I am managing to stay on top of Berlin so think I will go for a combination of the present and the past until I have caught up with all the stories.
Last night I went to the Circus Hotel for gin and jazz… and dinner. Had broccoli-cauliflower soup, a big salad and an excellent schnitzel (the Germans really know their way around a pig :)) so balanced out all the cake. I haven’t seen a room yet but my guidebook speaks very highly of Circus, which offers both a hostel and a hotel. If the bar is representative, I would recommend it too.
My own hotel seems to be trying a little too hard. Apparently they threw a block party and artists painted the walls and some British band recorded a playlist for one of the rooms. I am sure if you were on the roof in the summer for an exclusive party, it would be a brilliant venue. But last night the bar at Circus was packed and lively while the bar in my hotel felt like a ghost town.
Naturally I made friends with yet another bartender 🙂 He didn’t seem to have a German accent and was very serious about mixing his cocktails so he made me a special one and we got to chatting. His name is Matthias and he is from Peru, here in Berlin to study film. It is funny the difference between the Nordic and the Latin cultures. Maybe all that sunshine makes people friendlier while the cold turns them frosty inside as well.
In between chatting to Matthias – and drinking some excellent gin that tasted of the Black Forest – I wrote up my penultimate day in Istanbul. So we will time travel back to Istanbul to finish the stories. Not 101 nights, but two still unaccounted for – but maybe 101 nights in Istanbul in my future…
Up early again to hit my final “must see” Istanbul tourist attraction – Topkapi Palace. Home of the Sultan – and his harem.
Also home of the infamous carpet shop! As noted previously, the taxis can’t pull up next to the big tourist attractions so instead deposit you in a general drop-off zone. Right where I was dropped off yesterday… The previous day’s adventure did make getting dropped off a little more exciting than for most tourists. I watched carefully for Nïsam and the carpet shop and make sure the coast was clear before I got out of the taxi.
I scurried out of the drop off zone as fast as possible and avoided eye contact to discourage any “free guides”. I did take some more photos of the previous day’s attractions. And took a photo of some Chinese kid in front of the Blue Mosque. He seemed really pleased. I take all photos seriously – even if I will never see the final product – so I AM the random stranger you want to ask to take your tourist photo 😉
I then had to find Topkapi Palace on my own. Nïsam had given me his card and was on call for further tour guide duties. That would have been a lot easier as tourist signage in Istanbul is not a high priority. But the place was swarming with tourist buses. And Nïsam had mildly molested me in some park the day before that he said was next to Topkapi Palace – so I figured I had a general idea which direction to head.
And, without a guide, I was able to wander around Sultanahmet a bit and get lost in small back streets. I eventually found a crowd to follow and joined the painful line to buy tickets. The special “local” status Nïsam had conferred on me had disappeared but I was free to spend the day as I wished once I finally got to the ticket window.
Topkapi Palace is the premier tourist attraction in Istanbul and is really worth seeing. But the Turks are not Germans and it is fairly chaotically organized so you spend a lot of time standing in line and being jostled by Chinese tourists and women in headscarves. Apparently civility not a big part of either culture.
But the emeralds! And the Spoonmaker’s diamond! And weird stuff like boxes filled with pieces of Muhammad’s beard. You have to pay extra for the harem – but it’s an architectural marvel. And really freezing! I guess the Sultan figured if they were cold, jumping into bed with him would seem a little less repulsive…
While the view from the Palace’s cafe was stunning, the menu was expensive and underwhelming so I finally walked far enough away from the tourist zone to find a taxi to get me back to my ‘hood. On the previous night’s wandering, I had spied an interesting restaurant (Auf) but at that stage I was stuffed from trying to eat 59 lira worth of sandwiches and cake at high tea.
But this afternoon I was starving – just worried I might be too late for lunch. I had finally stumbled into the “real” Turkey. No one really spoke English and it took some time – and hand gestures – to reach agreement that I could still eat lunch at 3pm.
Since it was so late I opted for the carrot-ginger soup and beet salad. Suffice to say, lunch was so amazing I went back again in a few hours for dinner! A wonderful salad followed by the best rack of lamb in my entire life. And this delicious Öküzgözü. I was drinking so much Turkish wine I was finally getting to know the local grapes 🙂
The wine was so good I wanted a second glass but my server had run off mysteriously… the food and wine were outstanding but they didn’t seem to know what to do with customers… There were about three guys hovering around the bar so when I finally got their attention I moved to the bar to have my second glass of wine.
No one spoke much English but the bartender was moving to Australia in six months to learn English. He had made me an excellent cocktail to start the meal and we had bonded when I confirmed I wanted the manly cocktail, not the girlie substitute he had suggested. I discovered the Australia angle via a combination of using my slowest, most basic English and him typing stuff into a google translate app on his iphone. Communication in the 21st century 🙂
But it worked! I even learned what it’s like to live in an overpopulated country with Syria as your neighbour.
Since I was in the neighborhood, I then went a few doors down to the Büyük Londra hotel to see if Ïlhan was working. He was! So I took a seat at the bar and told him I should drink something local. So naturally he suggested raki. He explained the proof and I used ALL the water provided. But when I woke up with a headache the next morning I thought, “I only had two glasses of wine – and then I remembered the raki!”
Istanbul really was this surfeit of delights. Not only did I confirm my friendship with Ïlhan, I also met a Spanish film guy named Manuel. We talked football (the proper kind :)). He gave me tips on Istanbul. I offered to take him out the next time he is filming in Vancouver.
Ïlhan finished his shift at midnight and somehow we decided the night wasn’t over. So I followed him down some of the winding back streets of Pera until we climbed a few flights of stairs and ended up in a club where he seemed to know everyone and drinks were on the house.
There was a live band. We danced. And when I was too sleepy to continue and he had to head home, he organized a guide to steer me practically back to the doorstep of my hotel.
So… don’t drink the raki! Be careful getting out of taxis. But be friendly. Engage with the locals. And you will likely come home with memories no guidebook recommended…