I feel like we landed in the film set of Aladdin. Everything is crazy busy and beautiful at the same time. We had hotel brochures for heaps of different tours and while we decided we should do something, for now we would just walk and absorb, so left after hotel breakfast with the promise of our Aircon being looked at while we were away.
The day is not unbearably hot and a lovely offshore breeze keeps us comfortable. I’m wearing baggy cotton trousers and a sleeveless top and can’t help but look at the women in their heavy black overdresses. You can see that underneath they have two or three layers as well. Tights to ankles, socks over that and sandals or shoes so we can’t see toes. A long skirt over tights and a long sleeved tight top and a dress or top over that and finally topped by the long black burqa or over dress. Head scarves- some two or three to cover the front and then the crown and neck and another one so that only, and barely, eyes are showing. Sunglasses outside as well. I can only begin to imagine how uncomfortable this would be.
This is definitely a mans world. Almost all shops, cafés, every job is filled by a man. The women in this heavy clothing appear to be a tourist or shopping, not working. Interestingly I am struck by some similarity to a nuns habit. This was so normal to me growing up and I guess for these people it is the same, though somewhat more restricting.
We are in the old city and the buildings are more ’round’ than what we have seen before. Cupolas and minarets. We decide we don’t want to be part of a tour group, of which we have seen many, where we can’t hear or ask questions and start to think about a private guide. The problem with hiring someone off the street is they are often aligned with a carpet place or a jeweller or maybe they get a small commission from a group whenever they bring someone in. So $5 if they bring anyone in or % if they purchase. This means before you know it you are herded into places you don’t want to be. “I just have to pick tickets up here and then we will go to the mosque” for example. We decide to ask back at the hotel later and head instead to Galatea where someone has told us it is beautiful. We find a Galatea art market in the GPS and head there and before we know it, we have Turkish coffee in hand and colourful hand knotted carpets being rolled out for our ‘visual desire’ and desire we do!
We fall in love with a couple and negotiations start. Eekkk! We manage to extract ourselves after about an hour to think about it and he directs us to his friends travel shop for a tour guide. His name is Fatih. He is hilarious and used to entertaining. He reminds me strongly of Geoff Bing with exaggerated smile and head movements. Yes he can provide a guide and cheap at the price. It’s not so cheap we think but he won’t budge, promising a guide who is preTTy good and promises we won’t be disappointed. “Yes yes, all those things will be covered” he assures me. “A full day fitted into a half day as we have no other tourists considerations to worry about. Just yourselves”.
We agree to this guide but now he feels he must worry about our next two free days and wants us to book to see a sight that is one of the most amazing things on earth. He grabs books full of photographs to prove it and jabbing fingers here and here he tells us his Mother used to live there. “Here?”, I point at a cave picture his finger has just slipped over. “Yes!”, He exclaims as if I must be so stupid as to ask. “Now she is in an apartment…and you can take the balloon and we will have you at the port by four o’clock for your cruise departure. No problem.”
“Balloon!, there will be no balloon”. Now it’s my turn to be forceful. And four o’clock is too late. We must be at cruise ship by 11.” In a moment he has Ahmet checking flight availability and comes back with a different itinerary. “No, no” I say, but already he has another book out and another. “Why not balloon?” He says with a sad face. Only three people have died doing this. It’s not such a big risk. I don’t think you will be fourth”. Gilbert and I are laughing so hard and his staff all join in. His stage performance is perfection and we are enjoying it but then he tells us the price. NZ$1000 or more for a day and a night. I think we’ll leave it Fatih, but thanks for the entertainment. Our guide arrives and she is lovely.
This is Gilbert trying to cover his legs as he has ‘short’ shorts and is showing too much leg for the mosque. I have a shirt and scarf to cover my arms, head and neck in my bag. We must remove our shoes and as we are part of maybe a thousand people milling through the smell of feet is incredible. We head into the ‘Blue Mosque’ so called because of the 21,000 blue tiles that decorate it and see a huge area where men are praying and a smaller back area where women are praying. Our guide motions that she will meet us outside and we follow her rather quickly as the stench in this heat is over powering. I’m appalled at how many tourists cross the barrier line and smilingly prostrate to pretend they are praying for photographs. It’s a disgusting lack of respect.
This building is now a museum but started out in the sixth century as a church. Built during Constatine’s time it is absolutely beautiful and the cupola is at around 15 stories high. Like everywhere, Istanbul went through many hands and this was changed into a mosque. What is amazing is that instead of destroying all the church’s signatures at the time of the change they merely covered the beautiful imagery from the bible and added their bits. It is now being uncovered for all to see. So the best of the Christian church sits alongside the beauty of a mosque. Pic above shows the apse and according to the bible these would face west. The Koran says it should be a few degrees different, which is why it looks slightly off centre.
Our guide has been lovely and as we leave, ‘the call to prayer’ booms out across the loud speakers. There are two major mosques here and when one calls another repeats, so it booms across the city. It’s quite haunting in a way. She explains the words as they are said and tells us it is not imperative you attend but if you can you should or if you are more pious or have more need in your life you may go more often. There are five calls per day. It is live not recorded.
Just as I suspected though, now we have been to the four major places that were on the morning plan and not the others from the full day he has promised us, she says we are finished. I ask she show us just two more that Fatih promised us. The hippodrome from Roman times and the Grand Bazar. She says that is fine but I’m annoyed that this feels like we have asked for more than we have paid in her eyes, while we feel we are getting less. I make a mental note that I should have clarified this in front of both him and her before we set out. She explains the hippodrome as we walk through and then directs us to the Grand Bazar.
We don’t want to buy anything remember, but this is a must see. Over 4,000 shops under cover of everything imaginable. We get to the entranceway and I look up in awe. I turn to answer Gilbert but he is gone. No where to be seen. I walk a few more steps expecting to see him but the amount of people is phenomenal. I’m uncertain whether to walk on or walk back. I decide to walk back to where we last parted. I’m hoping he will come back when he notices I’m not with him but 15 minutes later, as I’m constantly scanning the sea of faces, I’m worried. I say to myself well, I will just find my way back to the hotel if he’s not back in an hour. Funnily enough I must look like something is wrong as there is perhaps twenty different hawkers here working the crowds and not one approaches me. Bloody hell we just got to the door of the Bazar and lost each other!
Then just as suddenly I see his worried face. I yell and loop his arm in mine. That was close! From there we sauntered lazily down streets and admired and smiled at the sellers attempts to get us in their door. Marvelled at the beauty of it all. Stopped for a delicious lentil soup and a glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate and orange juice for me and Gilbert chose a beer and chips, seems a reoccurring menu theme, adding a minced meat deep fried ball and we sat and people watched as day slipped into evening before taking the maze home with the help of GPS.
The room was luxuriously cool when we came back in so the technician was able to fix it and after being out on the street for ten hours my bung hip and tired legs were grateful for a shower and sleep.