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

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

loving atatürk in the new district: taksim square, istiklal street, galata tower and the dreaded overnight bus

Sunday, July 25: I fall in love with Atatürk today.  I read about him in Rick Steves’ Istanbul as I travel to Taksim Square, where I see his statue, and here’s what I find:  His name was Mustafa Kemal but the Turks called him Atatürk: literally “father of the Turks” but in the context it stands for “Grand Turk.”  He defended Turkey from invaders during WWI and saved Turkey from the chopping block after the war.  He was a war hero, but not only that, he had a vision of what he wanted modern-day Turkey to be.  He wanted a European-style democracy.  In less than 10 years, he aligned Turkey with the West, separated religion and state, adopted the Western calendar, decreed that Turks should have surnames, changed the alphabet to Roman letters from Arabic script, abolished the sultanate and caliphate and polygamy, emancipated women and outlawed the fez and the veil.  He died at 9:05 on November 10, 1938 and each year all of Turkey observes a moment of silence on this day.

I am so moved by his story that I actually get all choked up and cry as I read this, while I am riding the crowded tram!

Tomb of Sultan Ahmet the First

Tomb of Sultan Ahmet the First

Before my journey to Taksim, I eat my last breakfast on the terrace of the Big Apple with Jessica and her mom.  After, I walk up through Sultanahmet Park and stop into the Tomb of Sultan Ahmet the First (1590-1617), who ascended to the imperial throne at age 13.  His greatest achievement was the building of the Blue Mosque, completed in 1616. He died of typhoid fever a year later at age 27.  He rests here with a dozen or so children.

the Han Restaurant, where I resolve to eat when I return to Istanbul

the Han Restaurant, where I resolve to eat when I return to Istanbul

Walking to the tram I come across a really cool Turkish restaurant called the Han, where I take pictures.  I resolve that I will eat here when I return to Istanbul on Saturday, July 31.  Tonight I cannot eat here as I will be taking the dreaded overnight bus to Cappadocia.

Taksim in the New District:

Off the tram and on to the funicular, up the hill to Taksim Square.  On the funicular I strike up a conversation with a nice Turkish family.  I tell them I LOVE Turkey, that I am teaching English in Korea, that I hope to teach in Turkey next year.  The husband gives me his email address and tells me he might be able to help me with this quest.  I am grateful.

Taksim Park

Taksim Park

Off the funicular, I am totally confused as streets are branching off in every direction.  I ask about Taksim Park, where I wander about for a bit.  Then I find the square with the Republic Monument, the statue of  Atatürk.  On one side of the 1928 statue is the military hero; on the other he is depicted as Turkey’s first president.

The Republic Monument at Taksim Square - Ataturk as President

The Republic Monument at Taksim Square – Ataturk as President

As I leave the statue and head toward Istiklal Street, I am shocked to see Tomomi, my Japanese friend who explored Dubai with me!!  We give each other a hug.  He is rushing to the airport to catch his flight home to Estonia.  I say what are the chances in a strange city the size of Istanbul that we would run into each other like this?  Sometimes it is such a small world.

I have come to Istiklal Street mainly to shop.  I am looking for some white capris; I have never been able to find any in Korea or at home in the U.S.  The only thing I buy is a pair of charcoal gray cargo pants.  After the long walk down the street, I stop for lunch at a lovely restaurant where I have an eggplant (they call it aubergine) kebab.  The restaurant manager and the head waiter talk to me in broken English, asking about my trip, where I am from.  They are very sweet.  This is just one of many times where I am eating and I think I am going to be lonely, but I’m not.  I have great company!

Galata Tower:

I continue to meander down the steep hill and stop at the Galata Tower.  This 205-foot-tall stone tower built by the Genoese dates from the mid-14th century.

Galata Tower in the New District

Galata Tower in the New District

It’s been used over the years as a fire tower, a barracks, a dungeon, and a launch pad for testing human flight.  I stand in line to go up to the elevator and think I will die of the heat.  Sometimes, in these situations, in close quarters where the air is at dead standstill, I have panic attacks.  I try to imagine myself somewhere else.  The elevator is hot as well.  Finally we are released and go out to the balcony of the tower.  The view of Istanbul is phenomenal.

The view from Galata Tower

The view from Galata Tower

I can see everything: the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, Asian Istanbul, the Sea of Marmara.  It’s amazing!  I enjoy as long as I can, dreading the trip back down (I have seen the lines going back down the elevators!).

veiw south from galata tower across the golden horn to sultanahmet

veiw south from galata tower across the golden horn to sultanahmet

The dreaded overnight bus:

I take the tram back to the Big Apple and though I’ve already checked out, they let me use a shower.  I change into my comfy “traveling clothes” and head for Turista Travel, where I am to catch a shuttle to the Istanbul bus terminal for my first overnight bus to Cappadocia.

On the shuttle, I meet an Italian girl named Marinella, who is an environmental researcher in Milan.  She says you do this kind of work for passion, not for money.  I say, oh well, as long as you can afford to travel, that’s what’s important, right?  She agrees.

me at the top of the galata tower

me at the top of the galata tower

We are in the shuttle heading into the bus terminal and we’re at a dead standstill.  There are two lanes of buses, heading up these huge convoluted ramps.  There are multitudes of buses!  Marinella tells me that according to the Lonely Planet, the Istanbul Bus Terminal is the largest bus terminal in the world, or at least in Europe.  I can believe it.  I have never seen anything like it.  Korea has an extensive bus system, but it is nothing like this!  We sit there for nearly an hour, in the queue up the ramps to catch our overnight bus.  Luckily Turista has built in enough time.

these shoes are made for walkin' ~ but i'm taking the overnight bus...

these shoes are made for walkin’ ~ but i’m taking the overnight bus…

I have the Lonely Planet Turkey Guide, but I can’t find this information to confirm it. I do a Google search but I find the largest bus terminal is the Preston Bus Station in Lancashire, England, though it’s about to be pulled down.  But I read in Tom Brosnahan’s turkeytravelplanner.com that this bus terminal, known as Büyük Otogar, has 168 ticket offices and gates, its own Metro station, shops, restaurants, hotel, police station, clinic and mosque.  Anyway.  It’s the biggest bus terminal I have ever seen!

In one of the lower parking levels, which we can see as we are going up the ramp, I point out to Marinella a guy in some black bikini briefs, changing his clothes from his bag in the bus cargo hold.  He is naked except for these briefs, but he proceeds to get dressed: button up shirt, nice trousers, tie, socks, shoes.  We sit on this ramp so long that we see him get dressed start to finish!

When we arrive at the top deck of the terminal, it is mass confusion.  We are to get on the Suha bus line.  None of us knows how the bus system works.  Do they have toilets on board?  No, we find out they don’t.  How often do they stop?  We can’t find out.  We all run up to Suha’s shabby and closet-sized office and climb 3 flights of stairs to use the squat toilets.  I have no idea what to expect.

The seats are relatively comfortable, though not as large as the seats on the Korean buses.   Once I settle in the very front right hand seat, and the bus begins its journey, we are served water, juice or soda by a bus attendant (like a flight attendant) pushing a cart.  I’m afraid to drink because I have no idea how long it will be before we stop.  It turns out there is no worry, because for the first two hours or so, we make too many stops to count.  I guess we are stopping at every bus station on the outskirts of Istanbul for this inland trip.  I write in my journal for a while and then settle into an uncomfortable and fitful sleep.

In the two seats directly across the aisle from me are a Muslim mother wearing a colorful headscarf and her three very young children.  How will these children do on this bus trip, crammed as the four of them are, on these two seats?   It is beyond me….

topkapi palace, archeology 101, the coke zero guy (& someone’s been into the turkish viagra)

Saturday, July 24: I get up early, ready to explore the world that is Istanbul.  But where is my towel?  Obviously someone has been a little zealous in their cleaning.  I throw on some clothes and run down to the front desk to get a replacement.  At the computer where I detour to check my emails sits a curly red-head girl named Jessica. Coincidentally, she has been teaching English in Seoul, Korea for 2 years!  And here she is in Istanbul!  She is having money problems.  Her debit card, which has worked without a hitch in every country she has traveled to, is being rejected by Turkish ATM machines.  She has absolutely no money but wonders if I will lend her some until her mother arrives that afternoon.  She says, I will give you my whole backpack as collateral!!  I am a little leery.  I myself have little money on me since no one would take my Korean won.  And I don’t know her at all.  She needs enough to get on the metro to meet her mother at the airport and wonders if she can have 50 lira.  I give her 10 and tell her that if she can’t figure something out through the English-speaking front desk guy when he gets in, I will give her more at breakfast.

in Sultanahmet Park

in Sultanahmet Park

After showering, I go to the terrace, where I join Jessica for breakfast.  She tells me much about her 26-year-old self; she elaborates on her travels to Vietnam, where I hope to go this winter.  She is a stand-up comedian in Seoul and her boyfriend is one as well.  I tell her my daughter is 26 and a red-head as well.   She eats a ton of olives and makes a sandwich from the breakfast buffet for lunch and she stuffs it in her bag. I give her the 50 lira she needs.

Alex, a lively guy from Sweden, sits near us and strikes up a conversation, telling us a harrowing story about how his bus was detained for 2 hours at the Syrian border.  He is reinventing his life; after working in the telecom business for years, he is now back in school studying psychology.  I tell him I was always interested in psychology but I never followed that dream.  He wants to go shopping to get some new trousers to replace the camouflage shorts he has been wearing for his entire 2-week journey. He is waiting for a friend who will join him in the afternoon from another country; they are planning to travel around with no set plan.  I am impressed that he is reinventing his life!  I feel we are connected in that quest.  I admire his adventurous & courageous spirit….

The Imperial Gate of Topkapi Palace

The Imperial Gate of Topkapi Palace

topkapi palace:

After breakfast, I head for Topkapi Palace.  After wandering around the lovely grounds and looking at the Divan Tower and Council Chamber, I head directly for the Harem, where there is luckily no line.  “Harem” refers to 2 things: (1) the wives, favorites and concubines of the sultan, and (2) the place where they lived.  I meander through about 20 rooms with rich tile-work, including the Courtyard of the Mother Sultan, the Courtyard of the Wives and Concubines and the Courtyard of the Black Eunuchs.

Hagia Irene ~ dating back to the 6th century

Hagia Irene ~ dating back to the 6th century

the council chamber under the divan tower

the council chamber under the divan tower

harem... they're for real!!

harem… they’re for real!!

Though the Arabic word “harem” means “forbidden,” it commonly refers to the part of a Turkish house that’s reserved specifically for women family members.  To the Turks, the word connotes respect and dignity, not sexual fantasy.  At Topkapi Palace, the harem’s role was primarily to provide future heirs to the Ottoman throne.  Every time the Sultan had sex with one of the women, it was carefully planned and recorded.

one of the rooms in the harem

one of the rooms in the harem

in the harem

in the harem

sitting room in the harem

sitting room in the harem

stained glass windows in the harem

stained glass windows in the harem

mosaics in the harem

mosaics in the harem

The Harem’s once opulent space is now a faded version of its former self.  But still.  I get a sense of its magnificence.  It sprawls.  It brims with endless long couches, low tables, ottomans, huge beds with elaborate canopies, royal blue gleaming niches in walls.  Candy for the imagination.  Of course, as always, nothing is air-conditioned (we are so spoiled in the U.S.!) and it is sweltering and close.

in the harem

in the harem

at topkapi palace outside of the harem

at topkapi palace outside of the harem

After leaving the Harem, I wander into the beautifully landscaped Third Courtyard, and sit for a minute to enjoy the shade.

in the 3rd courtyard of the palace

in the 3rd courtyard of the palace

on the Palace grounds

on the Palace grounds

on the grounds of Topkapi Palace

on the grounds of Topkapi Palace

I pack in with the crowds to the Imperial Treasury to try to look at some of the Sultan’s riches, but I admit I only do a perfunctory walk-through.  It’s just too darn hot!!  And sultry.  Outside, I stand on a balcony that looks over the Bosphorus, Bosphorus Bridge, Asian Istanbul and Sea of Marmara.

on the palace balcony overlooking the bosphorus

on the palace balcony overlooking the bosphorus

on the balcony of topkapi palace, the bosphorus below

on the balcony of topkapi palace, the bosphorus below

For 3 hours, I explore Topkapi Palace.  It’s funny when you travel, you feel a sort of obligation to see all of these historical sights; you hope you will visit this place again, but you fear that you may not, so you try to soak it in with all your might.  But.  In the end, what you remember are the moments of pleasure you experience.  For me, it is sitting in the shade in the courtyard; it is standing on the balcony looking over the Bosphorus and feeling the breeze.  It is drinking in the colors of the opulent blue and green tiles and loving the way the light streams into the rooms.  It is stopping in the bookstore near the entrance to discuss good Turkish books with a young bookseller and almost buying Louis de Bernieres’ Birds Without Wings because he is so enthusiastic about it.

on the other balcony of the palace looking over the golden horn into asian istanbul

on the other balcony of the palace looking over the golden horn into asian istanbul

Next, I walk to the Istanbul Archeological Museum and ask about air-conditioning.  Ha!  I am so kidding myself!  By now I am hot and exhausted… and hungry… so I walk away and away and am lured into a Turkish restaurant by a guy who specializes in luring.  What is this person called, who does this thing?  Is he called a “hawker”?  The definition is “one who sells goods aggressively, especially by calling out.”  I met many of these people in Istanbul, “hawkers,” maybe.  I think “lurer” is a better word because they don’t really shout.  They try to strike up unobtrusive conversations with you as you walk by and they suck you in like this.  Quietly but persistently.

Anyway, I am lured in because he can promise me air-conditioning.  I am so easy!!  I order cold meze, appetizers served in small portions, cooked in olive oil: stuffed grape leaves, eggplant salad (delectable!), and a mix of yogurt, cucumbers, and garlic with olive oil.  As I speak with an older couple from Argentina at a next-door table, I sip a glass of red wine.  The Argentinian man tells me you must either like Chile or Argentina, not both, because they hate each other; people who love one must necessarily hate the other!  Odd. He catalogs a whole series of hatreds: we like Brazil but they hate us; we hate Uruguay but they love  us.  He (who seems more British than Argentinian to me) raves about the Archeological Museum and goes into great detail about all the treasures there.  He insists I MUST go there.  They also say I should take a long walk to the New Mosque, where I might be able to see a Muslim service in progress.  The wife raves about that.

archeology 101:

After my wine, I feel fluidly loose (too relaxed really to go anywhere except for a nap!), but by gosh, those Argentinians told me I MUST see the Archeological Museum. So there I go.  A smaller version of the Egyptian museum, there are too many antiquities to count.  The grounds are green and lush and I fall in love with a little garden with ancient statues in it.  I wander around, feeling a little too tipsy to even bother reading the placards.  A huge sarcophagi collection.  The highlight, which the Argentinian raved about, is the 2,000-year-old Alexander Sarcophagus (Alexander the Great is portrayed in battle on the sides), though it was actually carved for King Abdalonymos of Sidon.  Greek and Roman sculptures abound.

statue in the garden of the archeological museum

statue in the garden of the archeological museum

inside the archeological museum

inside the archeological museum

the archeological museum

the archeological museum

mosaics in the archeological museum

mosaics in the archeological museum

in the garden at the istanbul archeological museum

in the garden at the istanbul archeological museum

Outside I go to another building that’s the highlight for me: the Tiled Kiosk … Why is it I am always drawn to beautiful colors and the decorative arts?  This pavilion contains a huge assembly of Selcuk, Ottoman, and regional tiles.  I fall in lust with the tiled prayer niches in the walls.  I am so nappy now.  In Korea, the Koreans are always telling me to “take a rest.”  Heeding the echoes of their repetitive advice, I go back to the garden with the statues and lie on a bench looking up through the leaves.  I drift off.  Ah, a slice of heaven.

a circa 1430 prayer niche in the Tiled Kiosk

a circa 1430 prayer niche in the Tiled Kiosk

the coke zero guy (& someone’s been into the turkish viagra):

After “taking my rest,” I walk along the street following the tram tracks toward where the New Mosque is supposed to be, asking directions along the way.  I stop to buy a Coke Zero and as I’m walking along sipping my coke through the crowds, a very young (read: cute & hot) guy appears beside me with a Coke Zero in his hand.  He is tall & medium build, has dark hair, an unblemished face, a sly smile.

He holds his Coke up as if to offer a toast, noting that we are both drinking the same drink.  He starts rattling off the regular Turkish guy talk: Where are you from?  What’s your name?  I’m Mesmut.  I study physical education.   Do you like physical education?  (I swear he flexes his muscles at this point).  Do you like me?  I like older women.  I say, how old are you?  He says, guess.  I say 21.  He says, yes, I’m 20 or 21.  Hmmm.  Doesn’t he know his own age?  He smiles, says, you want to have a fling?  We can go straight up to a my room and have a fling.  I say, I’m going to the mosque to see the service.  He says, let’s sit on this bench for a minute.  I am hot, so I sit.  I’m also curious to see how he operates.

Surprisingly, in the middle of this park, right next to the mosque and the spice market, crowds of people orbiting, he grabs me and kisses me!  I actually enjoy it for a split second until I realize how idiotic it is.  I’m embarrassed.  He is kissing me and then he is pulling my hair. Hard.  He is crazy passionate, or just plain horny.  I’m not a prude in public or anything, but he looks so young that the age difference is utterly absurd.  Ahmed in Egypt was young for me at 26, but he at least looked to be in his late 30s and had a mind of a 45-year-old!  I abruptly stand and tell him I’m going to the mosque, but first he insists on giving me his email address and Facebook name.  I tell him it is time to say goodbye. I pull myself away and escape to the mosque.

turkish viagra

turkish viagra

I swear, poor Mesmut has been into the Turkish Viagra.  This is a popular name for a spiced paste in the form of candy (made of nuts and dried fruits) which claims to restore health, youth and potency; it is more commonly known as Mesir Paste.  Apparently the “viagra” claim is based on the traditional link between nuts (with their vitamin E) and libido!  Hmmm… poor Mesmut ought to steer clear of the Istanbul spice market.

the new mosque, aladdin, & the flower & spice markets:

I walk, a little shaken, into the New Mosque, and sit in the courtyard to calm down.  I don a cloth skirt and scarf provided by the mosque and go into the mosque.  There is no prayer service at the moment, I have no idea when the next one will be, and I don’t want to wait around.

the courtyard of the new mosque

the courtyard of the new mosque

inside the new mosque

inside the new mosque

So I leave, wander through the flower market and then sit down to have a mango juice at a cafe where another crazy guy takes a bunch of pictures of himself with my camera.

at the flower market

at the flower market

the flower market

the flower market

the crazy guy in the cafe

the crazy guy in the cafe

I then explore the spice market.  This is a feast of sights and aromas: Turkish delight, lentils and beans, dried figs and apricots, pistachios and hazelnuts, saffron, henna, olive oil soap.

delicacies at the spice market

delicacies at the spice market

at the flower and spice market

at the flower and spice market

sweets at the market

sweets at the market

nuts and grains at the market

nuts and grains at the market

olives

olives

While taking pictures of some jewel-colored water pipes, I am apprehended by shopkeeper Aladdin, who strikes up the regular involved Turkish conversation.  He plans to study acting in New York.  🙂 He asks me if I will have a drink with him at 7:00 when he gets off.  I say I will see. Of course, I never go back.

aladdin's colorful water pipes

aladdin’s colorful water pipes

By this time, I am utterly exhausted and I walk the LONG hot road back following the tram tracks to the Big Apple, where I take a nap.  After showering and changing, I meet Jessica and her mom in the hallway.  Her mom, who is my age, is thankful that I helped out her daughter by giving her 50 lira, and she repays me immediately.  They invite me to have a beer with them on the terrace, which I do. The mother is a lawyer living in Ohio.  Every year she goes to a conference in London and has been rotating her 4 children, one at a time, through London and then to a country of their choosing.  She asks me what took me to Korea at this point in my life.  I tell her the long boring story.

I go to dinner at Lale Restaurant, the famous “The Pudding Shop,”  where, according to Rick Steves, “a generation of vagabond hippies started their long journey east on “The Freak Road” to Kathmandu in the 1960s.”

feeling a few moments of loneliness at the Lale Restaurant

feeling a few moments of loneliness at the Lale Restaurant

I am practically the only one in the restaurant, and despite the male attention I have had in the last two days, I actually feel lonely, probably for the first time on my trip.  I drink a glass of red wine, eat chicken orzo soup and a vegetable omelet.  I go back to the hotel early, and right before I get in bed at a pathetic 9:00 p.m., I meet my two new roommates, a mother and daughter traveling together from England.  The mother has to take the bunk above me because there are no more bottom bunks.  I go to bed happy to have met two older women also staying in a hostel.  Maybe this adventure I’m on is not so unusual after all.

On men (Turks, Koreans and expats):

Though I understand fully that these Turkish men have their ulterior motives, whether to sell me a carpet, sell me lamps or ceramics, lure me into their restaurant, or get me to sleep with them, it is still refreshing (& a relief!) to get some male attention.  In Korea, I’ve begun to wonder if I am grossly deformed, have the plague, or have bad body odor.  The only time men look at me is to give me dirty looks because my hair is white and I refuse to heed their dye-your-hair ultimatums.  Even the expat guys here seem to be looking for the submissive Asian girls.  These kinds of men, those looking for the submissive girls, hold no interest for me; and neither do the Korean men.  So.  As silly as it is, I am loving the attention I have gotten in 2 days in Istanbul. It is more than I have had in 5 months in Korea.  Hmm.  I’d say it’s more than I’ve had in the U.S. as well. Or anywhere. 🙂

the blue mosque with the fountain turned on

the blue mosque with the fountain turned on

Enhanced by Zemanta

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: