Sunday, January 15, 2006

If I had been in Istanbul today ...

I looked up today and realised that as long as the sky is blue I'll never forget living in Istanbul and how the Bosphorous looked ... there were jet vapor trails everywhere, going in every direction ... just like the tankers, container ships, ferries and fishing boats in motion, jostling for space on the Bosphorus. It made me think about what I would do if today was a day back in Istanbul ... Taksim for sure. I would have begun at Taksim Square and wandered up Istiklal Caddesi, remembering to listen for the tram that ran up and down the centre of the walking street. I would have popped into Cicek Pasaji (Flower Passage), a shortcut into the Fish Bazaar, enjoying the architecture, smiling but ignoring the waiters who beckon and invite me to eat.
Once in the passages that make up the Fish Bazaar, I would ignore all the fish and turn left to check out a scarf shop where I used to sit chatting with a Turkish guy about how it was for him in the city. I'd come back onto Istiklal eventually and walk on until I reached Robinson Crusoe - my beloved Istanbul bookshop. I would linger ... walking out after an hour with just the one book I couldn't resist. I would ignore Pasabahce, not wanting to carry beautiful Turkish glassware as I wandered.
I'd come to the end of Istiklal Caddesi and try to decide whether to follow the winding road down the hill or catch the underground cable car at Tunel. I would opt for the walk, passing by the Mevlevi Monastery where the dervishes whirl and mesmorise me whenever I watch them. And on down the hill, past small shops selling all kinds of things ... past the blue window, and then unable to stop myself, I'd take a right and head over to Galata Tower ... one more time.
I would pay my 7tl, climb the stairs to the balcony and stare out over the city that I came to love. A girl from Mosgiel looking out over the Bosphorus ... who could have imagined it? Looking left I would see the massive bridge that links the continents of Europe and Asia, then straight ahead out over to the ancient Topkapi Palace where, for 400 years, the Ottoman sultans ruled their empire ... built 1465. I would see Haghia Sophia (Aya Sofya), one of the world's greatest architectural achievements, built about 1,400 years ago, and wish I was already wandering inside her walls ... one of my favourite Istanbul places.
I would look out over the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Marmara Sea ... all mysterious names that meant nothing real until I moved there... and then walking round the tower balcony, looking down at the Italian architecture of the area, or over to Levent and it's post-modern skyscrapers ... happy to be back in this city that I love.
From there, I would walk down the hill until I reached Galata Bridge. I would peek into the buckets filled with water and fish caught as I walked by, happy to be in amongst the noise of the city ... with the simit, the bait, and water sellers shouting their sales cries all around me.
I would reach Eminonu and descend down into the Pazaar, wander a while in the place where the smell of fish cooking fills the air. I'd pass by the doner seller, watch people arranging themselves on the old ferry to Kadikoy, and then walk through the tunnel to the Egyptian Bazaar. The Spice Bazaar ... I was never clever enough to have a need for the spices but I would wander there anyway ... examining the cheeses and olive selections outside, peeking in at the leeches for sale, watching the birdseed sellers, the people ... always watching the people, who often watched me.
But I'd move on, not quite where I wanted to be. On up the hill and into Sultanahmet, the place where so many of my favourite things are found ... Haghia Sophia is there, Yerebatan Sarayi (the Underground Cistern) a place of incredible beauty, and the Blue Mosque. Having sated myself some, I'd walk back along the road to Cemberlitas and my favourite cafe. The waiter and I would catch up on our news, he might ask me about the friend I brought last time, and I'd ask about how busy they were. Time would pass, I would have a potato gozleme and two cay before moving on ... wanting to spend a little time in the halls of the Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi) finding new scarves ... always the scarves but enjoyng the banter with salesman in this labyrinth of 4,000 shops. Once, I met a guy from Afghanistan there. He had just finished his first year of training to be a doctor when the Taliban forced him and his family to flee. They moved through many countries until they made their home Istanbul ... they were fluent in at least 7 languages. His younger brother had just done some translation work for a visiting American radio station, stunning them with his linguistic ability. He was a nice man and their store was like an Aladdin's cave full of lapis lazuli and things that I can't begin to describe ... a surprise tucked down a small corridor that I have trouble finding each time I return.
And perhaps that would be enough. I might stop in at Ayala Travel on my way home, say hi to Hayden - the Kiwi who arrived and stayed a few years ago, he's an Istanbul travel agent now. Backpackers and travelers would come and go, booking their trips with him, so perhaps I'd head up to the rooftop bar ... drinking a cold Efes as I watched the ships queuing for entry out on the Marmara Sea ... hear a call to prayer, realise it's time to move on.

Going home was always simpler, less walking ... I would catch the metro at Sultanahment, jump off at Karakoy, walk up to the Tunel underground cable car and sit as the cable pulled the passengers up on one of the oldest cable cars in the world (or so it is rumored), I'd stroll back along Istiklal Caddesi, amongst all the Turks who are just arriving as this yabanci heads home.
I'd head down into the underground Metro, two stops to Mecidiyekoy ... and up into the craziness of shoeshine men and flowersellers, traffic and smog. I would cut across the main road, then wend my way down into the place where I lived ... a little village-like suburb in Istanbul.

If I had been in Istanbul today ...


Alison said...

What a fantastic mental trip you've just taken me on. Turkey was never on my travel agenda until we met but now I can't wait until we go! Great Writing!

woman wandering said...

Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I pored over photos that Gert and I had taken, and so much fun imagining precisely what I would do. I can't wait till we head over there either, and if I'm guiding, this is part of the route. :)

Claudia said...

I feel like I've been there. I can feel the ache and longing in your tone and the love you held for this special place. I want, now more than ever, to see the beauty you described. I can smell the fish, the spices, hear the sounds, feel the sun's warmth on my face. I too have a scarf fetish, I wear them in my hair, around my neck and wrapped around my waist. Colors, fabric, I'm a visual whore when it comes to beauty and such.

Thank you for sharing this with me. I'm going to do some more research. I'm a hopeless romantic, and I think this might just be the place my s/o and I need to visit to spark the intimacy of our second half of the journey. Your blog is SUCH a treasure trove.

* kiss *

Bir elin nesi var, iki elin sesi var. ( Two heads are better than one ).