Next day off to Princes Island – Nick has already described out innocent old man who then robbed us blind. I expect he lived in one of the Hollywood style sea front houses. However it entertained us that evening. We also had an encounter with our first celebrity lookalike – Hugh Jackman – but Turkish, a foot shorter, 20 yrs older and in flat cap with no smile. After a tiring time walking the car free island gave us no choice but to grab Hugh, his 2 horses and tacky but colourful carriage. This was on our schedule at some point anyhow. After much debate with 2 words and pointing to the tariff of street names we did not know, us pointing at a map – we think we got him to 30. We had a 5 min journey through some woods – we decided to snuggle in and be romantic as that is what you must do when paying over the odds for a horse and carriage. The farting horse added to the romance.
The he stopped – pointed to the hill – he walked off without any facial expression and brought back his friend who could speak 5 words of English. Much pointing of map – much pointing at hill – he told us we must walk up the hill as no horse, have a cup of tea and then carry on. No – we just wanted to get back to “town” – after thinking we had agreed another price we set of again. We were clearly in the wrong as not acting like normal day trip tourists.
Prince’s island is a surreal place – playground of the rich in Istanbul when it got too hot – there are lots of wooden houses. Some palatial and luxury to a Hollywood star standard, others have no roof and look like a house you would dare your mates to go in or be part of a film set for the Goonies or Addams family. Lots of stray cats and dogs – all quite happy although some a little battle weary. We were in the minority as everyone day tripping was Turkish; it was probably the equivalent of a trip to Blackpool. The sea front cafes had old men playing cards, the girls all wore flower garlands in their hair bought by their young suitors. I bought one as if felt I should although have no idea why.
Our second celebrity spot was David Banner – aka Incredible Hulk in the Ali Baba. He was our chosen restaurateur for both evenings – on the boat over a chap had been given out free tea “from his heart” – he helpfully gave us a map with his restaurant name on – Ali Baba, it worked. We had to battle through Turkish men hurling themselves out at us begging/complimenting and all had the best price and menu although these all seemed the same from our point of view. David banner had a great toothy smile – mix of sincerity/insanity and charm – I would not make him angry though. He pulled out all the stops – the second evening culminated in fresh flowers for our table and an amazing fruit display with a bowl of firelighters in the middle like a virgin fruit sacrifice. I wish we could have stayed just to see what he could produce the next evening. Our several male waiters were inefficient but attentive – one UK woman could have replaced all of them. One wore a fonz like leather jacket whilst serving, the only requirement is a sparkling white shirt & no smiling. David the boss was allowed to smile and talk to the sacred guests. There was a portly man in a suit inside who seemed to deal with bills nut not approach any customer – money seemed to be a very serious male business. An enlarged photo of Ataturk eating there was pride of place. Each evening cost exactly the same – each evening the choice – fish or meat. Our extra baklava and surprises were not requested or ordered but tasted better for it.
On our return our ferry arrived 10 mins after our Turkish Haman appointment had started. Another true taste of Istanbul was our taxi ride across the main commercial centre, through the aqueduct and a few sharp turns down packed cobbled streets. The method is to keep going –any hesitation would cause an accident. A British driver in the one way cobbled streets packed with pedestrians & coaches would take 30 mins compared to his 4 1/2.
The Haman is one of the only mixed/family ones, but the oldest and built and used by Suleyman in the 15th C, so hardly like your local rec centre. – more for the tourists rather than the full cavity search by a hairy Turk a real one offers. We dressed in cloth and were scrubbed with lots of foam and a bath mitt with loads of cold water poured over our heads. It was very much like being washed down by your mum after a day in the mud, – however your mum was a young man in his 20’s with a towel round his middle and he poured more cold water on himself as was working with bubbles and in a sauna – literally. The massage was quick, firm and routine. You are then shuffled along toward the changing area and another young man wraps you in cloth and you hobble through in your authentic wooden sandals. No mirrors – just as well as a red faced Nick looked not so much Lawrence of Arabia as he hoped but more Terry Jones from Life of Brian. I doubt I looked very Sophia Loren though. www.suleymaniyehamami.com.tr
It was Ataturk’s birthday – although he would be over 100 if still alive. The city was covered in Vivid red Turkish flags. From all the pictures and banners – he did somehow resemble the evil brother in Thunderbirds, but I can only say that from the comfort of the UK, he was a big deal, and they love him. The others witnessed a big white limousine in the city with lots of kerfuffle to attend something important. The chap was clearly a Turkish Super star. He could have been anyone to us – but quite nice that the blanket of samey western Hollywood fascination has not reached Istanbul… yet.
Finally we braved a trip through the grand bazaar on a mission. This is a great place – so long as you like certain things & walking ten yards in 10 minutes. Every third shop was pashmina – even I could not keep them all in business, yet they were all socialising and chatting, blocking the view of the stock. In the shirt shop he literally dragged Nick in and started dressing him – Nick looked at me with panic saying he did not like the shirt. Luckily he has an expert shopper on hand – it was my turn to point and say yes or no as the man unpacked different shirts – real and fake ones.
We asked one chap who wanted us to sit and eat in his cafe how to get to the tram – he pointed and said good luck my friend. That 400m took a long time, on the outside there were still more shops but with glass fronts. Alex had been there for 40 yrs despite being in his 30’s. Alex Tacyildiz is our new best friend – he shut the shop door and was interrupted several times as he tried to secure our sale. We declined tea, as we didn’t want any and had not even looked at the shoes yet – he showed us his holiday pictures from Kenya to prove he did international trade – he wants us to go back in 2 yrs and thank him. The shoes were bigged up so much they have magical powers. I babbled away like a fish on a hook, Nick is not a great fan of any shopping so his silence & boredom made him look like a serious man weighing up if the shoes would change his life or not. He did not make eye contact and then swooped in with a crazy price, Alex laughed and bargained a tiny bit (£6.72) – he then took the price of the undrunk tea that we did not want of. (£1.68) Success by British standards. We bought the shoes – result for all. We will remember him but I doubt we made the same impact. He earnt every minute of his sale – just for his standard of English alone he should be rewarded compared to our complete lack of Turkish. Lets see in 2 yrs when we return to see if the mythically blessed shoes are still bouncing Nick from the promised success to success.
Our final evening in a fancy place for the tourists in the old town had lots of choice – such as chicken curry. We were grateful to be away from traditional cuisine – our waiters were dressed in matching “turkish” looking silk shirts. The piano player & violin girl were playing various versions of Andrew Lloyd Webber mixed in with snippets of “ Those were the days”. The chairs and table were chunky wood armchair style – it meant that with the background noise and distance you could hot near anything anyone said. It was an old roman cistern, they had large iron “Errol Flynn” style chandeliers and go with the theme the tables had candelabras. Our waiter was a bit of a Turkish stud – the sort you don’t want your daughter to meet on holiday – however the other waiter who was lighting the candles bore an uncanny resemble to Egor. Being so tall as well he had developed a sort of hump to add to the effect as he bent to light the candles. All in all a good meal but twice the price, I missed being told what to eat and the simplicity of Princes Island. www.sarnicrestaurant.com
The Crew brothers debated for about a week on this blog about essence and the point of travel – Istanbul is all about colours, smells, banter and people, lots of them. Impressive buildings are full of sounds and vibrancy, old men in a questionable variety of hats, old ladies with headscarves sat still watching wisely. It certainly had lots of essence and therefore i feel travelled, even for only 5 days.