red, royal blue, yellow and green and make the purchase, having them wrap it carefully in bubble wrap.  Of course, as I am waiting, they serve me Turkish apple tea and chat with me about where I am from, how I like Istanbul.  The young guy who has lured me in keeps looking at me and smiling.  He asks if I am married, if I have children, if I have a boyfriend.  And then very earnestly, he tells me:  I wish I were older.  Honestly, I am not kidding, you have such a beautiful face…. I really do.  I wish so much I was older.  I say, Thank you, that is so sweet.  How old are you?  He says 19.  But honestly, again he repeats, I really do wish I was older.

This is one of the sweetest things anyone has ever said to me.  For the first time, a young Turkish guy doesn’t compliment me in order to get me to buy something.  The sale is already done; I am just waiting for the merchandise to be wrapped.  He is very sweet and just goes on his merry way, back to the business of luring.  He doesn’t try to convince me to meet him later; he just said what he thinks and goes back to business.  I am taken aback by this compliment out of nowhere.

The Grand Bazaar

After this I wander around a bit longer looking for the copper earrings, but I can’t find any here.  I know exactly where I can get some close to the Blue Mosque and I am hot in this place, so I leave.  I find an exit and when I come out, I have no idea where I am.  I see Istanbul University and another mosque-like building.  I am hauling the rather heavy lamp and ceramic plates so I flag down the nearest taxi and take quite a long ride to the Blue Mosque.

Back at the Emma Saray, Mehmet is nowhere in sight.  I am relieved.  I gather up my carpet, lamp and ceramic plates, as well as some other items from the shipment Mike sent to me that I need him to return to anthropologie; I head catty-corner across the street to the UPS store, where it costs me $200 (USD!) to send everything I have bought back to the U.S.  I have determined that there’s no point in taking it to Korea as I will eventually have to get it back to the U.S. anyway in 6 months.

a mosque of unknown identity near the grand bazaar

After all that is taken care of, it is 3:00; my plane takes off this evening at 7:30 pm.  I leave my bags at the hotel and head back to Sebahattin’s restaurant, where I order a late lunch of doner kebab and chat with him while he works until around 4:30.  He is exhausted as am I.  He’s busy working but he comes to chat with me when he can.  I enjoy his company for the last time.  He says, when will you come back?  I say, I don’t know.  If I can get a job here, I will be back in August of 2011.  Possibly I could stop back here on my way home in March. He says, I really want to see you again.  I tell him I would love that as well.

He tells me he called someone he knows about a hotel he wants to buy; he thinks it would be great if we went into business together, if I invested in this hotel and he could run it.  I tell him I have no money and even if I did, I have no desire to go into the hotel business.  I know it is an endless & thankless job running a small hotel or bed & breakfast; the work never stops.  That’s not the life I want for myself.  He says, well you have to live somewhere if you come here.  I say, yes, but it won’t be a hotel that I have to run as a business.

Istanbul University

Sebahattin and I like each other, but as is the usual Turkish circumstance, he wants me for something I can give him in the way of money or employment or a means to get ahead.  It’s sad to me.  I also know he has this girlfriend in Spain who he is conflicted about.  And of course he is so young.  I like him despite all of this, and when I leave at 4:30 I am sad to go.  I hate to say goodbye to someone I enjoy so much.  But I leave, I walk away, looking back and waving one last time as I round the corner.  I walk down the cobblestone streets back to my hotel, feeling sad and just as alone as when I came to Turkey.  At the hotel, I have them call me a taxi.  I am kind of hoping to see Mehmet to apologize to him one more time, but he is not there and probably wants to hear nothing more from me anyway.  I get into the taxi and ride away, looking out the window at a colorful and complicated city I have come to know, just a little, and to love quite a lot.  The Bosphorus & the terra-cotta houses fly by out the window, and I am dropped at the airport, where I return again to Dubai (for only a short layover this time) and then home to far, far away Korea, where I am back to being isolated from the rest of the world.

I love you, Turkey.  Fare thee well.  I hope with all my heart to see you again and soon…. 🙂


the nostalgic bosphorus tour, a dinner date at doy doy & getting a wee bit sidetracked on my (1 hour) walk…

Monday, August 2: This morning I get up early to take the day-long cruise on the public ferry, known as the Nostalgic Bosphorus Cruise.  After eating breakfast on the terrace of the Emma Saray, I take off for the Bosphorus ferry port: Boğaz İskelesi in the Old Town’s Eminönü district, near the mouth of the Golden Horn. On board at 10:30 a.m., I happen to sit across from an Australian girl named Sarah (my own daughter’s name) who works in London.  She has been in Istanbul for 3 days now and her luggage, which the airline lost, has still not been found.  She’s been living on the few things she brought in her carry-on bag, and she’s had to buy new clothes & other necessities while waiting these 3 long days.  Surprisingly, she doesn’t seem upset today though she admits she’s had her meltdown moments.

at breakfast on the terrace of the emma saray

at breakfast on the terrace of the emma saray

Today is the first overcast day since I’ve been in Turkey.  The sun has been bursting with yellow gold every day for nearly two weeks. But every cloud has a silver lining; it is pleasantly coolish today, even a little chilly on the water.  A breath of fresh cool air that I relish….

the public ferry at the bosphorus ferry port

the public ferry at the bosphorus ferry port

In Rick Steves’ Istanbul, he recommends sitting on the left side of the ferry, in order to get the best views of the European side of Istanbul on the way north, and then the Asian side on the way south.  Since I’m one of the first people on the ferry, I am able to do this.  As we pull off, we see the panorama of the old town peninsula, including Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace.  Further away, as we leave the Golden Horn and go out into the Bosphorus, we can see the minarets of the Blue Mosque.  With the hazy sky today, it looks almost mystical.

looking back from the ferry to the old town

looking back from the ferry to the old town

We pass by the 19th century  Dolmabahce Palace of the Ottoman sultan.  First we see the Dolmabahce Mosque and then the palace itself.  The waterfront view of this is quite impressive.

Right before the Bosphorus Bridge, we pass the 19th century Ortakoy Mosque; beside that is the 19th century mansion, Esma Sultan Yalisi, which once belonged to a sultan’s daughter.  We pass under the Bosphorus Bridge immediately after.

the dolmabahce mosque

the dolmabahce mosque

Along the cruise, we see hills dotted with colorful houses, summer palaces of sultans, nightclubs, a private sports club.  We see the Rumeli Fortress, built in 80 days by Sultan Mehmet II a year before the conquest of Constantinople in 1453.  Continuing on the European side, we see a high-end district with fancy houses and a 19th century mansion that has been the summer mansion for Turkey’s president since 1985.

dolmabahce palace

dolmabahce palace

As the boat turns toward Asia for its last stop at Anadolu Kavagi, we can see a great view of the Bosphorus opening into the Black Sea.  Anadolu Kavagi is on the Asian side of Istanbul; it’s a small fishing village that, because of its location, is a strategic checkpoint for vessels going through the Bosphorus.  At the top of the hill above the village sits the Byzantine Yoros Castle.  When we stop at Anadolu Kavagi, we have nearly 3 hours to explore.  Most of us on board walk through the village and climb the long hill up to the castle, for a view of the Bosphorus and the Black Sea and the quaint village below.

the 19th century ortakoy mosque

the 19th century ortakoy mosque

It’s funny because when the ferry first pulls up to Anadolu Kavagi, waiters are waving numerous national flags, French, British, American,  from their waterfront  restaurants.  The passengers on board the ferry get a hoot out of this. Obviously they count on the business from the ferry passengers.

Apparently Anadolu comes from a Greek word meaning “the land to the East” while kavak means “controlled pass.”

the rumeli fortress, built by sultan mehmet II in 80 days

the rumeli fortress, built by sultan mehmet II in 80 days

I immediately follow most of the ferry passengers to hike up to the hilltop above town to see Yoros Castle.  The hike is a convoluted one through a bunch of casual eateries perched on the hillside.  At the top finally, the castle itself is pretty much a faded version of a former more glorious self; it’s pretty run-down and not maintained well.  Despite that, it is at the top of the hill, and I can never resist climbing a tall hill or mountain to see a great view.  Standing on the hilltop, I can see the Bosphorus to the south and the Black Sea to the north.  The hike is not too strenuous, but even with the overcast day, it’s quite hot and of course, I am covered in sweat in no time.

fancy schmany waterfront houses

fancy schmany waterfront houses

When I get to the top, there doesn’t seem to be any open entrance to the castle, but people are stepping over a barbed wire fence to go through the only opening in the stone wall.  I follow everyone else across the barbed wire.  On the other side, there is nothing but a wide grassy area where lots of people are milling around, sitting on the grass.  There are even some policemen and soldiers standing about, unconcerned about all the people who have just crossed the barbed wire fence.  I wonder, why is barbed wire across the entrance if no one really cares if people cross over?  It doesn’t make sense.

After coming back down from the hike, I am hungry so I stop at the waterfront restaurant where the waiters were earlier waving the flags.  The specialty here is midye tava, or deep-fried mussels.  I order a cold beer and the mussels for a pretty light weight meal, along with a lot of bread that I gobble down.

boats in the marina

boats in the marina

After eating, we get back on the ferry and head south, back to the Golden Horn.  Again, I sit on the left side of the ferry, this time to get the view of the Asian side of Istanbul.  Sarah sits beside me once again and across from us, I meet some Americans, one of whom graduated from The College of William & Mary, where I also graduated.   We take a picture together and she asks me to send it to the Alumni newsletter, but I have yet to do it! (I will, I will!)

Along the Asian shore, we see the 19th century Art Nouveau-style Hidiv Pavilion, built for the Ottoman governor of Egypt.  We see the circa 1700 terra-cotta mansion of Huseyin Pasa, the newer (1988) Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, built by a Turkish-Japanese company.  We see impressive mansions with “garages” for private boats, a Western-looking 19th century hunting pavilion of the sultans and the Anatolian Fortress, built by the Ottoman Sultan Beyazit at the end of the 14th century.  We see a military high school and too many impressive private waterfront mansions to count.  These mansions are called yali, many made of wood.  We see the Cape of Kandillia (“with candles”), named for the lamps lit to warn ships of strong currents.

anadolu kavagi and yoros castle

anadolu kavagi and yoros castle

After I finish with the Bosphorus Cruise at 5:00, I head back to the Emma Saray.  I intend to take a shower and go to dinner at the Han Restaurant, which I had seen the previous week in Istanbul.  But in the hotel lobby, I get on the only computer to check my Facebook and emails.  An older man, about my age, comes and sits beside me and asks about my day.  He has long gray hair, kind of hippie-ish looking, that’s combed back from his face, and his hair is thinning at the top.  He’s gaunt and his teeth have a few problems, but he’s still somewhat handsome in a hip older-man sort of way.  He introduces himself as Mehmet and he works at the hotel.  He asks me about my life, wants to know why I’m traveling alone and why I don’t have a boyfriend or husband, and whether I have children.  He tells me he thinks I’m very attractive and as I’m looking at Facebook, he sees some of my pictures and says he likes them very much.  He wants to see more, so I show him some of my millions of photo albums on Facebook.  He ooos and ahhhs over them, even the really bad ones!

one of many eateries along the hike up to yoros castle

one of many eateries along the hike up to yoros castle

After we sit there for quite some time, he asks if I would like to have dinner with him tonight at 8:00.   I say sure, why not.  I know I am supposed to meet Genghis at 9:00, but at this point, after mulling over this during the day, I have decided things are too complicated with Genghis, all mixed up as they are over money issues, the carpet purchase, and other strangeness.  Besides I really don’t think at this point that Genghis will even show up.  I really think I want to see Sebahattin again, but I know he will be working until late, so, as Mehmet seems like a nice man who seems quite taken by me, I agree to dinner.

yoros castle

yoros castle

I go to my room and take a short nap and shower and get dressed in the same Moroccan print knit dress I wore to the Dimrit in Cappadocia.  When I meet Mehmet in the lobby, he has dressed up nicely in a crisp light blue button-up shirt, except it’s not buttoned up.  It’s unbuttoned midway down his chest and he has on a gold chain.  His gray hair is all slicked back with some kind of hair gel or something.  Though he looks all cleaned up and shiny, I am turned off by the unbuttoned shirt and the gold chain.  Funny how little things about a person can immediately be a turn-off!  Sometimes I know, I am so shallow. 🙂 But what can be done about this?  Can I ignore something that gets under my skin; can I ignore my immediate repulsions about a person and try to get past them, in the hopes that they can be fixed in the future?  I have found that this never works.

a tanker going from the black sea to the bosphorus

a tanker going from the black sea to the bosphorus

He takes me to dinner at a place where the locals go, the Doy Doy.  When we go in, we are led up four flights of stairs to the very top terrace, where we can see a great view of Sultanahmet.  Over dinner of doner kebabs, I ask Mehmet if he’s the owner of the Emma Saray, but he says, no, he just works there.  I ask where he lives and he says he lives in the hotel!  Though in a younger man I could find this response forgivable, in a man my age, I find it’s NOT.  He tells me he’s been divorced for many years and lives alone and likes just having a very simple life, just enjoying life.  I find this a total turn-off.  We continue to chat about many things, but by this time I have lost interest and I happen to look at my watch and see it’s 9:00.  I wonder if Genghis is at the Egyptian Obelisk waiting for me, but I determine in my mind that he probably isn’t.  Still.  I think I am going to need to get out of this, and soon.

heading back down the hill from yoros castle

heading back down the hill from yoros castle

The Doy Doy doesn’t serve alcoholic beverages; earlier in the hotel lobby, I had told Mehmet that I love to enjoy a glass of red wine with dinner.  So he tells me that he’s gotten a bottle of red wine and he hopes after dinner I will come back to the Emma Saray and sit on the terrace and share the wine with him.  Hmmm…. I’m not thrilled about this notion.  But he is a very nice man and I don’t want to be mean or hurtful when he’s gone to so much trouble to get all spiffed up and even secured a bottle of wine.  I say, Okay, sure.  So, we go up to the terrace of the Emma Saray and he pours us each a glass of wine.  He is staring intently into my eyes and he tells me he really likes me so much.  There are several other parties on the terrace, kids included, but that doesn’t stop him from leaning over and grabbing me and kissing me passionately!  I pull back instinctively.  I say I feel uncomfortable doing this with all these people.  Truth be told, I feel uncomfortable with him.  He starts talking about how he would love to be with me in my room.  Ohhh…. NO!  This is not good.

anadolu kavagi below

anadolu kavagi below

I take a deep breath. I say, Mehmet, you’re really a nice man, but I don’t have those kinds of feelings for you.  He says, you haven’t even given us a chance.  At least you should give us a  chance.  I say, I just don’t have those kinds of feelings.   He is very passionate in his entreaties.  I’m feeling pressured and I don’t do well under these circumstances.  I say, very firmly, I think I’m going to go for a walk.  He says, What? Right now?  I say, yes, I need some time to think.  I’m going to be gone about an hour, I think.  He pleads with me not to leave, offers to accompany me.  I say, No, I really just want to go alone.  I need some time to think.  So, I’ll go now and I’ll be back in about an hour.  I get up and he follows me down to the lobby.  I walk out the door.   I don’t look back.

me and a fellow william & mary graduate on the bosphorus cruise

me and a fellow william & mary graduate on the bosphorus cruise

I head directly to Sebahattin’s restaurant.  He is happy to see me and I sit at the same table where I sat last night and he brings me a glass of wine.  He says, I thought you might come back last night.  I say, 1:30 was just too late for me!  I was tired and went back to the hotel to sleep.  He says, well, I’m glad you’re here tonight.  Since it is a Monday night, the streets are more deserted and so is the restaurant.  He is able to sit with me for longer periods because there isn’t much business.  An hour goes by, then two.  I’m drinking wine, chatting with Sebahattin, feeling totally relaxed and enjoying every minute.  I say, are you closing at 1:30 again tonight?  He says, no, since it’s slower we will probably close earlier.  I sit longer.  I tell him I admire him because he’s such a hard worker.  He’s really very diligent; even with just the few customers they have, he is always making sure they are perfectly happy and have everything they need.  When the few people walk past the restaurant he hops up to try to convince them to come in.  He tells me that he never went to school, that he has been working since he was 10 years old.  I’m shocked.  I say, doing what?  He says he’s worked at carpet shops, ceramic shops, restaurants, everywhere, doing everything.  This makes me so sad to hear this.

the street in front of sebahattin's restaurant

the street in front of sebahattin’s restaurant

Around 11:30 or 12, suddenly there is yelling and hollering at the rear of the restaurant.  Two big guys are suddenly swinging and pounding on each other and everyone from the street, the nearby restaurants and from inside the restaurant goes running to break up the fight.   There is all kind of commotion and I’m kind of excited really that I’m here in the midst of all this!  What is wrong with me that I like this kind of thing??  Sometimes I really think I’m going off the deep end.  Finally, numerous other men who have entered the fray pull the two men apart and drag one of them out to the street.  More yelling ensues.  I’m just sitting there watching.  My heart is pounding.  Finally, they encourage the guy in the street to leave the area and things calm down again.  Sebahattin tells me they will close the restaurant and wants me to come out with him to a place he knows where we can smoke shisha.

We go to this place and it’s quite a beautiful place really, all terra-cotta walls, big fluffy couches with cushions galore, individual open-air rooms where small parties can gather.  It really is quite lovely and we smoke some apple-flavored tobacco.  I already had a couple of glasses of wine at the restaurant so I feel relaxed.  Some beautiful music is playing and Sebahattin and I are enjoying being together in this romantic spot.  More is to follow, but sorry… in a protected post 🙂

back to istanbul, that insane bus terminal & crazy turkish encounters

Sunday, August 1: I wake up on the bus and find, much to my surprise, that the bus is on a huge ferry, crossing a mysterious body of water.   This ferry is packed with buses, and many of the passengers have disembarked and are standing at the railing of the ferry, watching the lavender and pink sunrise.  This is quite a delightful surprise.  I get off the bus as well, and look out over the water, wonder what body of water it is.

on the ferry crossing to istanbul

on the ferry crossing to istanbul

Later, when we are back on the bus and rolling, the bus waiter comes around with drinks: coffee, juice, water.  I ask how long till we arrive in Istanbul.  He says 8:00.  I weigh the risks.  One hour.  Can I drink some juice maybe, and be safe till we arrive?  I decide yes, I can handle it.

They’re right.  In one hour, we are at the Istanbul bus station.  But!  How could I have forgotten what a nightmare this place is?  We sit, tens of coaches, on the ramps leading up to the top-level of the terminal, where passengers are dropped.  It is 8 a.m., and we are here, but we’re not.  We’re trapped; I’m a prisoner on this bus and I have to pee.  We are going nowhere.  Nowhere!!  Idling, spewing exhaust, staring at other sufferers on the buses next door; they’re so close I could touch their faces if there was not glass in between.  They look miserable too… or am I just reading my misery into their faces?  I’m thinking if I can’t hold it, what can I do?  What are my options?  Can I jump off the bus and squat between the buses, in plain sight?  Or run up to the littered grassy hill and pee, with no bushes or trees or even tall grasses for cover?  Or, hmmm, maybe I can steal one of the plastic juice cups, squat down between the seats and pee into the cup.  Hey, I’m a pro at peeing into cups; I’ve been doing it all my life in doctors’ offices.  Or, I could get off the bus and walk up the ramps faster than the buses will move, but how will I ever find my suitcase that now sits so unattainable in the underbelly of the bus?  In this beehive terminal, how would I ever find my bus?

sunrise on the ferry

sunrise on the ferry

So.  I sit, suffering, panicking, sweating, shifting left and right, crossing and uncrossing my legs, trying to find the best position that will least likely allow an accident.  I wonder if I’m in such a panic just because I know I can’t go.  Am I causing a panic in myself just because I know it’s impossible?

Finally, after an eternity, we get to the top and are released.  We get our bags.  But, alas, the only WCs are down several flights of stairs and I have this two-ton bag of mine!  A grizzled Turkish man beckons for me to follow him and I do, to a held-luggage room.  They’ll hold my bag for a couple of lira while I run down the stairs to use the restroom.  Whew!

So far, on all my bus trips, I’ve had someone to meet me, someone with my name on a placard.  But now my tours are over, and I’m on my own.  I’ve arranged this final bit of Istanbul on my own.  I make my way to the metro, where again I have to carry my bag down multiple flights of stairs. I ride the metro till I switch to the tram.  On the tram, I take  a seat midway between the two doors.  At each successive stop, I watch as the tram gets increasingly packed.  I hope these people will get off before the Sultanahmet stop, but that’s too much to hope for.   More and more people pack in.  I realize I have no plan of action to get to the door carrying my bulky suitcase and two bags.  I stand 2 stops before I’m due to get off and inch my way to the door, people parting like the slow red sea.  Miraculously, when my stop comes, people stand clear; they’re looking out for me; they’re easing my way.  I make it off.

the emma saray boutique hotel

the emma saray boutique hotel

I lug my suitcase clacking and bumping over the cobblestone streets of the old town searching for my hotel, the Emma Saray.  It’s much further afield than the Big Apple Hostel.  It’s hot and I’m beat, sticky, irritable & exhausted.  About 45 minutes later, I’m at the Emma Saray and I use their computer in the stifling lobby until my room is ready and I can finally take a shower.

Ah, water!  On this trip, I have come to appreciate, adore, even worship that most elemental of things: water.  The room is air-conditioned. 🙂  I jump in the shower, linger a long time.  Since the morning before, I have been lounging in the sun covered in sunscreen, swimming in the salty Aegean, donning my comfy, but dirty, traveling clothes.  I’ve been accumulating layers of sweat and salt on my body.  By the time I take this shower, it is a blessing, a treasure, worth more than silver or emeralds or diamonds.

After my shower, I head out to the streets of Sultanahmet.  I stop for lunch at Buhara 93, a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves, that just happens to be on my way to the Hippodrome.  I eat the yummiest doner kebabs, after eating a hot puffy bread right out of the oven that looks like a pillow.  It’s delicious.  After eating, I continue on up the hill to the Hippodrome.  I intend to go to Taksim again, back to a shop called Mavi, to buy some shorts and some cargo pants.  All my clothes are filthy now, especially my white shorts and the navy cargo pants that I’ve worn almost daily.  They’re covered in dust from all my hiking through Cappadocia.

At the Hippodrome, a dark, brooding guy falls into step with me and strikes up the typical conversation.  His name is Genghis, like Genghis Khan, he tells me, and he has the bulky body typical of guys you imagine from Kazakhstan or one of the old Soviet -bloc countries.  He says, hello.  Where are you from?  I’m not a tour guide; I just want to speak to you.  I just want a friend.   He asks if I’d like to sit in an outdoor cafe and we do, we sit at that cafe and he buys me a mango juice and himself a tea, and he smokes while he stares at me with piercing eyes.  He’s very intense.  He asks me about myself, Are you married?  Why don’t you have a boyfriend? He says he’s not married, he’s around 30 years old.  He tells me I’m very attractive and he keeps staring intently at me.  I’ve never seen anyone with such an intense gaze.

Yada, yada, yada.  There’s a long story that goes along with this man, and that post will follow this one, but it is not for the weak-hearted and thus will be protected.  Anyway, skip ahead.   After a long while, and after buying a carpet that I certainly didn’t need and didn’t even want, Genghis walks me to my hotel, where I drop the carpet, and he arranges to meet me at the Egyptian obelisk at 10:00 that night.  We part ways, and I head back up toward Sultanahmet.  The tram is not working for some reason, so I share a taxi with another man; I then take the funicular back to Taksim. There,  I buy the shorts and cargo pants I intended to buy.  I decide to stop in at the little restaurant where I ate before, but the whole restaurant is being gutted and apparently renovated.  There’s not a soul in sight. I make my way back down the steep cobblestone streets intending to take the tram, now operational, but it’s so hot, I opt for a taxi instead.

wine, me & sebahattin

wine, me & sebahattin

I shower again at the Emma Saray and head out to a fish restaurant I saw on my way.  When I get there, it’s closed for renovation, and a random guy on the street recommends a fish restaurant called Balikçi Sabahattin.  Though the setting is quite lovely, on a large outdoor patio in a side street of no special interest, the sea bass is mediocre and outrageously expensive.  I am also underwhelmed by the service.  Maybe because I am a single woman, I’m not sure, I get ignored and have to go out of my way to get the waiter’s attention.  When I leave I am disgusted with myself for staying even after seeing the ridiculous prices on the menu.  I ask to speak to the owner on my way out and I tell him that this was the worst dining experience I’ve had in all of Turkey.   He shrugs.  I am not impressed.

I decide to stop by Harun’s shop.  If nothing else, I told him I would buy a lamp from him and some plates.  I also know he will be good entertainment with his charm & humor.  This time, instead of two young French guys, there are two older South African guys sitting at his little table out front.  They are all having a jolly good time.  Harun is surprised to see me and asks why I never came back the next day when I promised I would.  I told him it was because of the way he turned his back on me and walked away after our long walk.  He gives me a reason for this, but I forget it now.  I have a seat at the little table and we all chat in a companionable group.  Harun is still flirting with me.  I say that I told him I would be back to buy the lamp from him, so here I am.  He asks if I will come back at midnight after his shop closes.  I say sure, I’ll be back.

me with sebahattin at his restaurant

me with sebahattin at his restaurant

I leave Harun’s shop and I’m supposed to meet Genghis at 10:00 but it’s still too early for that.  As I walk up the hill around the corner from Harun’s shop, I am lured once again into a restaurant by a cute guy wearing a purple shirt with a big diagonal stripe across it.  He has the palest green eyes I have ever seen.  He introduces himself as Sebahattin (he pronounces it Sebastian), and he’s around 30 and Kurdish.  I order a glass of wine and talk to Sebahattin while he’s working.  He keeps taking breaks and sitting down to talk with me.  He smokes and I join him.  He asks me if I’m married.  I tell him the story.  I ask if he has a girlfriend.  He says he did but they broke up. (I don’t think this is really true. I think she is very much still present.)  He says she’s from España.  She loves him very much but they argue constantly because she wants him to visit him in Spain, but he can’t get the visa.  She is very upset with him; he’s sad, but what can he do?  He says he’s not that sad; if he really loved her, he would do what’s necessary to get to her, right?  So he says.  I enjoy his company very much.  But I tell him I have to leave.  I have to meet someone I met earlier in the day.  I don’t really think Genghis will show up, but I will walk up to meet him in case he does.

Since I have been enjoying Sebahattin, I am late to meet Genghis at the Egyptian Obelisk.  I am surprised that even though I’m late, he is there waiting.  We walk up to a little bench and sit, but he is very distracted.  And obviously depressed.  He gets a phone call.  He asks if I can meet him outside of my hotel at 11:30.  By now it’s 10:30.  He wants to go for an hour to meet a friend who can give him some money.  He doesn’t have a cent, and he’s worried, I can tell.  He’s very down and sad and my heart breaks for him.  I say, No.  I think it’s best if we don’t meet tonight because you’re distracted and depressed.  I think it’s better tomorrow, if you’d like to meet tomorrow night.  He says, I can meet you at 11:30 tonight, or I can meet you tomorrow at 9:00 at the Egyptian Obelisk.  Tomorrow will be my last night in Istanbul, I tell him. I agree to meet him. We part ways.

stopping for wine at sebahattin's restaurant

stopping for wine at sebahattin’s restaurant

I go back to Sebahattin’s restaurant.  We talk more, flirt.  He’s a hard worker; he keeps jumping up to do his luring.  He’s good at enticing people in.  He is thin but tough, very tightly wound.  He keeps popping up and running to wait on the few customers, or he jumps up when he sees anyone approaching on the street.  He asks if I can come by tonight at 1:30 when the restaurant closes.  I tell him I already promised to meet Harun at midnight.  He knows Harun and doesn’t think much of him.  I tell him the story about Harun from last week.  I say I don’t really know much about him.  Sebahattin brings me another glass of wine on the house.  I can’t finish it; I tell him I have to leave to meet Harun.

I go to Harun’s shop and the South Africans are still there.  They’ve been there for hours!  This is how charming Harun is; they’re all having a grand time, laughing and storytelling.  Harun is packing up the shop.  When we finally leave, it’s late and what happens with Harun, when all is said and done, is nothing.  After we part ways, I think of going back to Sebahattin’s restaurant, but I’m too tired and have had too much wine already.  I go to my hotel room and sleep.

Protected: genghis & the carpet that got me

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floating in the aegean sea, finding (someone else’s) true love, & the bus back to istanbul

Saturday: After eating the Hotel Sozer‘s pathetic excuse for a breakfast, I become embroiled in an altercation with the staff.  On my way to breakfast, I tell them I have no hot water.   They assure me they will fix it.  After eating, I check in with them and they haven’t even had anyone follow-up. A boy follows me up to my room and tells me I should leave the water to run for 10 minutes. I do and it remains coolish-lukewarm. This is upsetting to me because I have not run across a bathtub in ages (only once at the Antik Cave Hotel); Korea has few or no bathtubs, and Turkey is lacking as well.  I have my mind made up that I will take a bath at this hotel, and they are foiling my plans. In addition, the phone in my room isn’t working, so each time I have to make an inquiry about the water, I have to go all the way downstairs again.  I do just that after running the water for 10 minutes and finding no change in the temperature.

the pre-dawn view out of my crappy hotel window

the pre-dawn view out of my crappy hotel window

Another staff guy comes up and sticks his hand under the water.  He says in a snide voice, What?  This isn’t warm enough for you? I say, No!  Are you kidding?  He says, Let it run 30 minutes.  I say, 30 minutes!! That’s ridiculous!  He says, You have no choice.  You have to wait.  He leaves and the water runs, never changing from its original temperature.

I go downstairs again.  They brush me off, say there is nothing that can be done. I ask about my phone.  I say I need to call my travel agent to make arrangements for my overnight bus tonight and I have no working phone.  They say they will get someone to check on it.  I finally go take my lukewarm SHOWER (a lukewarm bath is no fun!) and still, when it is time for me to leave for my boat trip at 9 a.m., no one has come up to fix my phone.  I go downstairs and tell the desk staff I need to use a phone because mine isn’t working.  They grudgingly make the call for me, but it’s too early; Turista’s office in Istanbul isn’t open.  By then I am furious at their attitude.  As if I am the one being unreasonable!  I must check out of the hotel and leave my bag with them for the day because I will not return till 5:00 from the boat trip.  I tell them before I leave that this hotel has terrible service and I am not one bit happy. They shrug.  Obviously service matters not to the Hotel Sozer.

a cruise on the aegean

I am the first one on the boat.  A woman with scarlet-dyed hair and a tight-fitting camouflage/leopard print top offers a drink.

the maroon-headed lady

the maroon-headed lady

The air is blue and breezy and the water shimmers and bounces in the sun.  It’s a lovely day for a cruise.  I sip a Coke and wait.  Two tall unshaven Turkish men (they look like brothers) are readying the boat for the day, moving ropes and anchors and cushions, chopping food in the gallery below, filling coolers with ice.  Birol, the one who booked my trip,  shows up briefly to say hello, hugs the other two men, and then vanishes.

departing the marina for the day-long cruise

departing the marina for the day-long cruise

A large group of 12 arrives; they are all Iranians.  One of the women, wearing huge sunglasses,  sits beside me on the cushions; she is quite pretty but she looks miserable and says she has a horrible headache.  Another nice young lady, Mitra, tells me she teaches English in Iran.  She’s Iranian, though, not a native speaker.

so happy to relax

so happy to relax

Other people arrive in pairs and smaller groups, Belgians, Turks; I am the lone American.  Finally the boat pulls out of the marina and we are on our way.  We cruise along the northern shore until we reach a rocky cove with some caves.  Several of the guys jump overboard and swim.  I am not warmed up enough yet for swimming, so I just watch.

looking back at the marina from the boat

looking back at the marina from the boat

After a half hour or so, we head out into the wide blue sea.  At first we can’t even see land on the horizon.  It’s a bumpy ride of at least an hour.  The Iranians are drinking beer and I swear there is some Persian music playing and they are dancing all over the boat, snapping their fingers over their heads, twirling around and around.  They ask me if I’d like to dance, but I’m not really ready to start drinking & dancing at 11 a.m.  I enjoy just chilling and watching.

the seasick iranian girl in the sunglasses and her kind boyfriend in the purple shirt

the seasick iranian girl in the sunglasses and her kind boyfriend in the purple shirt

The Iranian girl with the sunglasses is turning white.  She is getting progressively sicker and is now vomiting into a plastic bag.  Her boyfriend, a handsome gray-haired guy in his 40s stays by her side, bringing her ice, holding her, letting her lean her head against him.  She looks horrible.  He is patient and kind.  I know it’s really tough to travel with someone who is sick when you feel just fine.

Finally, we arrive at a pretty cove with a beach and a couple of trees; a rocky ledge and silvery bushes border the inland side of the beach.  Five other mid-sized cruise boats are anchored in the cove.  People on some of the boats are dancing and singing.  The seasick Iranian girl climbs off the boat and swims to the beach, where she lies like a dead person under a shade tree the whole time we are anchored.    I descend the ladder into the water.  Shocked by the cold at first, I am soon soothed and cooled.  I float and swim around and around.  Three little Turkish boys, maybe 12 or 13, keep saying Hi! Hello! to me. (This sounds like my students in Korea.  They’re always saying Hi! Hello! But they can never take the conversation any further.) One of the boys with a pimply face keeps winking at me!

one of the other boats in the cove

one of the other boats in the cove

The two men and the scarlet-haired lady serve us a huge lunch at a big center table.  I have a beer now as it is after noon.  The three Turkish boys are sitting on the ledge at the back of the boat.  The pimply one keeps smiling at me and winking.  Boy, they are trained early here in the art of flirtation!

After lunch, and my beer (!), I lie in my bikini (which I never wear around anyone I know!) on plastic cushions covering the bow of the boat and sleep.  I sleep so soundly that when I wake up, I find we have moved to an entirely different cove!  I never even felt or heard the boat moving.  I must be exhausted. 🙂

the beach at the cove

the beach at the cove

We stop at 3 different coves, each time for about an hour.  Each time, I dip into the cool turquoise water and swim.  After, we take the long ride back to Kuşadası.  This late in the afternoon, the water is quite rough, and we bounce roughly home.  By this time the seasick Iranian girl is practically wearing the plastic bag around her mouth, puking into it constantly.  Her face is pale and her eyes are black and sunken.  I have never seen anyone so seasick.  Her boyfriend remains kind and patient; he sits on the floor holding her, pulling her hair off her face, rubbing her back.

I sit toward the front of the boat as we chop & bounce along and chat with the scarlet-haired lady and her husband.  I find that she is a nurse from eastern Turkey and they have been married a long time and have a 17-year-old son.  Her husband is Birol’s brother and the brother of the other captain on the boat.  They all look alike, tall, lanky, a little sun-weathered and grizzled, but handsome.   She and her husband look into each other’s eyes, laugh together, seem incredibly happy, even after being married a long time.

cruising

cruising

I think I have found true love.  Yesterday, at the Virgin Mary’s house, I drank from the fountain of love, and I made two wishes hoping to find true love here in Turkey.  Sadly, I forgot to wish for true love FOR ME!!  I think on this cruise today, I find true love multiplied by two.  The Iranian boyfriend taking such good care of his seasick girlfriend and this couple, the scarlet-haired lady and her weathered captain husband.  I realize that this is probably the closest I will come to having my wish come true. 😦

After the cruise, I go back to the haman for a pedicure.  Though yesterday’s bath and massage were quite lovely, today’s pedicure is amateurish.  The lady holds my feet on her lap and dries my toenails by blowing on them!  She never applies a clear protective coat.  By the time I return to the hotel from the hamam, the nail polish is already chipping.

boats galore

boats galore

On my way back, I stop at a cafe and eat a quick mushroom omelet, then I wait at the hotel to get picked up for my last overnight bus back to Istanbul.  The hotel of course had never called Turista as I had asked them to;  finally, I connect with Marina myself; she tells me someone will pick me up at 8:00 and he will have my bus ticket.  I am squirming because the guy doesn’t get there until 8:30.  I imagine the worst: having to stay another night at the Hotel Sozer!

coming back into the marina

coming back into the marina

Finally, I am transported to the bus terminal, where I have to wait 45 minutes in the grungy, dirty outdoor terminal.  I am miserably hot and sweaty.  I board the bus, finally, at 9:30.  Next to me tonight is a fat Turkish woman who falls promptly asleep and leans in my direction like the Tower of Pisa all night.  Each time we stop for breaks, I have to climb over her; she never even flinches.  Her legs are like tree trunks…. it’s a good thing she’s asleep.  Otherwise, she would be someone serious to contend with!

Again, the long overnight trip with the sporadic stops.  The bus terminals bustle with Muslim women in colorful floral headscarves, sunken-eyed children, rough-looking Turkish men smoking and standing around in some kind of secret brotherhood.  Always these pretzel-like things for sale, which I never get around to trying. The light in these places is always a dirty yellow; in it, the shadowy faces look sallow and sickly, including my own. The toilets have bidets to clean your undersides, like all good Muslim countries, & big washtubs for washing before prayers.  These terminals have a seamy underside that is partially mitigated by the covered Muslim women; they somehow make these surreal places seem safe.  I figure they are prayerful women and they’re in charge; the men are rough and tired from the wear & tear of their hard lives. These women look like peasants; they’re different from the covered women in Egypt or Dubai.  In Dubai, especially, the covered women seem to wear the classic and simple all-black hijabs.

Anyway, I can’t help but think that in all this heat, in Turkey, Dubai, or Egypt, the covering seems silly.  I sympathize with the modesty factor in the religion, but I cannot truly understand why these women choose this, or submit to it.

Back to Istanbul… for my last 3 days.

 

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