May 30, 2013

Istanbul - A trip to the neighbors (Part 1)

September, 2012. Sunday. At an odd time (regarding the day of the week) I and two friends of mine decide to go to Istanbul for several days. We choose these strange days – from Sunday to Wednesday, because my fellow travelers are going back to the States after a week. And I, if you ask most of my friends I am "ailyak" (which according to the dictionary is an idle person, one at a loose end), so I don't have a problem with the odd time of the week. We load up in my car, the space ship or the shark, according to the point of view, and we are off to our destination – Istanbul, the only city situated on two continents, that is if the Arabs don't plan to build something similar one day, in which case, it should be read as the first/original city situated on two continents.

We approach the city, moreover we are entering into the city, since it is quite large, and start looking at the navigation for our exit. Something like a premature ejaculation occurs, since we shoot ourselves from the highway too early. Quite unpleasant. Back and forth, going twice around an unknown neighborhood, we make it back to the highway. I won't explain this with any physical function of the body, and frankly, I don't want to think which one it could be. We find the proper exit and this time we fire ourselves out of the highway at the right spot. We check out some hotels and choose one with free parking and wifi. We are in the Topkapi neighborhood, it's not the famous palace, but still is in the boundaries of the ancient Constantinople/Istanbul, as we are close to the defense stone walls. We freshen up, pay for the first night with almost all of our local money and go out.

After we don't have luck with the first couple of banks/currency exchange places being closed, the first unpleasant conclusions start to form in our heads – it is Sunday afternoon and we have just a couple of Turkish liras, Houston we (gonna) have a problem. We find a bank with money exchanging ATM, but it doesn't work, or it doesn't like our dollars. We ask a guy if he speaks English and on his positive answer, ask him if he knows a working exchange bureau somewhere around. He starts blinking rapidly his eyes, in which case I know that I have to lower the level of English – "Bank, somewhere to change money? I'm still getting the incomprehensible look. Final level of simplification – "Dollars, Turkish lira, aaa? We see that he understands what we are asking, but despite his willingness to help us, we won't get any info. We continue looking and soon find another closed bank with an exchanging ATM, but it also doesn't like our dollars. Finally, we get some directions about a working bureau, but it's not close. We decide to use the public transport, but it turns out that we don't even have enough money for three tickets. Let's not forget, that we are already hungry. I don’t understand why we gave all of our local money at the hotel, when we could have used dollars instead. The only time when things could be more unworkable is if it was some religious holiday like Bayram.

We walk and wonder at ourselves, we continue to walk and continue to wonder. In a side street kids are flying, but there are no money exchanges. People have their shoes polished and we don't have money for a döner kebab and each of us would gladly eat a döner. With some more directions from the locals we find a working money exchange and give our unwanted dollars. Having local money we go and exchange them for döners and airyans (drink made of yogurt) at the closest döner place.
The street with the flying kids
Shine bright like a diamond
Fruits and vegetables

Not worrying any more for our future, we head out at a slower pace with half closed eyes. Now we have to sightsee. As I told my friends that I will plan our trip, the others are relying on me. Not that I prepared over extensively – I uploaded a guide book on my phone and that's all. During the first half an hour I am a little bit worried, because I'm not sure where we are, nor I know where we have to go. We pass by some Historical old bazaar and a large mosque, but I can't find their twins on the map on my phone. I try not to show that I haven't got a clue where we are and what we are going to do, and lead confidently my friends … to some street ahead.
The historical old bazaar
The mosque

Luckily, we reach Beyazit Sq., next to which is situated the Istanbul University. I know where this one is located on the map and the confidence in my traveling abilities starts to return little by little. Reassured, my photographic inspiration comes back as well, and my left eye and my right index finger start doing their job – to look and to push (the button).
Dumpster full of smiling M&M's
At the Beyazit Sq.
Among the crowd made of locals and tourists, a guy pops out of nowhere and immediately draws my attention.

My guide book tells me that we are close to the Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi) and I lead our small group towards it. The people are crowding together, the shopping (alisveris) intensifies, we are really close.
Somebody's unfinished lunch
Everything is original, my friend
Girl dresses, lots of them

We take on a narrow street, clogged by people and goods – this should be the Grand Bazaar. However, something tells me it is not the Bazaar, but we accepted it as the real one. We make our first purchase, we've broken the bad spell and we should have a great trip now. While we try to walk though the horn of plenty and all the flies around (people) we find a small book market. Although there are mainly local textbooks and books, there are lots of tourists. I find some paintings of dervishes, those men with long white dresses, that go round a lot, till you feel dizzy. I give up buying it, since it is strange for me to buy something from the first shop, figuratively speaking, as if I could find the souvenir or whatever it is somewhere else at a lower price. In my mind the first one is always the most expensive. While we continue our walk through the horn of plenty I notice on our left side a gate with the sign Kapali Carsi, which confirms that we are at the market, but at the same time something doesn't feel right, because we are at the end of the street and there are no stores afterwards. During the next days we will understand that we've been on the wrong side of the gate.
The book market

We go out on one street with trams passing by, which I find on the map, and get to know even better our position and our direction. We find another old bazaar, I'm not sure if it is the 32nd in a row or it's just located on the 32, but these old bazaars are suspiciously many. We go inside and find the next horn of plenty, this time of souvenirs. Here, we see for the first time, but not the last, large empty bottles of water, in which are being collected the caps of plastic bottles. Till the end of our trip we couldn't solve this Istanbul mystery.
Corlulu Ali Pasa Medresesi
The 32nd old bazaar.
The blue chair is looking for users
In the kitchen
Prospective client
Lamps, lamps and everything else

We return to the tram street and head downwards. We visit a small cemetery next to another mosque, which is full of ailyak cats lying down everywhere. I start thinking about the stray cats living in the inner court of my apartment block back in Sofia, and that they should see other parts of the world, and that I should send them to visit their neighbors from Turkey. One should not stay only at one place its entire life, it should go and see the wide world and piss/mark at least one foreign court.
Cultural clash on the other sidewalk
Something that I will have no regret clashing into
Corn, maize, "misir" – 1 lira/cob
Toward Sultanahmed Sq.

It is time for a break and we choose a nice café. Some of us order a Turkish tea, others Turkish coffer and all of us get small sweet pastries called baklava or baklavichki. We go on the second floor and find a table next to the street. Suddenly, I manage to pour my tea onto my lap. And more precisely, my hot tea on my legs, at least I miss some other limbs of mine.
The tea man
The psychology of the herd
Self-portrait on the tram

Having rested and thoroughly soaked in tea, we head towards the Blue mosque and Aya Sophia. Just before the mosque one of us buys a freshly squeezed juice of pomegranate. Then thre three of us barely manage to drink the small cup of juice, it's that acerbic, your whole face contorts inwards, as if somebody starts sucking the air from your body through … some other outlet of the body. We have a look at the Blue mosque from outside, since we are all inappropriately dressed.
Mehmet Akif Ersoy Park
The Blue mosque
Red on black
Watermelon on a stick (I'm joking about the stick)
A view of Aya Sophia
A view of the Blue mosque

We tell ourselves that we will visit the two buildings another day and continue walking aimlessly. As the guide of the group, I am at peace for finding ourselves on the map and now we can even afford to lose ourselves in the small cobbled streets. With the dusk we feel that we are pleasantly tired from the first day and head to the tram station to get back to our hotel and have a rest.
The blue-yellowish hour 1
The blue-yellowish hour 2
A nocturnal colorful idyll
The lamps and the surprised visitor of Café Kybele
The keepers of the DHL
At the end of the working day

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