Monday, March 20, 2006

Back from Byzantium

I want to go back to Istanbul. There is so much that we didn’t get a chance to see, the people are very friendly, it is such a vibrant city, rich with history and culture.

And there were cats everywhere. . . Ginger Kitty Athens had dogs and Istanbul had cats. Are their cat and dog personalities for cities like there are cat and dog people?

We stayed in the old part of town and it seemed that down every street you would see another mosque. When it was time for the muezzin to do the Call to Prayer (Adhan) it would echo over the city, mixing with the voices of muezzins at other mosques. You can listen to a Call to Prayer here. It was really beautiful.

One translation of the Arabic I found is:

God is most great.
God is most great.
God is most great.
God is most great.
I testify that there is no god except God.
I testify that there is no god except God.
I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
Come to prayer! Come to prayer!
Come to success (in this life and the Hereafter)!
Come to success!
God is most great.
God is most great.
There is no god except God.

I had done a bit of research before we went and what I read suggested that women cover their hair when they went into a mosque. At the Blue Mosque a number of other Western women did the same, but it was surprising how many that didn’t. The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet) Built between 1609 and 1616, as the Sultan's answer to the Hagia Sofia, it is really magical inside. Inside The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet) Inside The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet) The Hagia Sofia (Ayasofya) is gorgeous. The Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) Built over the ruins of two older churches in 537 by Justinian the Great it was the largest place of worship in Christendom until the completion of St. Peter's in Rome one thousand years later. After the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453, it was turned into a mosque with minarets, tombs, and fountains added. Inside the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) A substantial amount of the original Christian theme was left undistuburbed- including some of the most elaborate and best-preserved Byzantine mosaics still in existence. Mosaic in the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) I was really impressed with the Archeological museum. They had a number of beautiful pieces. IMG_0058.JPG IMG_0054.JPG But the best part of the museum was the school kids. There were some (I am guessing) eight or nine year olds there on a field trip. I was trying to walk into a building just as a gaggle was walking out. I stood aside for them to leave and they looked up at me as they walked by smiled and said “Hello! Hi! Hello! Hello! Hi!”Fifty beautiful brown-eyed baby monsters. (Oh! My ovaries!)

The Palace Cistern (Yerebatan Saray) was a big surprise how much we enjoyed it. Inside the Palace Cistern (Yerebatan Saray) It was marvelously Phantom of the Opera-esc. It was built in 532 by Constantine the Great and was enlarged by Justinian in the 6th century. Largely neglected after the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 the Yerebatan Cistern was basically became a muddy subterranean ruin until it was cleaned up and opened up in 1987.

I want to go back and go into more mosques and see more of the city and go to some nice restaurants. We found a couple of okay places but I didn’t get to try any fish really. It’s going to be a while before I get a kebab from the man around the corner from our tube stop.

I want to go back to Istanbul. I am also happy to be back home.

You need a thick skin to just walk down the street. The shopkeepers take Mamet’s famous line from Glengarry Glen Ross, “A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing, always be closing.” To an entirely new level. If you even glance at a shop you are asking to be accosted. One gentleman called out to us from across the street and then crossed over to get us to go into his restaurant/bar. It must be said that this approach did work because we went there the next day. After a while it is a bit exhausting. You might just want to read the menu of a restaurant when they pounce on you with a mixture of English, French, Spanish or Italian phrases. When we were walking along the Grand Bazaar they mainly called out in English while it was French at the Misir Carsisi.

When I bought spices at the Misir Carsisi, I was pressured me into getting more than I wanted. But that is part of the game. . . And it was a good deal. I spent thirty pounds on saffron, two kinds of tea, black and white pepper, vanilla beans, chills, mint and a pepper grinder. It would have cost much more in London.

At least the cabbies were honest - unlike Athens. (There should be a special corner in hell for the crooked cab drivers in Athens.)

We were nearly robbed when we were walking along the water. We were taking pictures of ourselves when a car driving by stopped, backed up and the passenger rolled down the window and called out to us. The driver kept both his hands on the wheel and stared straight ahead. We walked closer to the car but stayed three, four feet away. There was a barrier, a knee level wall between the walkway and the road.

The passenger said that he said he was with the police and Stuart said that he flashed a badge but I didn’t see it. He opened his door but stayed sitting in the car.

He asked if we had been smoking pot (we weren’t) where we were staying, pointed at me and asked Stuart if I was his wife.

I started to have visions of Midnight Express.

He then asked for our passports and I immediately knew that he wasn’t a cop and that he was trying to rob us. Of course we didn’t have our passports on us and even if we had we would have lied and said that we didn’t.

He tried to get Stuart to step over the barrier. Stuart looked at it and considered it for a moment.

I was screaming “No!” inside my head. It took everything in me to not tell these guys to go fuck themselves - which would not have been the right approach.

The guy gestured again for Stuart to come over by the car and Stuart said, “No, I don’t think I will.”

He kept at us, asking Stuart to unzip his jacket – I guess to see if he had a weapon. Kept asking us questions. Stuart said, “Tell you what. There’s a Police Station around the corner. (There wasn’t.) I’ll meet you there.”

Those were the magic words. He slammed the door of the car shut and speed away. I considered taking a picture, but I was worried that they would come back and that they had a gun.

I guess it isn’t a trip to Turkey without nearly being robbed or sold into white slavery. . .


At 3/20/2006 08:23:00 PM, Blogger jen said...

Wow! I'm very jealous - I always wanted to go to Istabul. Sounds fab!

At 3/20/2006 08:55:00 PM, Blogger Scott E D said...

I thought Morocco = white slavery.

At 3/20/2006 09:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My butcher warned me about what could happen in Turkey when I told him you went. Said a prayer & tried not to worry.

At 3/20/2006 10:20:00 PM, Blogger Nicole said...

Ah- it was fine. Save your worrying for when we go to Chicago. :)


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