in which I wander the streets of Istanbul, mostly with Gill’s visiting friend Rory, seeing late-Ottoman palaces, modern art exhibits, bazaars full of spices and souvenirs, and even channeled my inner James Bond.
My three days in Istanbul (properly İstanbul, pronounced Ee-stan-bul) provided ample time for seeing the city in quite a different light than last time I was there. In my first time in the city, back in 2007, I conquered the city’s main tourist sites with Kate on our first day there, taking in the Blue Mosque, the Aya Sofia, , and other assorted things, and spent the second day on a Bosphorus “cruise” (really just public transport) to the Asian side to the remains of a fortress that overlooked the Black Sea, followed by a jaunt through the Grand Bazaar by a friend, Matt, who had spent a summer in the city. The fact that I had been before made for a very enjoyable three days in the city. Feeling absolutely no pressing, irresistible urge to knock any particular tourist activities off my list, I had three days to wander and do the slightly off-the-beaten-path things that my last sprint through the city had not enabled. Upon arrival, however, first things were first. I located Gill’s very swank apartment, was let in by a bleary eyed Gill, plugged in some appliances, and hit the shower, glad to be out of the clothes I had worn for three days straight. Gross. After reaching a reasonable level of social acceptableness, I was delighted to find that Gill had prepared breakfast for us–herself, me, and Rory, her friend who was also visiting. Rory and I got to chatting, Gill headed off to work, and Rory and I made plans for the day. Our first stop? The nearby Istanbul Modern, an art gallery, free on Thursdays, full of a predictable collection of contemporary art. A nice way to spend our late morning. Along the way, we caught glimpse of Sultanahmet, the part of the city south of the Golden horn.
After our perusal of the museum, we continued down along the Bosphorus, stopping to have lunch in view of the grand Bosphorus Bridge, important enough to be featured on some coins.
The afternoon was dedicated to other pursuits. We wandered through the Spice Bazaar, winding our way towards the Grand Bazaar, where we were quickly inundated with hilarious and unpredictable ploys to get us to buy the various wares. A particular favourite this time round? From the man who walks a step or two with us before looking suddenly at his watch. “STOP! It’s carpet time!” Anything like hammer time? Maybe. Another (actually, I think it was the same guy) proudly claimed to have “family-sized carpets.” Others didn’t beat around the bush: “I want your money!” “You want to spend money!” It was a predictably absurd experience, though without the crowds of summer, a much different experience to my last time in the area.
We returned to Taksim in the late afternoon, pausing for tea and muffins at a place near Gill’s apartment, before heading back so I could whip off a final fellowship application before Gill returned home from work and fixed us dinner (seriously, the girl spoiled us). We then headed out for an evening of pub quiz, returning reasonably late, considering Gill had work the next morning.
The next day took Rory and I to Dolmabahçe Palace, built in the mid-1800s and used by Atatürk (and in fact, where he died). The gardens were spectacular.
We then continued on to Sultanahmet, tourist central, where we had a nice lunch before parting ways–Rory headed off for the (apparently spectacular) Istanbul Archeology Museum. I, on the other hand, had other pursuits in mind. Namely, channeling my inner James Bond and heading down to the cisterns, featured prominently in From Russia With Love (the first Bond film I really enjoyed). They did not disappoint.
The cisterns themselves, built under Justinian in the sixth century, had been completely forgotten until sometime in the 19th century, when apparently someone noticed that people were fishing in the streets, suggesting there was something below. They have a nice sort-of creepy atmosphere about them. Though there’s admittedly not much to visiting them, I was glad to have finally seen them. The most famous part? The reused Medusa heads, taken from an unknown source, and used as the base for two of the columns. One is sideways, the other upside down, some claim to ward off the Gorgon’s gaze. Who knows.
From there, I continued back outside and crossed the street to the area between the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. My plan was to meet Alex, her Nuremberg flatmates, Sarah, and Onur there, all of whom had also spent the week of vacation in Turkey. I had been invited to go into the Aya Sofia with Alex and her flatmates, but I balked at the 20 lira admission price (worth it perhaps once, but I had already been, when it had only cost 10). But the plan was for them to call me when they were ready to meet up. As chance had it, though, I ran into Sarah and Onur (her Turkish boyfriend) just as I was about to sit down for a bit, as they were waiting for Alex, Birgit, and Regine. Convenient. And we chatted a bit while I scribbled a couple postcards, and soon, Alex and her flatmates emerged.
As a group, we continued on through the streets, heading back towards the Spice Bazaar to take it all in a final time.
We headed from there onto the ferry, taking it back to Kadiköy, part of the Asian side, where Onur and his brother have an apartment. We wandered the streets there before retiring to Onur’s apartment for Olympic coverage with delicious homemade cake and tea. Following which we had dinner before I bid farewell to the crowd and returned to Gill’s apartment for the end of a dinner party she was having with a friend who had been the Guardian(?)’s correspondent in Tehran before returning to Istanbul, and his Iranian-born wife. Oh, intelligent conversation, the norm throughout my week of vacation, how I missed thee! (That is to say, I have had plenty of intelligent conversation here in Nuremberg, but not usually on a daily basis). After the couple headed home, Gill laid down to rest a bit, but ended up sleeping till the morning. Rory and I debated our options, but decided in favour of staying in and reading, instead of going out.
The following morning, I was at the helm, preparing chocolate chip-walnut pancakes (delicious!), before Rory then headed of to catch his afternoon flight. Gill and I returned to the Istanbul Modern, where we watched a screening of Let the Right One In, a 2008 Swedish vampire film, complete with Turkish subtitles. Though it was a bit of stretch for my (non-existent) Swedish and (very rudimentary) Turkish, I am happy to say I feel fairly confident that I more or less followed the plot in its entirety. And then Gill and I wandered our way back to her apartment, stopping for buffalo wings and chicken tenders en route. The afternoon was spent chatting a bit, before we enjoyed a lovely final dinner at a Georgian restaurant around the corner. I was all to sad to part ways with Gill that evening to catch my 0:15 flight back to Nuremberg. Things ran smoothly from there–caught the bus to the airport and flew back to Nuremberg. Somewhat obnoxiously, my plane was just a few minutes delayed, putting me into Nuremberg just a couple minutes after the once-an-hour night bus had taken off. This meant I caught the 3:28 bus back, arriving home a little before 4 am. But small matters. Small matters indeed. It had been quite an amazing week, from Georgia to Ankara to Istanbul, with all the places in between. Marvelous, marvelous, marvelous.