OF SULLEYMANS TOILET
dont want to buy anything, says my wife, can we please
continue our tour! Im petrified.
There are two groups of tourists in this world; those that have
been to Istanbul and those that havent. Within the former, you will
encounter the odd connoisseur (like my son who spent four months in the
place) or the lot that I would call the one-offs-after-a-crash-course-on-Turkish-history
including most of my fellow passengers and I. Leaving behind all those
on the guided tour; my wife and I sheepishly de-boarded the Renaissance
and started our one-day adventure by seeking out the only taxi left on
the quayside. Before I even agreed to hop into the awaiting dilapidated
Skoda, our future driver opened the passenger door and greeted us in broken
English: Hello, Im Chani. 80 Euros; all day to city.
Deal done at half the price and, uncomfortably seated in the shock-absorberless
bone crusher we started on the first day of our Eastern venture.
Dont expect, dear reader, a routine description of the usual tourist
hot spots of this city. You can buy them in any bookstore!
Sure, anyone who has taken the meekest interest in the place as a scholar
or as a mere visitor will know that Istanbul (its in Turkey) is
a complex mixture of Eastern and Western civilisations. Islamic, Christian
and a few other traditions have been falling over each other and competing
over centuries for first place in almost anything that ranges, to name
a few, from beautiful architecture in the form of monuments or houses
of worship to expensive trinkets and cuisine delights. Once it was called
Constantinople a hundred years ago.
As we left the docks and crossed the Galata bridge that spans
the Golden Horn of Istanbul, we headed towards the centre of the old town.
I sensed something different. I knew I was in for a party. Chani was part
of the cocktail! He was also on the ball.
After a brief stop (which coincided with my first task as official cameraman
of the day) at the beautiful Hagia Sophia mosque, built originally in
the 6th century as a Christian church we made our way to the famous Suleyman
mosque. Once we removed our shoes and placed them in a conveniently supplied
plastic bag, we ventured into this holy temple to observe one of the largest
Islamic worshipping places in the world. It was magnificent. I commented
on the size of the traditional Muslim praying carpet, a complete piece
as large as a football pitch with the same monotonous pattern. Ah!
uttered our guide. For years there were many beautiful and precious
carpets of different ornamental designs, but many evil people began to
steal them! I left the site wondering: signs of modern western
vandalism? Mid morning and I needed
yes, it was time for a
Our guide pointed me in the direction of the toilets. They were some two
hundred yards away and around the back of the building. Stepping down
into a type of WWII air raid shelter, I entered into one of two hallways
that divided the mens area from the women. Although built for midgets,
there were rows and rows of the usual Eastern standing only
relieving areas. Apart from a few tourists, there was no one else around.
Having finished my oriental style chore and proceeding to
depart the precinct, a burly uniformed Turk approached me from a small
cubicle I hadnt noticed and uttered a short burst of unintelligible
syllables. Dont understand, I said. Without hesitation
he answered: one Euro! What? I have to pay to pee?
I asked. One Euro he insisted. I looked into my pockets and
all I had were twenty Euro notes. I pleaded with a Dutch tourist about
to enter the unholy shrine for a loan. He ignored me. Suddenly, out of
nowhere, a little Turkish kid came to the rescue. He handed the geyser
coins, smiled at me, and buggered off!
I couldnt believe it! Did you see that? I asked my patiently
awaiting wife. She burst out laughing. Cant you see the fiddle?
she added. You dont have to pay a thing. Yet theyll
try it on and ask for a Euro or dollar or whatever. If you cant
pay, for whatever reason they legally cant stop you from leaving.
So this kid, waiting in the dark, helps out by paying it for
you. Once youve gone, hell get the money back. Thats
So wheres the scam? I asked her.
Some tourists like you, obviously cant or dont pay,
but think of the many unsuspecting ones that do! Big deal!
We continued our tour, guided by the ever-faithful Chani who took us to
a couple of contrasting attractions, an unmistakeable Roman aqueduct subsequently
followed by a visit to a waterfront fish market. Well, we all know what
these ancient man-made overhead streams look like dont we? Theyre
all over Europe! But what I hadnt noticed, and I realise that I
may be preaching to the converted, was the ridiculous contrast of a traffic
jam on the road that ran under one of the arches of these magnificent
relics of the past. I suppose one could picture Roman chariots, years
ago clogging the same artery in contrast to the water supply that flowed
freely above them without any hassle. Our next stop to the fish market
was something else.
As if to add to the attraction, some idiotic ships captain, some
years ago sailed his metal fishing monster onto the banks of the Bosphorus
a few hundred yards from the market. No kidding! You could almost touch
the rusting hulk, whilst you haggled over the price of the latest catch.
Although it was Sunday, the market was open yet there were no buyers.
The locals were nowhere to be seen. There were a few tourists, similar
to ourselves, taking photos of the elegantly displayed sardine-like fish,
some spread out on round baskets looking like the spokes of a large wheel.
The fishmongers were constantly dousing their product through hoses with
water pumped from the sea. An occasional squirt would end up in a bucket
where the odd live fish, still gasping for an ounce of oxygen were awaiting
their final doom.
Were now back in Chanii's chariot, but this time were off
to see his relatives! I wonder why?
In a small but luxurious jewellery shop, not far from the old hippodrome
Chani introduces us to his nephew as well as his old
grandfather. Out come the jewels and carpets and the soft come
hither talk of an Eastern salesman. We dont want to
buy anything, says my wife, can we please continue our tour!
Im petrified. After a few moments of getting nowhere, the old geyser,
translated by the nephew babbles on about his unique and genuine
Persian carpets, for sale at a bargain price. Oh! Oh! Here we go,
I thought. Hes struck a cord with my wife! Having lived
in Iran for nearly three years, I knew what was coming. For the next half
hour, my wife and granddad exchanged anecdotes on topics ranging from
the demise of the Shah to the beauty of the city of Tehran. We left the
shop without buying a thing. We did however, engage nephew
as our new tour guide.
Our next stop was the famous Sultanahmet Mosque. I honestly thought I
could avoid brochure text descriptions, but the sheer beauty
of this monument deserves a small dedication in this otherwise routine
note on our visit to Istanbul. Suffice to say that apart from the uniqueness
of its number of minarets, six instead of four, the whole of the walls
in the interior of the building are covered with Iznik tiles (dominated
by the colour turquoise). As daylight flows onto them, through 260 skilfully
arranged windows in the domes and walls a magnificent colour effect is
created that has aptly earned the building its name as the Blue
Mosque. No one touring Istanbul can avoid a visit to this famous
seventeenth century monument.
Our second to last stop before returning to the ship was, of course, the
Topkapi Palace. Remember the film with (good heavens, not again!) Melina
Mercouri and Peter Ustinov, all about the theft of the Topkapi jewels?
Well, our nephew guide warned us before we arrived that because
of all the publicity it would cost us many Euros to visit
the whole place. I looked at my wife and said: for 5 Euros I can
buy all the necessary postcards on the joint. Lets head for the Bazaar.
Without a word, she agreed. How odd?
Chani took over from the nephew and dropped us off at the
pedestrian avenue leading to the entrance of the famous Bazaar. We were
at the end of our day in Istanbul. There was no one about. The shops that
lined the avenue were open and owners leered and beckoned at us as we
made our way towards the famous medieval shopping centre. Goose pimples
appeared at the back of my neck. Something is wrong! As we approached
the main gate I realized why; it was Sunday and the place was shut! Fortunately,
a few small shops on the outside imitating the supposedly
interior ones were open. We made our one and only purchase of souverniers,
a typical Turkish coffee set (total cost 25 Euros).
On our way back to the ship I asked Chani about the tourist trade. With
a sad look on his face he said: since September 11th we are struggling!
Americans no longer come. I didnt reply but thought: pity,
they dont know what theyre missing.
© James Skinner.August 2002.
PART I: WITH OR WITHOUT THE VIRGIN ?
ship was a sixties rust bucket all spruced up for the umpteenth time,
just like Bette Davies in Whatever happened to Baby Jane?
CRUISE Part Two & Three
MANY AMERICANS; FROM BOTH ENDS...
on Carrys On Cruising The Med
Part 4: my cabin was tucked away between the ships kitchen and the
World Travel in Hacktreks
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