Saturday, 12 April 2014

Seven days in Istanbul

Our time in Istanbul is coming to an end It's been full of interesting experiences. We've taken dozens of photos that I'll post when I figure out how.

As we got off the plane at 1:00 Thursday morning, I was wondering if we really were going to be picked up by the hotel shuttle, and more importantly, where. First great experience - airport porter with cart. When I asked if he knew where our shuttle would be, he phoned the hotel and had a long Turkish conversation, then another one with one of the ladies waiting for baggage. She explained to us that he would take care of us "for a tip only" and suggested 5 euros not the 10 I had in my hand. At the exit, there was no sign of anyone looking for us, so he rephoned the hotel and down the hall comes a young man with my name written on a paper. Smiles all around.

To be honest, we've found overwhelmingly people wanting to be helpful. Even the pressure to come into the shop just needs a smile and a no thank you. Interesting comment from Mark, one of our fellow travelers, that this way you are having a conversation with a person rather than being hassled by a telemarketer.

Our first day, we found the harbour and the spice market. I was delighted to buy some beautiful Turkish saffron - threads of red and yellowish orange - as well as Turkish tea and coffee and a spice mix for kebabs and two baklavas that looked like little nests. I thought the price was right and I have a bit of naturally died cotton for my quilt.

Now I know that Turkish coffee is how it's ground - very finely- and then boiled. And tea (cay, pronounced chai) is simmered all day (you add water to get it weaker). And that Turkish saffron is actually safflower and an appeasement to tourists who don't want to pay the cost of Iranian saffron. Goggle "turkish saffron" to get the rest of the story. What ever, I have a beautiful mottled yellow fabric square that I plan to embroider an evil eye on.

Saturday, we spent the morning touring Topkapi palace. Crowds were unbelievable. Absolutely worth it though. Then we wandered across the square to see the Blue Mosque.

We were greeted by Nazim, who explained that he was not a guide and would not charge us money but he would like to show us the mosque and then perhaps we would like to visit his uncle's carpet shop. He took us to great vantage points to take photos, gave fascinating tidbits of information - for example, the design on the carpet was like a seat with your feet going in one place, then knees and hands then finally head to pray. The pictures you see of thousands praying in straight lines is all about the carpet design.

After this leisurely but thorough tour we did go around the corner to the uncle's shop. Again, a thoroughly delightful experience with coffee and sweets. Learned tons about carpets and had a lovely afternoon browsing/having carpets displayed for us. Learned that they are easy care - if the original hand made carpet in the mosque could last 250 years, then mine would survive being washed with natural soap and a bit of scrubbing.

Yes, we bought a beautiful hand knotted silk carpet from Bursa (not far away) as well as a woolen carpet from the Kurdish east of Turkey. We had a bit of negotiating, all very civil, and the shopkeeper gave me a greeting in Turkish as well as Kurdish for this week's quilt square. We are actually sending home a third carpet as well - because we were such wonderful guests. I suspect that means that the shopkeeper was as pleased with the experience as we were!!!

Truly a memory that I will cherish.

The end of the story is almost as good. On our way back to our hotel, we passed a shoeshine person who dropped his brush and like the polite Canadians we are, we stopped and returned his brush. In thanks, we thought, he insisted on cleaning our runners and chatted with us. Cal offered a tip of some change, and was told only paper money. There was a fast and furious exchange of money and no change returned and I think we paid almost the cost of a new pair of runners. Yup, we were had. Hopefully we are fast learners!

Quick impressions of Istanbul - huge crowds, strong Islamic presence (great people watching experience), security very visible including police and army with automatic weapons, incredibly ancient civilization, food is spectacularly fresh and spices unpredictable, friendly, incredibly clean. Oh yes, the local cats and dogs are a story of their own.

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