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2006 Spring in Istanbul

by Trudy (1/6/2009)

2006 Spring in Istanbul

Tuesday February 7th, 2006

With all my luggage I leave at the end of the afternoon my house, heading for the train station. Then my Turkish friend Abdullah calls, can he bring me to the airport? Well, yes please. On my route he picks me up and after a bit more than one hour drive we are there. Check-in is quickly done and we drink coffee. Abdullah insists to pay because ‘he is the man’. I laugh at him and say he is in Holland now and that I am a big girl. No, he pays. Okay, if you want that. I ask if I can bring him something from Istanbul and he says ‘Yes, yourself’. At customs he waves at me and says ‘know at least someone is waiting for you to come back’. How sweet. Only some turbulence and at 01.30 local time we land at Sabiha Göksen Airport. There are not many people waiting for customs so I think I will be through quickly. Wrong, I did not get my visa. I did not see that row and I have to wait much longer but finally at 02.15 we leave, heading for the city. Being third they drop me off at my hotel at 03.15. A very quick check-in there, I am exhausted.


Wednesday February 8th, 2006

The breakfast buffet is okay but with not much choice though the börek cigars are delicious. Into town I go. I did not walk far, just hundred metre or the first invitation for tea in a little shop (my prices are reasonable) is given. No, Mustafa, not today. Two hundred metre from that Hassan walks next to me. He explicitly says he is no guide and he brings me to the tomb of Sultan Ahmed and his many family members. For the first time in my life I am wearing a head scarf. It’s okay though it feels a bit strange. After that Hassan brings me to the Blue Mosque. He explains a lot of things to me: the parts and balconies for women, the sultan’s balcony, the preaching part of the imam, the different prayer times and the different entrances for tourists and worshippers. Very good, I would not have found out all this information by myself. I take some pictures, without flash of course, they look a bit dark. Aha, there we have it: Hassan and his ‘family’ own a shop in carpets, kilims and leather jackets. I do have to come with him, just for a cup of tea… They show carpets which are quite nice, but not really my taste. I am not buying, no intention to, and if I change my mind then only after a lot of comparing and bargaining. Hassan brings me to Topkapi Palace and says he will be waiting there for me at three o’clock so he can have lunch with me. Topkapi Palace is beautiful with very gorgeous parts – though I have seen similar museums with those golden art objects. It is terribly cold and I walk faster than I normally do from room to room. My feet are freezing, I think. My socks are wet, the carpets at the mosque where I had to put of my shoes were not completely dry. Of course I take the Harem Tour. A Turkish guide with a great sense of humour explains in good English which function every room had. When he says the building has not been heated for over 200 years there is a murmur in the group. None of us would mind heating now. In the büfe next to the palace I drink Turkish tea. Only half a lira but I only have 20 lira notes. Never mind, the young man behind the counter says, it is on the house. Nice, this hot tea is delicious in this cold. Outside there is a government souvenir shop. I look at the prices so I can compare. A couple of metres away I see Hassan. He does not see me and I decide to walk on. I don’t want that man constantly around me. Besides he wants to show me Istanbul’s nightlife and how can I get rid of him again? Walking through this part of town several people ask me where I come from or if I am from Holland. Do I have tulips or cheese on my forehead that they ask? Or, if I just say ‘no thank you’ that they can hear by my accent I am Dutch. I have to ask about that accent to a native English speaker. My first Turkish lunch is a simple one. A small lokantasi serves lentil soup and something with vegetables, potatoes and veal. Delicious. I continue to the Grand Bazaar. Hundreds  of shops with shawls, carpets, jewellery, China and other souvenirs. I see some nice things so I will come back, who knows. About every yard people ask me to come into their shop. Some salesmen are sure that they know what I need, one even what I want to buy for my mother-in-law (which I do not have!). I intended to keep walking, smile, say ‘no thank you’ and be polite. I notice that after the 386th salesman I answer a bit less cheerful. Then Murat and his two colleagues arrive. I have to come in this time, I cannot escape. Tea again, apple tea this time. We talk about many things except carpets because I made them quite clear I do not buy. Here again invitations to explore night life and ‘getting to know each other better’. Time to go, it means… I get lost in the bazaar, so big, so many small streets. My appearance is not unnoticed. A salesman says I am walking by for the third time so why do I not come in for just a moment? In one of the streets aside I see beautiful and cheap shawls. I buy one. It is so cold, I can use it. I do not bargain, six Euro I think is cheap enough. On the way back to my hotel I buy a thriller about Istanbul. They try to sell me a family novel as well but I do not think I will like that type of book. Passing by Onur, the carpet shop of Hassan and his family, Faisal – the owner – comes out on the street to me. He asks how am I doing. Do you want to have dinner with me at seven, he asks? He also want to ‘know me better’. He must have seen the doubts on my face and he says he is not dangerous. If I accept his offer, I will make him happy, he says. I answer I will think about it, meanwhile knowing I will do not accept this invitation. What’s about all these men today?


Thursday February 9th, 2006

At five to seven I wake up when the muezzin is calling for the first salaat. Unless Muslims, I just stay in my bed for a while. Today it is not that cold and in Sultanahmet and the Bazaar District everything is at walking distance. But close by does have a disadvantage: I see constantly the same touts and they recognize me as well. I combine two Lonely Planet walks and pick out the most interesting things. First the Mosaic Museum. That is a bit disappointing. I expected more tiles and more variety. It turns out to be the conservation of historical mosaics. Then the must-see for every tourist: Aya Sofia. I get checked completely again. Yesterday myself and my things went through a metal detector, today a female guard looks into my bags. At several places in town there are heavily armed soldiers. Turkey is a country with a military atmosphere sometimes. The Aya Sofia is beautiful. I find it a pity that just now there are restoration works, taking pictures is much more difficult. At the upper galley there is a exhibition of Ottoman paintings, with a lot of Christian saints. Logic if you know the history and strange at the same time. Funny I think is to see the many cats walking through the building. I cannot imagine that in a church. The large signs with texts from the Quran make me impressed, they have a very special effect in the almost empty space. My next stop is at the Cistern, the underground church which once was a water reservoir. Very limited lights, so very mysterious. At the back of this building there is a statue of Medusa, the woman with snakes and there is a wishing well. Of course I throw some coins in, but what I wished I will keep private… Also in Turkey the police is my best friend. I am looking for the museum of Turkish and Islamic Art and I cannot find it. I ask a policeman. He does not know either but gets his cell phone and asks for information. It is 50 meters back. The museum is beautiful with China from different periods amongst late and early Ottoman and Byzantine. The carpets I see look to me badly conserved, I see moth holes in them. The ethnographic department has ‘black tents’ like nomads as the Touaregs used them and Mongolian yurts. Apparently these tribes did live in this area as well. They open the Sokullu Mehmet Paþa Camii specially for me. From the nearby Quran school I see several boys curiously watching. In the Blue Mosque I did not have to wear a head scarf, here I do. The shawl I bought yesterday is very useful now. Covered I look at the very pretty and very well conserved mosaics and carvings. The employee who is guiding me tells proudly this is the only mosque in Turkey with stone pieces from the Ka’aba in Mecca: he points at four pieces of black stone, each less then a square centimetre. If what he says is true, I do not know. Shopping time: to the Spice Bazaar. First I visit the friend of Abdullah who says his name is Marco. Later it appears he was not the man I was looking for. He reads the letter I brought from Holland and says he can help me. On Sunday he can guide me through town if I want to, then his shop is closed. I buy a few jars of Sultan’s paste. This stuff makes you ‘stronger’: you are able to do ‘it’ five times a night… Nice souvenirs for my friends at home. Some tea, a lot of talking and one picture later I continue. The smells of rose oil lead me to another shop. Tesim, the salesman who helps me, is full of jokes. Guess once about what when buying an aphrodisiac as a woman… He is not a bore and I let someone take a picture of the two of us. He even gives me a few presents: Forest perfume and some apple tea powder. My backpack is quite heavy now so I will go to my hotel to empty it. On the way to my hotel I pass a large sign that says ‘Thousand-and-1 things you should have seen before you die’. It appears to be a hammam. Pricey but attractive. Not today, I do not have any toiletries with me. A hammam scrub and massage I surely want to have though they say it can be rough sometimes. For supper I look for Yeni Yildiz, a small restaurant that is specialised in nargileh. I cannot find it and end up in Eurotaç café for a kebab. This is the first restaurant I keep my coat on, the plastic ‘walls’ do not keep the chilly wind outside, it looks a bit like one of those beach restaurants. Their price is low, my banana pancakes afterwards in Köy Sofraszi cost more than the complete meal. In the hotel bar I drink a beer and receive a few sms from home. They ask me what I know of the bombing this afternoon in Istanbul. I do not know and when I ask they say ‘it was only a small bomb’ as if that makes it less dangerous! No injuries happily. I will watch CNN later and tomorrow I will but an English newspaper.


Friday February 10th, 2006

It is raining cats and dogs. The streets of Istanbul cannot handle all this water. With a lot of holes in the street my shoes get wet and dripping soon. Such a rainy day is good for looking at carpets and drinking a lot of tea. I lost counting the amount of tea I had. First I talk with Mustafa, from the shop I passed by my first day. Soon he becomes personal and wants to know about boy friends, he is quite suggestive. I change subjects, to the stuff he is selling. Then he says he dislikes the French, Germans, Danish and Dutch because of the cartoons. He gets a bit aggressive and as soon as I can without feeding that aggression extra, I leave. Outside Faisal from Onur carpets comes up to me. Where was I Wednesday evening? And do I want to go out with him tonight? Having fun, we are both people with ‘experience’ aren’t we? I am off as soon as I can. In the Arasta Bazaar I visit several carpet shops. In Mehmet’s shop is see one I like. He offers immediately a discount of 15% so bargaining will be possible I think. He asks what I am going to do. I tell him that I am looking for a place to have lunch. He knows one, closes his shop door and brings me to Doy Doy where I have a delicious Adana kebab. He is having lunch too, I did not expect that, how naïve. During meal we talk about a lot of things, including me visiting mosques. He is surprised that as a foreigner I know so much about his religion. I ask for the cheque but no way, Mehmet is paying. I protest, without success. Partly friendly but suspicious as I am sometimes I think it is mostly a salesmen trick. Back at his store he gives me a brown shawl I can use as a head scarf. That is very kind of him. Next stop is at Harem 59, also carpets and kilims. Eser shows me many kilims. One I like but because – as they say – it is pure silk, it is immediately a lot more expensive. I tell him I want to think about it. Then he tells me about ‘love at first kilim’, you are our first customer today and ‘an extra discount is possible’. This begging irritates me a bit, I tell him and he stops at once. Prices at Grand Bazaar are much higher I see. The touts there are so smooth they make me definitively not buying there. I get lost again while trying to find the right exit. The Grand Bazaar has 19 entrances so find the one you need! Dripping wet I arrive at my hotel where I read a newspaper. The bombing from yesterday has been claimed by a organisation linked to the PKK. The attack was far from the city centre where I am. A sms home will reassure my friends and family that I am safe. I end my day with delicious meze, lentil soup, sütlac and apple tea in restaurant Sofa. Mehmet, the waiter, calls me ‘his love’! Travelling solo is no problem, only the late evening I do not like. Having dinner alone is not a problem but entering a bar by myself is not fun. Do I have to pick up a Turk anyway….?


Saturday February 11th, 2006

In Beyoglu I am looking for the in Ottoman products specialised store of Leyla Seyhanli. It is too early, her shop is still closed. I’ll have a cup of tea in a böreksi where I meet the 60 year old Kemal. He pays for my tea and says I have to come with him, he will show me things he heard me talk about. First that store again, yes, now it is open. A quilt I like very much but 2000 dollar is a bit too much for me. Than to the Greek-orthodox church but we cannot find it. We do find a Roman-Catholic church where I light a candle for my deceased father. I always thought that Muslims were not allowed to go into houses of prayer of other religions but Kemal walks with me and looks curiously around. He asks me with a few words of German If I prayed to Allah with that candle. As good as I can I explain him this ritual. He nods, he understand. In Tünel the main street here, Benoit is approaching us when he sees that both Kemal and me are looking around. Benoit is a French speaking Belgian man who speaks besides good English also fluently Turkish. He lives in Istanbul for 15 years now. I thank Kemal and continue with Benoit. Via many small alleys he takes me to a sober and dark Armenian church. It is hidden in a shopping alley, I never would have found it myself. While walking he shows me special buildings, mehane restaurants, the French private school and the Dutch consulate. They do have a chapel there but on Saturday that is closed. He tells many things about this area. The Greek-orthodox church is closed because of renovation. At a small restaurant near the flower and fish market we have a snack at the 6th floor, a marvellous view over Istanbul and the Bosporus is extra. The last thing Benoit does is taking me to a CD copy shop. I choose five Turkish CD’s for just 2 lira each at his advice. At home I will listen if I like Tarkan, Livaneli, Seksendört, Duman and Feridun Düzaðaç. From Galata Tower I have a stunning view over Istanbul. I cross Galata Bridge. There I find Yeni Camii, a mosque from the 16th century, not so new in fact. A tout who wants me to show his shop in the nearby Spice Bazaar tells me I look very Turkish with my head scarf. Yeah…. Next stop is at Caðaloðlu Hammam where I choose Sultan’s treatment: a scrub, a soap massage, an oil massage an a shampoo. At the desk I ask if the masseur is a man or a woman. The cashier tells me I get an ugly, fat Turkish woman. I think he is making a joke but reality is worse. Two hundred kilo with breasts up to her knees, that is my masseuse. The other masseuses are not really slim but this one is the fattest. Not so rough as I expect and very short she gives me a massage. Thirty Euro I think is quite expensive for a massage of at most 10 minutes. Afterwards she is waiting for her tip near my dressing room. No way, because of that time according to me it is inclusive. Back in Sultanahmet I buy after some bargaining three shawls at Mehmet’s shop. He invites me for dinner. Delicious köfte and meze, this time my treat. After that we smoke an apple nargileh in a cafe next to the Grand Bazaar. Nice, special and delicious. Mehmet escorts me to my hotel and we say good night. I get a prude kiss on my cheek. 


Sunday February 12th, 2006

How much I try, I cannot pass Faisal’s carpet shop without being seen: Holland lady, come please. That will be the first two cups of touristy tea today. Faisal is persisting ‘we are having fish tonight for dinner with wine’. I tell him I do not know anything of that. He laughs and says he likes my kind of joking. I wonder how many times a day he gives this kind of fake compliments to tourists? A price check at the government shop in the Baths of Lady Hürrem learns me that Mehmet’s price can get down, he is above the average. Bargaining is will be! The Atik Ali Paþa Camii is to my opinion quite simple, I leave it fast. Searching for the Suleymaniye Camii a man is walking next to me. I will show you, he says. Facts and information he gives as it was done by a computer. I say I do not need a guide. Bingo! He leaves, because that was his intention. This mosque is closed for midday prayer so I have lunch First in a small lokanta nearby. No menu, just point at the pots and pans what you want. After lunch back to the mosque, shoes off of course – my feet are instantly ice cold – and scarf around my head. This mosque is beautiful, many chandeliers, white and red China in the pillars with terra paintings. No blue mosaics, quite different it is. Walking back to Sultanahmet I see at Beyazit mosque a large demonstration. I do not understand what the protesters are yelling and their signs I cannot read but I hear very often the word ‘Allah’. I suspect it has to do with the cartoons and asking a policeman confirms that. It really are hundreds of very angry men and also hundreds of policeman and soldiers so I get myself out of there. This is the only moment I did not felt safe in Istanbul. So much aggression. In the Arasta Bazaar Eser and Jimal of carpet shop Harem 59 stop me. Do I know if I want to buy? No, I say, I will let you know. I think I will buy the one from Mehmet’s shop because I like that one best. Only that price… Opposite of his shop I see a beautiful red nargileh and after some talking I can call it mine, including char coal, 4 kinds of tobacco, mouth pieces and foil for a reasonable price. Three glasses of apple tea later I also am the new owner of a kilim. Maybe I paid to much – according to the look on Mehmet’s face – but I think I made a good deal (in Holland these things are much more expensive) and because I just like it. Mehmet says he will pick me up at my hotel at 19.30 hours. I am curious, am I still interesting after this sale? Yes, it appears only that sale is off! The tomato kebab, salad and künefe are delicious. Mehmet is not as innocent as he pretends, he is just more subtle. He constantly asks what I think of him, my answer that I think he is a nice man is not good enough. He tries to let me guess his thoughts and though I can (…) I do as if I don’t understand him. Making him clear I do not like men who are too direct or too suggestive, his interest in me is gone soon. He tries to touch me once more on the way to a café. This afternoon he constantly touched my knee, by accident… When I do not take his arm he says he has to go. Exit Mehmet. Café Mesale should have live music and dervish dances they say. They have also nargileh. The dances are cancelled, not enough tourists, only tavla playing Turkish men. It is only 200 meters to my hotel and again somebody is pushing himself up to me. A young man, at most 22, wants to know me better, is that possible? When I say that I am not interested, he asks if I am sure. Are all these guys so desperate? Just looking for sex or do they want a one-way trip with visa to Europe?


Monday February 13th, 2006

Walking to Eminönü I see a lot of souvenir shops and it is quite busy on the streets, but it feels like an oasis of peace. No yelling touts, no invitations for visiting shops. At the harbour I buy a jeton for the ferry to Kadiköy – in Asian Istanbul, because there is Haci Bekir, the inventor of lokum, as they say the best in town. I take the ferry to Beþiktaþ to go to the Dolmabaçi Palace. It should be marvellous. Pity, it is Monday and like everywhere else in the world: on Monday museums are closed. When I see that people enter the palace I ask a policeman how come. He says they are staff. O, no problem, I like to be staff just for one day. He has too laugh but the doors stay closed. At Haci Abdullah, according to the Lonely Planet one of the best lokanta here in town they have delicious Reyani (syrup cake with pistachio) and Keþkül (pistachio pudding). The waiter, Mohammed, is doing an English course and tries his new-learned with me. Funny, such a boy who his trying so hard to make good sentences. Haci Abdullah looks chic but their prices are moderate. Staff is very friendly and polite and they help me with the Turkish names of the things I eat. In Turkey, even in the European part, they have sometimes squat toilets. Even in places I did not expect them. My Japanese experiences are of good use. A short stop at the Mevlani Museum. If the dervish show they have there is as dusty as this exposition, I am glad I listened to Benoit’s advice not to go there. How boring. Wandering through Eminönü I pass a new mosque from 1989, the Kasim Paþa Camii. Quite small with blue tiles. No prayer carpets in men size but just a green one with red lines to divide. According to a hotel clerk I walked today about 14 kilometre. I can feel it, my legs and shoulders hurt. A good moment to go to a hammam again. This time to the Cemberlitaþ Hammam. Soak, sweat, soak and then the masseuse starts working. When laying on the hot stone I see that all other visitors except for one other and myself wear a slip. They never said anything but when I leave I suddenly see a sign which says that bathing naked is prohibited. Sorry, I did not know and I asked! I feel like being in a oven, almost done and mostly sleepy. I rinse and after one and a half hour I leave this good hammam. Dinner at Sofa’s again, I want to try that delicious tomato meze again.


Tuesday February 14th, 2006

Not too far from the hotel today, only a bit shopping and going to a pastanesi for the last time. At Sofa’s I eat my last meze and Mehmet the waiter wants a picture of us. Then time to wait for my bus to the airport. Check-in, security check, passport check, drinking and reading, another safety check. Time to board, the flight is without trouble and an half hour early I arrive at Amsterdam Airport. I pick up my luggage and go in the direction of the train platform. Then Abdullah calls, he is there to take me home. I tell him bout my holidays and his fellow country men. He says he is a bit ashamed. At home I show him my kilim and nargileh. He likes them but he says the kilim is not the best quality. So, I like it. I give him the coffee mug with ‘Allah’ on it as a present. He likes it. Then after he has left, quickly clean up and go to sleep. Tomorrow will be a long working day.

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