You may be thinking by now that you will be spared the stories 🙂 But I have just been too busy with marriage proposals, men who want to be my “free guide”(payment in kisses 😉 and all the new friends I am making hanging out in bars…
This post has been started a number of times now so will have to revise some of the earlier notes to get up to date. We’ll see if I can actually get this posted today! It’s now Friday morning and I am waiting for my flight to Berlin. Managed to actually make it to the House Cafe’, as recommended in my guidebook. And it is as good as promised! My Eggs Benedict not quite standard issue – ciabatta, regular bacon, salad and a brown butter hollandaise – but it worked 🙂
It is obvious this is a Mediterranean country. Food has been delicious and you can taste the sunshine, especially in the vegetables. I have become addicted to Turkish olive oil but thanks to my carpet (it’s a good story ;), I don’t have any room in my suitcase sadly.
So much has happened since the last post, I have decided I will just have to go chronologically. On Monday I just got my feet wet. I love travelling on my own but I make sure I know my way around a place before I get too lost. I put a lot of energy into deciding where to stay in Istanbul – and, as anticipated, it was a great launching pad to get to know the city.
I am staying in Beyoğlu. This is the hip and happening section of Istanbul and the main shopping street was just one tiny lane over from the hotel. Taksim Square is pretty ugly but a great reference point so I headed there first.
Monday was an absolutely glorious day and my guidebook said the view from Leb-i Derya on the top of the Richmond Hotel was possibly the best view in Istanbul. So I had a long leisurely lunch, got to know my server and planned my assault on Constantinople over the next three days. I also took the first set of what would become a crazy number of photos of this highly photogenic city.
Tuesday morning I got up early and it was time to leave my comfort zone and take a taxi to historical Istanbul. The hotel staff are wonderful and there are countless taxis lingering about at any hour so getting into a taxi was a piece of cake. Getting out of taxi proved to be a little more challenging…
The driver did not appear to speak English so I just had to hope I would arrive at the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia are opposite each other so it’s easy to know you are in the right place!
What is not so clear are the dangers lurking when you step out of the taxi. Especially as a newbie who has been spoiled by the laid-back ways of your now native Pera.
In Sultanahmet, life is a lot more stressful. This is where all the big tourist attractions are – and where you are part of the game, whether you realize it or not. I was busy focusing on whether the taxi had dropped me in the right spot instead of noticing the guy opening the taxi door for me.
Nïzam seemed like a pretty decent guy and he would be my guide for free – and I was not obligated to visit his family’s rug shop at the end of our tour. It seemed easier to just say “yes” than to figure out how to get rid of him. And the start was very promising…
He was charming and very knowledgeable about the buildings. Apparently he was trained as an architect although his current profession seemed unclear. He was a master at the protocols; that was certain. He did not like queues so he just told me to put my scarf on (I had come prepared!) and we went through the local entrance leaving the hordes of tourists waiting on their own.
I was very appreciative of his efforts and have been accused of being an incorrigible flirt so we were getting on famously until the kissing started to get a little out of hand… but not everyone can claim to have been groped in a mosque 😉
I think being agreeable is always the best strategy in complicated situations so I kept tagging along with him, trying not to get caught in too much kissing crossfire. It was a wonderful tour and I am really glad that I did it. It was so much easier than navigating on my own and I learned a lot.
But then the marriage proposal came. At least he allowed me to wait until after lunch to make a decision. It was all getting a lot more complicated than I had planned on so I agreed to go and look at carpets so that I could kill some time and figure out how to graciously get out of the mess I had gotten into. And he had insisted I didn’t HAVE to BUY a carpet, just drink some tea and look at some…
But then he introduced his cousin 🙂 I have no idea how much I was ripped off but the carpet is gorgeous and I would spend that much on dinner for two so it was well worth the money. The show was spectacular! The cousin was very smooth, with much better English. They brought me Turkish coffee – which was a bit much but I thought I had to try it! The rug whisperer started tossing rugs on the floor, flipping them around so you could see how they changed colour depending on how the light hit them.
I hadn’t planned on buying a Turkish rug so had no idea about them – except that they didn’t go so well with my purple and leopard print decor 🙂 But they come from different regions, there are traditional symbols, some are prayer rugs, some are prayer rugs but you can’t pray on them cause they have been jazzed up too much. The spiel was well done and I think I learned a little bit.
I finally decided a rug would be cheaper than bringing home a live souvenir from Turkey and that would be my concession. I also wasn’t quite sure how to get out of the room. I decided I was also paying for the world’s best sales training 🙂 At least I didn’t end up spending over $2,000 I hadn’t planned on. That was where we started!
It was all quite a show. Both the carpet salesman and I were trying to be gracious and I left myself open to be sold to so finally just caved. It IS really beautiful! Not sure if he was trying to improve his deal at the end or if it was a genuine mistake but I know my exchange rates so the price didn’t get inflated over 50% when suddenly at the end, it got converted from US dollars into Turkish lira…
At that point I was still open to going for lunch with Nïzam and then he was supposed to take me to Süleymaniye Mosque but the courtship seemed to be progressing rather rapidly and his English was pretty good but when he seemed annoyed that I had already said “yes” to a question I was now answering with a “no”, I decided it was time to cut my losses and try to get a taxi to take me from Old Istanbul back to the Istanbul of the Republic where life seemed a lot easier!
Nïzam insisted he was a good guy and did graciously get me a taxi back to my hotel – and did not jump in the front seat – so I believe him. Apparently he was just mesmerized by my green eyes and my smile… I will never forget my first visit to the Blue Mosque – and will look at my carpet with fondness remembering the story of how I acquired it. That night I met Ïlhan, who enjoyed the story. He told me he was already married – and one wife was enough trouble 🙂 More on him coming up…