When we were last here on the cruise ship it was a rushed tourist affair. This time we were keen to see it from a different view with friends of friends who lived as expats. Our new friends organised a Turkish feast for us on our first night to ensure all five of our senses were instantly immersed in Turkish culture. It was delicious!
We discovered much more about Turkish customs, history, and the context in which they do life. This included the secular brand of Islam that prevails in Istanbul. It seemed to us as casual observers that while there were certainly devout people, the majority seemed to be more culturally linked to Islam than within their hearts or minds. It will be interesting to see how this dynamic plays out over the coming decades - will it affect culture, governance, business, and politics in Istanbul, all of Turkey, or even the broader region?
|Turkish wedding dress|
|More wedding costumes|
After visiting a lot of countries and using the public transport in most of them, we felt strangely daunted by the Turkish minibus. Perhaps it was that neither of us knew the language (or anything even close) or the fact that the maps, routes, and minibus stops seemed more 'informal' than other buses or ferries - we didn't know what we were dealing with! Yet, emboldened by a couple of key phrases our hosts gave us we ventured out, determined to make the most of our short time.
One time our minibus driver seemed annoyed we didn't know his language and had a poor grasp of the currency, we were worried we had set back Australian-Turkish relations by a couple of decades! Armed with our Turkish phrases (particularly one akin to 'thank you very much' and our big smiles) thankfully we soon became friends. In fact, when he dropped us off, he waved profusely with a big smile of his own. I quickly checked our wallets and how much change we'd received - all was good, so we were definitely friends!
A favourite memory was crossing the harbour of the famous Bosphorus strait. I was quite taken with the notion I was catching a ferry from Asia to Europe and back again and all without leaving the city.
As we sat on some steps looking up at a skyline punctuated by the minarets of at least three mosques, Amanda says, "this ice cream would be great with cinnamon" (one of her common phrases). I replied "If only there was somewhere nearby that we could get cinnamon..." No reply, unless that roll of her eyes counts. So we walked up to a spice stall and Amanda smiled nicely and received a thick sprinkle of cinnamon in exchange. I'm not sure if it was the smile or that they were bemused by some Australians wanting a sprinkle of cinnamon for their ice cream!
Back in the grand bazaar, we took our time and wandered around, planning which souvenirs to buy. Online blogs advised us that prices were more expensive here, but we bought a few things anyway. They were as good a price as we'd seen anywhere. Besides, we were getting better at the whole haggling thing - we had a routine. Amanda would look at items and enquire about them if she was interested while I would mill around looking rather uninterested and perhaps impatient to be moving on. If Amanda pointed them out to me (along with the price she'd been quoted) I would be unimpressed. Not disdainful, just unimpressed and nonplussed. Of course, I couldn't really tell you how often that was a routine and how often I was just not interested in another brass plate or small pearl inlaid box...
The number one item on Amanda's wish list were those gorgeous turkish lamps. They're the ones with stained glass in nice patterns. If you visit our house I'm sure you'll get to see what we're talking about... We shopped around for prices and were in a shop with at least three signs saying "fixed prices, not negotiable" when Amanda starts negotiating. "How much for two... three.... What about four?" It was somewhere between three and four that the sign no longer applied.
An interesting piece of trivia about the grand bazaar is that you'll get really good exchange rates from the money changers there. Apparently one of the main exchanges is located right in the bazaar and because it's so close the currency exchange rates are really really low. I guess they have lower overheads and transfer costs.
We also went to a place called "Miniaturk", which is a fun little tourist trap that has miniature models of all the famous tourist sites in Turkey. We saw a mini Blue Mosque, Ephesus (and the temple of Artemis), the bridge over the Bosphorus, and others. We'll let the pictures do the talking.
'Mini'-aturk really did showcase Turkey's incredible and historic structures. We couldn't help but wonder if someone did a similar showcase for Australia. What would it have? Perhaps Uluru (the big rock) the Sydney Harbour bridge...and beaches? We've got lots of great things to see and do, but Turkey is in a whole other category!
As for this photo, I did say it was a a tourist trap. I think Amanda would've made a great Sultana! ...no, not a type of raisin or dried fruit. Though one day I'm sure we'll both be wrinkled old prunes!
|Dressing up in Istanbul|
The last thing to stand out for us in Istanbul was the call to prayer. We'd heard it in Morocco, but it seemed different here. There was something about it. Oh, yeah, that's right... It was coming from a lot more Mosques! At one stage (while we were at Miniaturk actually) I looked up and counted at least eight Mosques from which the megaphones were issuing a call to prayer. And each of those had a number of towers. We later found out that each Mosque has its own arrangement and is responsible for playing its own recording so they were all out of time by a few seconds and creating a real cacophony.
Before we close out this post, apparently you can get some Very well priced health services here by European practitioners that come over for a short time. Similar to East Asia, you can get new hair/new eyes/new teeth etc and have a holiday for the same price. Of course, you'd want to do your homework if you chose this!
After a quick fire four days, our suitcases were packed with souvenirs, our minds were packed with more knowledge of Istanbul culture, and our hearts were full of memories. So we bid Istanbul farewell for a second time on our adventure, wondering if we'd ever be back and hoping we would.
Next stop, China.