Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I have very nice rugs to show you

Istanbul version of bagels and cream cheese
"Where are you from?" That's the lead line that's asked of tourists at least 100 times a day, followed by "Oh, my brother's living in America--in Washington D.C. I have very nice rugs to show you!" or "I live in the United States too--in Florida. I'm here buying antiques. Are you interested in a very nice rug?" Or...and on it goes. But fortunately a little banter in reply or a polite "No, thanks" is all it takes to escape. Until the next guy. And no wonder they are out hawking their wares--there are thousands and thousands of rugs for sale in the shops of the tourist areas and in the bazaars. As we were having lunch today I watched the rug-seller across the street from our table. He got no business in his store; in fact, the only business he was involved in was buying the bagel-like things that street vendors sell in the neighborhood. How does he make his living?

Same applies to restaurants. One tout for the fish restaurant on the corner stands outside all afternoon and evening, imploring passers-by to eat at his restaurant. "Fine rooftop terrace, let me show you the pictures! Best fish in Sultanhamet! Come in, enjoy, we have meat too! Anything you want!" He's a really friendly guy and is always ready to talk to us even though we have given him every excuse in the books for why we are not eating at his restaurant "this time."

No rug? Perhaps a lamp?
Or maybe harem pants?
Despite the constant chatter from the sellers, it's lots of fun to wander around the streets looking at their goods. We ventured into the Grand Bazaar today and left with two lovely cashmere pashminas, which I'm sure we overpaid for, but whatever. I'm wearing one now and it feels great!

We also visited the Spice Market and ogled the mounds of spices, Turkish Delight, tea, and other good things for sale. Had some more pomegranate juice, as I knew we would, on our all-day, 8-mile walk from the old section (Sultanhamet, where we are staying) across the Galata Bridge to the newer part of town, where even more people were crowding the pedestrian-only, modern shopping street that stretches almost from Taksim Square at the top of the hill to the Bosphorus at the bottom.

Pomegranates, the source for fresh juice
On our walk we popped into the centuries-old Galata Tower and climbed to the top for a beautiful view of the old town and the Sea of Marmara beyond. Istanbul has such a gorgeous setting that it rivals our other favorite harbors (Sydney, San Francisco, Hong Kong, New York). Everywhere you look there are interesting scenes. And I love the changing neighborhoods, like New York--the tool-sellers morph into the tile- and lamp-sellers into the cafes into the meat-on-a-pole delis (hard to describe, but they are actually two-foot-high poles of compressed beef, lamb, or chicken that is carved for sandwiches. Does not look that appetizing!) 

View from the Galata Tower
And looking back at the tower from our side
Having visited several mosques in the past couple of days, today we entered one of the most famous former Christian churches in the world, the Hagya Sophia. The vast interior space, crowned by a huge dome, lives up to its reputation. Since it was turned into a mosque a few centuries ago, lots of the original Christian mosaics are covered up, but some have been revealed and they are all the more striking perhaps because of that. The mix of Christian and Islamic religions in one building is kind of cool, in a world peace kind of way. To me, anyway.

Istanbul has a magnificent archaeology museum, with beautifully displayed sarcophogi and statues, so we happily spent the morning there. We arrived about 10 a.m. and had the place almost to ourselves for a while, which was beautiful. 

Tomorrow we leave the city for a flight to Izmir, where we'll spend a couple of nights so we can visit the ruins of Ephesus before driving a rental car south to our lodgings for the month at Villa Maisie in Kas on the Turquoise Coast. We'll return to Istanbul at the end of October and try to squeeze in some more of the sights in this wonderful cosmopolitan city.

Hagya Sophia at night

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