Indulgence in Istanbul

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November 2nd 2010
Published: November 3rd 2010
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Ah ‘Stamboul….. We arrived in Istanbul late Wednesday night and continued to our destination Sirkeci in the heart of old Istanbul. This is my 4th time to Turkey, but my first short trip and my only trip where I stayed only in Istanbul (other trips have been 2 weeks, twice with intrepid, last trip we did solo around Turkey). Each time I come I fall more and more in love with it. My parents arrived early Thursday afternoon, unfortunately it rained for 2 days and they (seem to think) they got ripped off with the taxi……ooops! We went for a walk in the heavy rain to Sultanahmet to show them the blue mosque, cistern and Aya Sofya but all we really could do was eat and stay in the hotel.
The next day (Friday) unfortunately the weather wasn’t any better. We ventured to the Grand Bazaar (in the cloudy, overcast weather) but it was closed as Friday was Turkish National day. We walked back toward Sultanahmet and went into one of the many sultan cemeteries for a walk around then went back toward the grand bazaar for a cheap and yummy lunch at a local Kebap shop. Pomegranate juice, Ayran, Durum Kebap - YUM! Later on we took my parents to the basilica cistern in the late afternoon when it was less busy with tourists. The cistern is a marvel - built in 542 AD by the byzantine, the underground cistern held the city’s water. What is marvelous about this construction is that it was meant to hold water, yet there are beautiful roman columns including 2 medusa heads. The structure is huge, my 2nd time in there and I just love it. This time around they had a little photography thing set up so you can take your photo dressed as ottoman sultans and sultanas. I talked everyone into it and my dad’s reaction when he saw his photo? ‘sh*t I look like father Christmas!’. That evening we went under the Galata bridge and had a fish dinner. The guy who lured us into his retardant offered us free coffee and fruit, when we told the owner the guy got in trouble! But we did manage to get our free coffee.
Saturday the weather was magical. Blue skies all around, sunshine etc. So we went to the Grand Bazaar. My mum was on the lookout for a Nargile (shisha) I wanted a small one initially but the regular size nargile’s we’re so beautiful. Now I partake in Nargile, which is basically the Arab/Turkish water pipe that is used to smoke fruit flavoured tobacco, on holiday ONLY. I hate regular smoking it makes me sick breathing in other people’s cigarettes, but I LOOOOVE nargile. But I would never smoke at home, it takes the novelty out. So my mum and I each bought gorgeous painted ones, and got a good deal  I saw other tourists getting ripped with one that was a quarter the size of ours! Afterward we went across the Galata bridge to Begolu to the Istikkal Caddesi, famous 2km or so shopping street, and walked to Taksim square, where the independence monument is. The Istikkal was absolutely filled with streams and streams of people.
That evening, we went to a ‘Turkish Night’ one of the many tourist shows. Cheesy at times (I had been to 2 in Cappadocia, 1 each time I had been there). There was traditional Anatolian dances which were nice, you can really see the influences and commonalities these dances have with other eastern European and Greek dance, as well of course with central Asian dances of which Turkey to an extent is part of (97 % of Turkey is in Asia anyway). The belly dancers, what can I say? I am still determined to find good Turkish belly dancing, I still am adamant that the first Turkish belly dancer I saw in Cappadocia with my first Intrepid trip was absolutely hands down brilliant not because I didn’t know anything about belly dancing at that stage, or that I was drunk, but because she was. The first dancer didn’t smile, she was more into the tricks. You know hip popping, chest popping etc. I guess this is mean, I am learning Egyptian style belly dance after all, not Turkish. She was ok, she did have some talent, but not much technical skill. And the song she danced too I recoginsed it as a live Turkish version of a dance that a friend of mine danced to (my friend did a much better job of course!). The second dancer, who looked like a tranny mind your, came out and she was very (fake) busty, and her costume consisted of a bra/bely set but the bottom potion, the chiffon skirt was actually chiffon (very little) at the front and back to cover the main bits! She was a bit better than the first one, obviously she ‘wowed’ the crowd. My mum asked the waiter if she was a man or lady! Lol. She is funny (she does things like that often!). then she got a guy from the audience to dance with her. Well, swing his hips not DANCE. More Anatolian dancing, then another belly dancer who was probably the least best dancer of the pack. So the last ‘act’ was a guy in shiny pants and silk shirt singing in Russian, Greek, Croatian Greek and more Greek. We worked out that every table except ours had a flag on it. A lot of Greek tourists, a lot of Zorba going on. Now this lasted for more than an hour. Well after midnight we left and our shuttle back to the hotel was filled with drunk (but fun) Swiss guys giving us midnight entertainment with their singing (the driver didn’t seem to appreciate it though!)

The next day we couldn’t go to the grand bazaar as it was closed, so my parents went to the Blue Mosque while we walked around and after walking around Sultanahmet decided to go back to the Istikal to shop but I forgot my phone at the hotel, and thinking my parents may want to call me we went back. Then we saw the news in the lobby. There was a blast in Taksim square, targeting the permanent riot police in this iconic square in Istanbul. Then it wall fell in place - police were squealing past our hotel in the morning as we were half asleep. A man attempted to enter one of the police vans and detonated himself. At last count, 33 were injured. It was so sad as we went to Taksim square the day before where it happened, and the Turkish night show was in Taksim so going on Sunday night the traffic would have been even more chaotic. At present, the PKK (Kurdish workers party) were identified as possibly one of the groups that could have been involved, and of course Al Qaeda was suspected. The relationship between Turkey and their South-Eastern residents of the unofficial Kurdistan (which lies over south-eastern Turkey, Northern Iraq and Iran) has always been tense as of course, as with other minority groups around the world (e.g. The basques in Spain and France, Chechnya in Russia, Southern Thailand, Palesetine and the list goes on) why are these acts of violence carried out? To separate from the country (in this case Turkey) and have their own country - which is now the unofficial territory of Kurdistan. The Kurdish people speak a different language and ethnically are Kurds not Turks. So basically this is a run-down of the situation between the Kurds and the Turks for those who are unaware. On Sunday for example, was the deadline of a 2 yr. ceasefire between the Turkish military and the PKK. I haven’t read enough in the news to say who was to blame, and a travel blog isn’t the place to start a political commentary or debate. But I do say this; the modern days country borders drawn up after WWI have a lot to do with, in my opinion, civil unrest in many parts of the world.

It’s funny we heard the news and it was like ok well can’t go to the Istikkal to shop. I mean what are people in a city of 12 million supposed to do, stop their daily lives? Life in Sirkeci and Sultanahmet (which is across the the might river Bospherous from where it all happened) went on for the residents and tourits, as I expect for the rest of the city too. So we spent a lovely afternoon in the sun, sitting on cushions, eating, drinking Efes and sucking on apple flavoured Nargile whih watching cleaning ladies walk out onto a narrow ledge of the opposite hotel cleaning windows. eek!

Yesterday we took my parents to visit the Yeni Camii (new mosque). Only in Istanbul can a new mosque be built in the 16th century. Its exquisite, I probably like it more than the blue mosque (mostly for the fact the big tourists buses of tourists don’t come here). I love Turkish mosques, so much history in the construction, the tiled decoration is simply marvelous, and I can just sit in there and ponder looking at the Isnik tiles. Afterward we went to the Egyptian Bazaar, which is the spice market. Then we went to the grand bazaar again, where I found my fave belly dance outlet. I looked at the proper costumes, they were nice but way way above my price range. I tried a couple on, the man was very nice and didn’t push very much and sat down quietly with Bill while I tried on the costumes. As they were above what I would pay, we left but then he asked the maximum I would pay, I offered less than half… he said ‘Come downstairs I ask my bother’. What did his ‘brother’ at the cash register say? ‘it’s ok, I give to you and charge extra to other tourists’. What the? Brilliant, but makes me think I could have offered less hehe! But it probably only worth that much, the szwarkovski crystal decoration is great though. Afterward, after not being able to lyre my parents out of the hotel, we went for a beer and nargile at our beer place in the side street! We made a new best friend when we returned for dinner (the restaurant guy).

This morning, I put my alarm on early for the purpose of going to the Hammam, had 2nd thoughts when I woke up, but an hour later I was leaving for the Cemberlitas Hammam, getting touristy now and expensive, but an experience. I arrived at 9.30am, just before the barrage of tourists so I got my scrub within 10mins of sweating it out on the marble, then chilled out in the Jacuzzi!

Almost in Dubai now, our trip is nearly over. So much we have seen, so much we have done. Most importantly is the cultural experiences and what we have learnt about different cultures, new things, re-hashing old things and challenging first impressions. This is what I love about travel, and travelling to my old friend Istanbul - I always discover something new, meet new people, experience the same things but with a different twist.

Gule Gule Istanbul!


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