Friday, February 5, 2016

Istanbul. Day One.

Istanbul Day One does not mean I intend to post everyday. Perhaps I am hoping, it being my first day, I will get a pass for the mess I made of the day. A wonderful mess nonetheless. I can say that now on the other side of it. A few hours ago it did not feel wonderful or even marginally okay.
I headed out after breakfast to get my bus ticket for my trip to Ayvalik on Monday and to see the city. It was chilly-mid 40's - but I was comfortably layered with 2 shirts, a wool sweater and a heavy scarf. I felt warm as I headed up the hill to the Golden Horn, a major waterway and the primary inlet of the Bosphorus. My plan for the day was to walk along the trail that follows the banks to make my way to Eminonu and the Spice Market. Ahmet, the owner of the Lotus Hotel where I am staying, had given me a map and gone over places to see and how to get there. Instead of taking the bulky map with me, I photographed the areas I would walk in. I could zoom in on the pics as needed and get everywhere I wanted to go and back again. As soon as I turned the corner to cross the busy street to the Golden Horn, a blast of cold air hit me. For a moment I was worried, but just pulled my scarf tighter and walked more briskly.  In a few minutes I was comfortable again. I followed the park-like trail, on one side boats bobbing vigorously in the churning water and on the other traffic whizzing by on a major thoroughfare. It was invigorating. Ahmet had said to cross the street at the third bridge and I would see the Spice Market. As I came to the second bridge I noticed a third bridge just beyond it. Funny- on the map they had looked much further apart. I crossed the street at the third bridge and headed into town. At the first block was a sign with an arrow, Grand Bazaar >. I headed that way. It had started to sprinkle and I was glad to see the Market was covered. As I walked in I noticed police a few steps inside wanding people with what I assumed was a hand held metal detector. He looked at me and waved me through, his wand at his side. I was immediately engulfed by the most amazing sights. Grand Bazaar indeed! The food! More varieties of Turkish Delight than I knew existed - the squares colorfully stacked up beside bins of nuts and tea. Rose petal tea, pomegranate flower tea, Ceylon tea. Fat dates stuffed with walnut halves or pine nuts (the latter resembling brown mouths with stubby beige teeth), spices sculpted into tall piles. Stalls of fancy jewelry, beautiful scarves, leather bags. Every now and then I'd catch a whiff of some exquisite incense burning. It was overwhelming! There were stores with housewares - gleaming Turkish coffee pots and shiny long handled spoons. I took no pictures, just walked through amazed. I left the Bazaar and kept walking. I had seen a sign for the Cemberlitas Hamami - Ahmet had mentioned they were the oldest Turkish baths in Istanbul - so I headed that way. I walked block after block and never saw another sign for Cemberlitas, but I managed to get myself very lost. I ended up in eastern Istanbul, in the Sultanahmet area I think, but I never saw the Blue Mosque or the Hagia Sophia which are the crown jewels of that part of Istanbul. At one point I turned onto a street and the city instantly changed. I was in a neighborhood of crumbling buildings, piles of debris in overgrown lots and trash blowing down the street. The air smelled like burning plastic. The streets were practically empty. It didn't feel unsafe, but I didn't want to stick around. I saw a teenaged girl walking determinedly ahead of me and I followed her until she turned down a narrow side street. I continued on a few blocks and came to a cross street where the city came alive again with pedestrians and kebab shops. As I walked toward what I thought/hoped was the Golden Horn and the way back to Lotus Hotel, it began to rain. I walked up streets, climbing higher and higher as Ahmet had told me the water was up the hill, the sights down the hill. I finally found the busy roadway that hugged the banks of the Golden Horn. The rain picked up and the temperature dropped. I followed landmarks familiar from the morning and finally turned away from the waterway and toward the labyrinth of streets between me and my hotel. I walked and turned down a street that I knew wasn't the one I came up on, but it was heading in the right direction. I stepped into a doorway to check my map pic and saw, when I zoomed in, only major roads were labeled - the tangle of back streets I was maneuvering were blank. The loudspeakers began to trumpet the call to prayer. The melodic and mesmerizing voice of the muezzin, the man who calls the Muslims to prayer. I stopped and shut my eyes, using the moment to ask for direction, literally. I stepped out and within seconds, the rain picked up. I was drenched and had no idea if I was blocks or miles from the hotel. I walked and walked, a few times turning around mid step certain I was going the wrong way. I tried to open my small bag to retrieve the hotel business card, but my frozen  fingers couldn't operate the zipper. A lady about my age was walking towards me and I stopped her. I took out my phone to pull up the map as Ahmet had thoughtfully put a star where the hotel was. I pressed the button on my phone. Nothing. I pressed it again. And again. And again. She looked at me, I shrugged my shoulders and she walked on. I turned a corner, walked a block and turned again. Halfway down the block I saw a sign, Lotus Hotel, and at the end of the block the grey curtained front door I'd been searching for. When I walked in Ahmet was sitting in a booth. "You are back early!" he said, watching me make a puddle on the floor. "I thought you'd be gone all day!" I grabbed my key and headed upstairs to get dry and warm and make a pot of tea. My hands were so frozen when I put them under tepid water they felt like they were burning. I rubbed them vigorously on a towel until I regained feeling. I peeled out of my clothes and took the hottest shower I could stand. I wrung out my clothes and hung them over the towel warmer. Then I crawled into bed to write and read and recover. A few hours and five cups of tea later I feel wonderful and revived. And grateful. Tomorrow I'll head out again. Its not supposed to rain in the afternoon and I'll download a better map. This time I'll take pictures. And wear gloves.


Peggyk said...

I hope you try again for the hammam.

Interesting how the city can change so quickly from bombed rubble to normal bustling. Good luck tomorrow!

Grace said...

So glad you it ....Besos

Marta said...

Oh Mama!! Thank you for sharing! Half way through Natalie says "grandma needs to buy gloves & an umbrella!! What is she thinking" she was very pleased that you ended with the fact that you packed a pair of gloves. She said she was sure you didn't have room for an umbrella in your bag, but that maybe you could find a small one that would fit in a pocket. Grandpa GooGoo brought a gift home for Natalie today.... A beautiful new globe. She was able to look and see where grandma is currently and where she will be headed on her adventures. We enjoyed reading this together this evening mom, and look forward to future tales of your voyage. We miss you already and are praying for you every night! We love you to the moon & back!!!
Xoxox Tita & Nati

Marta said...

Abrazos y besos para mis Padrinos! Te amo tanto tanto!!

Unknown said...

Thank you for letting us see your journey through your remarkable words. Feels like I'm the lizard on your shoulder. I love you so!

Doreen said...

Happy, happy, happy!! Dawn and I checked in with each other and neither had heard from you... don't do that!! Glad you found your way back and got warm, we're wishing you health, safety, and many more exciting adventures that you will share with us!! I LOVE YOU !!!