August 20, 2002

Turkey (day 7)


Full day in Istanbul. Hot full day. As we were going upstairs just now, one of the hotel clerks said that the temperature had reached 39. I don't have enough energy to do the math, but I could certainly feel that it was over 90.

But the day had such a beautiful beginning. We had slept well and went upstairs to the rooftop terrace for breakfast. What views! Blue Mosque in one direction, part of Aya Sofia in another, and between them, over the rooftops, we could see the Bosphorus, with big big boats moving through. Gulls and other birds wheeled around the minarets, dipping and swirling. One corner of the terrace was shaded by a maple tree, and as we were the first ones up, we collared the cushioned bench in that corner and ate breakfast slowly, sipping Nescafe, and enjoying yogurt, melon, cheese, bread, jams, and so on.

The Basilica Cistern was our first stop. We got there early enough that we were not crowded by groups and guides. The cistern is an immense underground space, part of the Emperor Justinian's waterworks. Rows of columns rise up from shallow reflecting water - the place is dimly lit, the faded red fresco walls streaked with green from ages of water dripping. Water drips still. Fish swim in the water, and coins glow on the floor beneath them. It is said that after the fall of Constantinople, that the cistern was unknown for several hundred years - and rediscovered because people in this district could catch fish through holes in their cellars. The restored cistern has raised walkways, modest signs in English and Turkish, and a sound system. While we were walking through, Turkish wooden flute music - breathy and liquid-sounding - echoed through the space. Water dripped. People's voices echoed into a background. Tomorrow we will go again - we couldn't get enough, and both wished we had brought video as well as still cameras. Whether the complete atmosphere will be the same again, I don't know, because as we were leaving, the music changed to European classical music - and from what the woman in the shop at the entrance said, they play an assortment of music. The flute was perfect for the space and time, so I hope we hear it again.

After we pulled ourselves away from the cistern we went to the Blue Mosque. A light, airy space. Incredibly delicate for something so big. My Ortahisar headscarf came in handy - I even was able to recreate a version of the proper wrapping of it, so I didn?t have to borrow one of the blue tourist scarves. Mom took a great picture of me, looking at something on my camera, wrapped in the scarf with my black shoes sticking out of the pocket of my traveling bag.

We took a taxi to the vicinity of the Spice Bazaar, and in that neighborhood near the water found a store specializing in metal things for the kitchen. Mom bought the Turkish double-boiler tea kettle she had wanted, and I found some good long kitchen or grilling tongs for Mark. As we walked around beside but not in the Spice Bazaar taking pictures, we had a great time. Lots to look at. Hardware, rope, plastic toys, wrapping paper, vegetables, luggage - the stuff of everyday life. We were going to see if we could visit the mosque Rustem Pasa, where we had heard that the tiles were exceptionally beautiful, but just as we found the tiny alley leading to it, there came the call to prayer. We decided to walk to the Grand Bazaar instead. So we did. Quite a hike on a hot hot day. We kept a good eye on the map, and sat down from time to time to drink water from our bottles and reorient ourselves, but I wouldn't have missed it. So much stuff to see en route. Shop after shop. Kitchen implements, door handles, wooden spoons, sponges, naked mannequins. Eventually, after what seemed like hours and hours of walking, we saw the Grand Bazaar's gate and went into the welcome shade, took an immediate right, and sat down in a courtyard restaurant. They brought us ayran (the yoghurt drink) and beers. We shared meze of stuffed eggplant and stuffed peppers and then had adana (the spiced ground meat kebabs). We lingered.

The Grand Bazaar was a different place to shop. You are inside, so at first the shade feels cool, and then the lack of sky begins to make you hot. We had fun - I was glad it was my last bit of shopping and not my first. I had gotten the hang of bargaining a little, and I'd seen enough things elsewhere to know what I wanted and what I wanted to spend. So I did well, buying some pottery bowls, spices for Mark, and tiny slippers for Piper.

We were pretty tired, so we grabbed a taxi as soon as we emerged. It felt so good to sit down. We didn't really care that much when he took us the long way around to get back to the hotel, and didn't give me enough change. Figure I should have known better than to take a cab at the entrance to the bazaar, but we were both wiped out by then, and decided even being ripped off by a taxi driver was, in its own way, an appropriate adventure in Istanbul. Big city life.

Now we're packed, and have had a great dinner at the little cafÈ across the street. Tomorrow we'll eat our terrace breakfast at the earliest opportunity (eight) and be waiting at the Basilica Cistern when it opens at nine. We need to be back in the hotel lobby by ten, for a cab to take us to Ataturk Airport.

And the trip will be over. We'll travel with the sun, so the day will be a long one. Day after tomorrow I'll get on line and begin posting things.

Posted by EGP at August 20, 2002 10:58 AM