Istanbul Take 2
28.05.2012 - 31.05.2012 22 °C
We have closed the loop (so to speak) and spent our final few days in Turkey where we began our journey - in Istanbul. Returning was like coming home in a way as we felt we knew our way around. This feeling of familiarity was further enhanced by reconnecting with Arif, the travel agent we discovered in Istanbul. He organised our travel and accommodation, as well as many of our tours, on a section by section basis This gave us the freedom of only needing to plan a couple of stops in advance so that we could go where the mood took us. Arif and his colleagues greeted like long, lost friends when we returned which was lovely.
Even after seeing a great deal of the country, on returning to Istanbul we couldn’t help but remain impressed by this spectacular city. Of course most of it was the same but some things had changed in the 4 weeks we’d been away. The square in front of the Blue Mosque where we’d sat and rested on our second day was being dug up. The wisteria had finished flowering. The riotous displays of tulips had been replaced with salvia, marigolds and begonias. The springtime city that greeted us at the end of April now looked and smelt of summer.
We spent our last few days covering off the Essential Istanbul Checklist as well as just wandering the city at our leisure.
The Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar and a Bosphorus cruise took up our first day. We had been warned that the Grand Bazaar was pretty crazy but, as were were now seasoned Turkophiles, it didn’t faze us as much as it may have when we first arrived in Istanbul. We felt fairly confident about what was fair value for money, knew how to respectfully terminate a sales pitch that we didn’t wish to be involved in and generally found we enjoyed the buzz of the place. The Turks have a great sense of humour which makes social and commercial interactions quite easy really. Opening lines from stall holders such as, “how may I hustle you today” acknowledge the nature of the game both vendor and purchaser are involved in. During the past few weeks we found that we were able to engage in quite lengthy conversations with people even when they knew there would not be a sale at the end of the chat. In fact, getting a commercial transaction off the table early often proved to be the key to better conversation in the end. We found many, many people who were happy to help the lost or confused traveller (us), often literally going out of their way to do so, even when they knew there was nothing in it for them.
The Spice Bazaar was like the Central Market on steroids. Some beautiful produce displayed in fetching ways, making for great photo opportunities.
Our cruise on the Bosphorus was a great chance to see just how far the city extends. 1.5 hours up the river and we were still well and truly within the city limits (and our cruise began somewhere in the middle of Istanbul!). One thing that really struck us was the lack of business high-rise in the place. The city is so old that its heart and much of its infrastructure was developed pre-skyscraper. While there’s certainly a lot of high-rise, in the form of 20 storey apartment blocks to accommodate the population, there really isn’t a sense of domination by the big-end of town. Having said that, Istanbul is a highly commercial city, it’s just that the commercialism is primarily the domain of the small to medium businessman/ woman rather than corporate giants. Small corner shops, local butchers and greengrocers and family businesses thrive. From a tourist’s perspective this means that interactions are quite personal and that mosques, palaces and key landmarks are visible from afar - helping to give us our bearings as we traversed the city.
On our final day we caught a tram and funicular to Taksim Square (= Victoria Square, Adelaide). The shopping boulevard that extends from the square is quite Parisian in style and attitude. With minimal vehicular traffic allowed in the wide boulevard and the street itself lined with beautiful old buildings, we strolled our way back towards the river. We spent the best part of of 4 hours wandering lanes, poking in shops etc. Brian found more socks but had to part with 10TL for 3 pairs this time. Ah the curse of being in the big smoke!
Eventually we came to a narrow, steep street that seemed to be the musos corner of Istanbul. Small shop after small shop filled with a vast array of instruments from modern electric guitars and drum kits to hand-hewn whistles and traditionally-crafted bouzoukis. Thought of Neil and Marty in particular and how they would have lost themselves for hours in this part of town. Walking over the Galata bridge towards our accommodation we pondered about how many other little haunts like this we had not had the opportunity to discover.
As we came to “that time of the day” (G&T o’clock) we decided to take our libations to Gulihane Park, a large public park beside the Topkapi Palace where many people go after work. It seemed fitting to watch Istanbulis at play/ leisure in the early evening light before heading out for our last Turkish meal. Of course once we got there we wondered if there were laws about public drinking that we may not be abiding by, so we had to be a little surreptitious about what we were doing. Felt a bit like sneaking a drink into a school social!
We now wing our way to Singapore for 2 days before heading home. We’ve had a fab time but have missed our kids terribly so it will be great to see them again. And , who knows, they may be so pleased to see us that they won’t even mind sitting through a family slide night of the almost 4000 photos we have taken!
When I began this blog we didn’t know what places we would visit and what adventures were in store for us. As we come to the end of our trip I reflect on Chappie’s maxim about travelling , “The journey IS the destination”. And it certainly has been!