Al and I flew over to see the boys on Turkish Airlines, a surprise for me used to recently doing easyjet and Ryan air was the allocated seat, free drinks and palatable dinner. Alot had happened in 4 weeks – but I spotted the motorbike jacket & “tanned” nose in the massive crowd at arrivals, hugs and kisses and a crazy night taxi ride in the torrential rain. I hoped this was not the Istanbul feel for the next 5 days. Rain had been predicted so I chose not to wear Bermuda shorts and flip flops like any true brit on a plane – I had jeans and a cardy, plus a jacket and pashmina. I had in my case rather hopefully packed a bikini and floaty tops to aid with hot and sticky days ahead. Alas my cardy/jacket/pashmina combo saw more use than I would have liked.
Our hotel was right in the tourist district but the guidebook said this meant it was quiet at night… maybe relatively compared to other parts of the city. All mod cons – after reading marks recent blog about toilets I should think it was Nirvana. Istanbul seems to have gone for western charm but there always seems to be an element of eastern crazy – our room overlooked a rather stunning railway, a few abandoned land plots and looking into some poorer residential verandas and flats. However if u looked beyond there was indeed a view of the Sea of mamara and its romantic oil tankers.
Buffet breakfast –I could eat via buffet every meal forever. This one looked fab but maybe on closer inspection there were about 6 plates of the same cheese in different formations. Lots of plates of coriander, olives (not for breakfast I am british), gloopy jams and assorted breads etc. Some fried breakfast items including chips, however I am not that british.
Shades firmly attached to my head out of principle: first day was spent getting our bearings and mooching about holding hands. We went up to the Blue mosque where I was very charmingly asked to put my tits away, my cardy had parted & my womanly disgrace was visible. Before we went in there were the ladies WC – translated as “Place for woman” – I did comment I should know my place and there it was – signposted. A note on carpets here – bare footed I walked sinking into the lush endless red carpets – I did have an urge to run beyond the barrier and roll around. I sensed though maybe this would not be particularly seen as a good laugh.
Whilst sat in the open yard, there was a husband posing for pictures with his wife – in full Black burka. Somehow this seemed really bizarre – it could have been a body double and no-one would know looking at the picture. Imagine the slide show – oh that’s a lovely one of you Sandra, really brings out your eyes.
I am rambling and only on the first afternoon. Each evening the 6 of us met at 7 for dinner. The first evening we strolled just up the road and were typically ambushed with charming men jumping out with compliments and politely enquiring whether we liked carpets. Why yes, thank you I do – oh you want me to buy one. Well I guess so as I did not realise before what they were; I wondered why my feet bled every time I walked across my living room floor. I love rugs and could easily browse for hours just looking at the fabulous patterns, or indeed roll about on them – but window shopping is not really an option in Istanbul – as indeed it seems free will and having an opinion. But I should know my place. It was signposted after all.
A roof top terrace meal overlooking an abandoned roof terrace in front of us, a roof top water tank and a distant glimpse of the sea and its oil tankers.
One more full day on mainland – just about got our bearings which is tricky until you study a map for a few hours. My Istanbul moment came as we caught the tram up to the port just to check out any riverside restaurants – we found the cheaper Del boy style market in the subway and coming up into the sunshine a man offered – or Istanbul style told us to – take a ferry up the Bosphorus for 10 Lira ( £3.36 each). Spotting a bargain we hopped on. I realised I was without a coat and about to go out on a boat with rain threatening. Nick had bought me under instruction to get a pashmina from the home of pashmina: Kathmandu which he done so obediently without question. For all readers who are pashmina aware – the real ones are of course made of pashmina wool – hence warm and worn by those Himalayan ladies for a purpose rather than accessory – to keep warm. Before I educated Nick in the ways of pashmina – he had thought I carried a comfort blanket. Cut a long story short – you are grateful for a real one when at sea.
After we sat there for 40 mins – the helpful chap did not point out the boat would not leave until full, the call for prayer in the mosque opposite began. Hence my real Istanbul moment – we could hear it reverberate and mimicked through the city. It was spiritual, it is – and me being an atheist sounds a bit stupid too, but it was so beautiful & spell binding: to see everyone heading of to the mosque I suddenly found myself agreeing momentarily for organised oppressive religion. I rather like the way you can gather several times and have a “slice” of silent personal worship rather than sitting through hours of sermon, boredom & guilt.
The houses on the banks of the Bosphorus are very Hollywood – the whole prosperous city seems to be stretched on river/sea fronts. When it started to rain torrentially we headed downstairs and met an enthusiast Chicago man with a happy glint in his eye and his sour faced wife who had once been pretty – and their two guides. He was fascinated with the bike trip & travel, he had circum-navigated all of Wales coastline in his by car back as a young man. He was so knowledgeable about Istanbul and the culture/art I felt we had seen all the things by the way he described them with relish.
Coming off from the boat we docked/crashed into the more functional part of the port beyond the bridge and then stepped/dodged through a chaotic bus station and boats selling fresh fish kebabs. As it started to rain we were surrounded by boys selling umbrellas – an offer of 1 lira then became 5 when I produced my purse. Our hard bargaining brought us down to 4 lira (33p of but a victory). The boys gathered together but did not fight or compete – all vendors I have noticed sell the same things in a group but help each other – it is all good natured and makes it a pleasure. Some are mixed with sadness as a granny sits on concrete steps with piles of tissues next to her – not hassling you, but also not begging so with dignity. Road side stands had come out at snack time selling home cooked pretzels, grilled sweetcorn, peeled apples etc. I wish the uk could have this healthy fast food culture – cheap, fresh and delicious. But more – enterprising & hard working. Alan Sugar would love it.