Monday, January 22, 2007


I love Istanbul airport - it's where I have done some of my best writing in one or more 6-hour waits between planes from Tajikistan and planes to Vilnius. Getting in there this morning, when it was empty, shooting through the visa and passport queues (what queues?), getting my Turkish Liras from an ATM and being picked up was a matter of minutes.

I love Istanbul. Got to my hotel, the Sari Konak, at about 7 am (room booked from today, normal check-in time 14.00) I had my room available immediately and breakfast thrown in. Wasn' that nice of them? It would probably have been more difficult during a more touristy time of the year. And it's a lovely hotel, recently done up, nice clean bright rooms, everything working in the bathroom (not everyone may appreciate that this is a bonus!) and just very relaxing. The walls seem to be a little thin, but most people are out most of the time.

It is situated in between the Blue Mosque and the Bosporus, which (old town?) though this and all the hotels around it look relatively newly built. Many of the other hotels are wooden buildings - one hopes the fire regulations are strictly enforced! Got in just before sunrise, with a pink sky to the East, and the ships on the Bosporus silently sailing by, all lit up. Very romantic!

Off I went this morning, swithering whether I should do Culture or Shopping. Persuaded myself to do shopping, on account that it is Friday and Mosque Day, but then noticed people (tourists) coming out of the Blue Mosque, so I went and had a look anyway. A very stunnning building, with a huge floorspace covered in a carpet (which did not seem to have joins...that would have been some size of loom!). Despite the carpet I could feel the cold creeping into my stockinged feet. The lighting of the Mosque was hanging very low - a basket ball player might have had trouble with it - I wondered if it was meant to add heat as well?

As I exited, the guard was in some hysterics - some Central Asian looking ladies (black leather jacket, headscarf tied in a Central Asian way) were just slipping back into their high boots on the spot where it was written in English not to put your shoes on. Ah well.

Later in the day the Friday prayers took place, and the pavements outside every Mosque were covered a prostration of men. Quite a number of businesses were shut as well for the duration of the prayers. I't strange that the bazaars are closed on a Sunday and not a Friday.

With some Istanbul men it would not hurt if they spent more time in prostration. I learnt after the first day to keep my eyes firmly on the ground and avoid eye contact if I did not want to be hassled by less desirable types, especially those, who were not attached to a shop. One guy took it really quite badly when I said I did not really want to speak to him - he became very offensive. (So much for the simple 'anti-rape' rule of 'just say no'. Research has shown that this is very difficult to do because we have been taught not to offend people, and 'just saying no' can do just that. So that is not really the answer).

In the morning I wandered round the Grand Bazaar for a while. It's rather embarassing when there are not so many other visitors, and all those salesMEN can focus on you. Did not find anything that I desperately needed, neither belly-dancing outfits, carpets, leather jackets, pottery (quite nice), cymbals, scarves (everyone around me has hundreds of scarves), lamps, jewelry etc. There was a pale beige carpet runner I quite fancied - until I remembered that the only place suitable for it is the place where I park my bike! That made life quite easy....

...but later on in the spice bazaar I literally 'paid' for it. This is a much smaller bazaar which sells spices, but also a limited range of goods similar to the Grand Bazaar, bar carpets and leather clothes. Many of the goods here are labelled with the price, which takes a lot of pressure off. You also then notice that the stalls immediately surrounding this bazaar sell some of the goods at half-price! Picked up some stuff there, including presents for people. Not sure how much they will be appreciated...bought a lot of Turkish Delights which the young guy chucked into a number of boxes, I expected him then to arrange them neatly - but his rather severe-looking mate just closed the boxes and then vacuumsealed them. So how squashed the contents are, goodness knows. I had also looked for the same olive oil soap that I had bought at the airport last time I was here...here I got it loose. He gave me the 'best-looking pieces' (which look as if they have been in a flood)...can I really give them to people? As for spices, I am now sorted for cooking in Georgia until the end of the year!

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