Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Istanbul is a huge city and in two days we saw only a smidgeon of it. The first night we had a fresh fish dinner under the Galata Bridge and watched the lights of the city and river. The next day we explored Sultanmed, the main tourist attraction part of the city. First we went to Topkapi Palace where the Sultans lived during their long reign of the Ottoman Empire. It feels like the United States has been in existence for a long time, but it has half the life span of the Empire. In its heyday, it covered much of southern Europe and the middle East and beyond - in fact, Macedonia was a province of the Empire for over 400 years and separated from it only in the late 1800s. Since it existed during times of great exploration and the gathering of fortunes, the Sultans acquired riches beyond imagination - at least my imagination. The Vatican must have treasures that are equal, and maybe the royal family in England, though that may be a stretch. A part of it is on display at the palace - diamonds as big as a small fist, countless emeralds and rubies, all inlaid into cups, knives, bowls, crowns - prosaic items made magical by their splendor. It was amazing to see. We went to the famous Blue Mosque - huge and magnificent, and I drank salep, which I love, from a streetside vendor. The Aga Sophia (Church of Sophia) was closed on the day we were there, which gives me an excuse to return to see that and the cisterns. We wandered down to the grand bazaar - what a sight. There must be thousands of vendors in there, and you can wander through the labyrinth for hours. Every step a vendor is saying, "hi, how are you" "where are you from" "I have nice things here, just take a look". Sometimes they misguess where you are from, but it's pretty easy, I think, to spot Americans. And of course part of the fun is knowing that everything in the bazaar is overpriced and you need to bargain. "No, no, I'm not really interested" "I saw a nicer one elsewhere" "I don't have the money" etc. I bought a kilim, a small rug that the vendor swore to me had been hand woven by the Kurds in the East. Before I bought it I left the shop, and he came running after me offering less than half of what he had originally offered it for! I'm sure he still made a healthy profit and I had the satisfaction of knowing I had bargained him down!
The next day we took a walking tour of the old Jewish district of the city. The Empire sent ships to bring the Jews expelled from Spain during the inquisition, and Kemal Ataturk had welcomed them as part of the republic when it was created, so for hundreds of years there were several big Jewish districts in the city. They held positions of influence. Since Muslims, according to the Koran, can't charge interest, the largest banks were owned by Jews. As the Empire declined, many immigrated, and those that were left in areas like the Balkans were for the most part killed during WWII. I hadn't thought of Turkey as being high on terrorist targets, but the main synagogue in the Galata district was bombed by terrorists. As a result, security was tight. We were supposed to submit our passports 4 days in advance so the tour could make sure we weren't terrorists and make arrangements to get into the synagogues. We were unable to do that, but saw a lot of the Galata district and the Jewish museum which was in an old synagogue.
That afternoon we took a tour that took us to the Spice bazaar - which I really preferred to the Grand Bazaar. Since there are many spices I have trouble finding in Gostivar, I bought some curry, cumin and nutmeg. The smell was fabulous. We also saw the New Mosque, new being relative since it was built in the 1400's. Finally, we took a boat trip down the Bosphorus. It was cold and rainy, but the trip was still interesting. It gave me a better feel for the scope of the city, and the mix of ancient buildings and modern condos was fun to see. That night we went to a club that had traditional dancing. We were hoping to see a whirling dervish, but no luck - this club didn't have them. What was most interesting to me, though, was the mix of people who were there. I'm not sure of all the nationalities, but there were Iranians, Moroccans, Japanese, Korean, Libyans, and us! Istanbul is probably the most international city in the world.
Up early the next day to catch a flight to Capadoccia - but that tale is for another day!
Posted by Candice Wiggum at 5:45 AM