Tales from Istanbul
03.05.2012 21 °C
3 days, 350+ photos. Hopefully that gives you some idea of the wide-eyed wonderment with which we have viewed Turkey so far. We have spent our first few days in Istanbul mostly around the historic Sultanahmet district. Sabina and Chappie, our friends from Alice Spring days have joined us for this trip. We flew in separately and met on the rooftop bar of our hotel for champagne and sunset views of the Blue Mosque. Not a bad way to begin!
Our hotel has been great – small, personal, close to everything but off the main drag, so surprisingly quiet. Quiet is certainly a rare event in this city of 14 million people. It’s hard to imagine the scale of it really. And seeing things on a grand scale is something we are getting used to. The Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya and Topkapi Palace are grand scale with a capital G. The richness and detail almost leave you numb. Every surface, from floor to ceiling is adorned in some way. Golgi, mosaics, hand-painted tiles, frescoes, mother of pearl, marble, carved wood and stone all in competing, intricate patterns create a Sara Lee “layer upon layer” effect that has left us gasping.
However, you do have to get used to the fat that you will be sharing the experience with hundreds of other people simultaneously. You also have to exercise patience as you queue at entrances, which gives the touts a great chance to peter you with wares. There have also been numerous helpful locals who offer to help in many ways and just happen to have a business (or relative with a business nearby).
Sabina and I took the plunge and went to meet the good friend of a travel agent who seems to have befriended us. The friend was a very reputable carpet salesman (of course). I’ve got to say the whole show of selling carpets was quite incredible. It began with coffee, then an educative session on carpet making (including why Turkish carpets are superior to those made in Persia, Pakistan etc.). Then the show really began with carpets, appearing from a myriad of other rooms, unfurled with great flourish before us. Another layer upon layer experience until the floor in the room was covered with carpets of all sizes and designs. At this point we were ushered into another room where Act 2 began – more designs, more regional specialities. At the conclusion of Act 2 we returned to the first room for Act 3. A finalisation of choices and the finale of the show – bargaining with a liberal sprinkling of flirtation thrown in. Of course the carpet could be shipped to Australia at no cost to Sabina. Of course the fact that carpet she liked the most was a little small didn’t matter, the salesman was sure it would be just perfect in the space he hadn’t seen. Of course there were cheaper options but would Sabina be happy years later when she looked at the carpet. Of course we were the last customers for the day so this was an extra special price. Sabina was resolute and, as Chappie was not with us, she would need to come back with her husband. No problem, buy the cheaper carpet now and if her husband wanted the more expensive one tomorrow she could trade op a level. We got out without the carpet but were certainly impressed by the showmanship.
Other highlights - food has been great. A feast for the eyes and the tastebuds. Had THE most fabulous goat’s cheese the other night. When we commented on its quality the helpful restaurant owner offered to have a kilogram delivered to us from the village where it was made. We also had fantastic soup at Istanbul Modern (modern art gallery) yesterday. The location was fabulous too with the restaurant siting along the Bosphorous looking out Sultanahmet and the Asian quarter.
Trams are great too. Quick, efficient, regular and packed at all hours of the days and night.
We are currently heading out of Istanbul to Safranbolu, an Ottoman village near the Black Sea. The bus we are on is cleaner and more spacious than the planes took to get here. We all feel that we need more time for Istanbul so will plan a few days at the end I suspect. The bus has movies, TV, music etc. on demand. While we can get all the instructions in English to work out what we want to watch, the programs themselves are all in Turkish, go figure. They also have Wi-Fi on the bus, and pretty much everywhere else in Turkey too I gather. It took about 2 hours of motorways to get out of Istanbul itself; such is the expanse of the city. We went through one toll station with 19 booths. This made for great efficiency at the toll station until the 19 lanes converged into 3 for the bridge that followed! Actually I should say there were 3 marked lanes but drivers seemed to use about 5 lanes in a higgledy-piggledy fashion.
Hoping there are more adventures to be had in safranbolu.