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A day that epitomises why I travel.

TURKEY | Tuesday, 17 February 2015 | Views [792] | Comments [1]

The Sultanahmet area as seen from the wall of the travel agents.

The Sultanahmet area as seen from the wall of the travel agents.

Judging Istabul by Istiklal street is like going to the Taj Mahal and judging it by the garden out the front. I may have been a bit too premature with my praise for Istanbul, literally, but after a couple of days in Sultanahment, I don't think my approbation for this city was profuse enough. It may just be my excitement at something completely new after only ever seeing different aspects of Asia, but I reckon I have found a new favourite place in the world.

The ezan did wake me at a time that would be considered a sleep-in back home. Holiday sleep patterns are vastly different to work ones, in duration, but also in the absence of alarms. If my alarm was less beep-beep-beep and more Takbir (God is great) and Shahada (There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah), I would probably start the day with a completely different mindset. Not that I did this morning. I still wanted to fling open the window and tell the faithful that if God is great, he would still be in bed at this hour as well. Instead I rolled over and imagined myself laying amongst my harem, playing chess with my genie while stroking my luxurious moustache and frowning at other stereotypes I have inherited from Disney.

After an hour or two procrastibating, I ventured out into a climate that makes fridges totally redundant. I didn't care what the closest restaurant had in vegetarian options, it was going to come with enough white bread to satisfy me regardless and it was as far as I was prepared to walk without a coffee. Turkish coffee is served with the grind and the consumer is supposed to lack the desperation that would see it gulled down before the grind settles. My waiter noticed this being completely absent in my actions and thoughtfully brought a glass of water straight out while I kept trying to swallow down the ground coffee that layered my tongue like unset cement.

First port of call after breakfast was the Blue Mosque. It is actually called the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and I cannot really grasp why it is called the Blue Mosque. As you can see from the photo below it has blue tiles in it, hence the name, but not enough to really think blue and nothing else when you look at it. It's like calling Earth the planet of snow cause you can see the white stuff from most angles in space, I imagine.

Not a whole lot of blue to be seen here. 

Anyway, shit analogies aside, I prefer the full name because it speaks more of its Islamic heritage, rather than being a smurf playpen. It sits directly behind my luxurious and stately apartment, but remains completely unseen by my room needing a supporting wall or something. Why else wouldn't it have some sort of viewing portal in it when it sits so close to one of the most amazing buildings I have seen? The earlier reference to the Taj Mahal was not a coincidence as that building is the only one I have seen up close that could surpass the Sultan Ahmed Mosque for awe-inspiring beauty and sheer grandeur.

As soon as I rounded a corner and merely the side of the structure came into view, my jaw dropped and my camera started clicking away reflexively. If I was writing this from my rooftop terrace, I might have been inspired enough to give some sort of poetic description of the place. Instead, I recall thinking “I must be colour blind because that thing looks every shade of grey to me!” And unfortunately it did. There was a carpet of light grey clouds that hung overhead, robbing the view of any contrasting shadows or interplays of light across the minarets. That I was blown away as it looked its most bland, tantilises me with what it would look like under a setting sun.

I took so many photos walking in that I probably should have just had the camera in movie mode, and playing with all the functions to make the awesome structure look more alive in the shit light means a lot will end up being deleted. I had 30 minutes until the next ezan, and the faithful don't apprectiate gawking tourists taking photos of their ass while they crouch in submission to Allah, so I just kept aiming, shooting and walking.

 Even more beautiful at night.

Segregating the believers from the on-lookers makes practical sense but it did make me feel dislocated from the beauty of the interior. I was trying my hardest to find blue tiles at first, but once petty concerns died away, I tied to connect with the sanctity of the place. It was hard while so many of my traveling kin fired their cameras off like Gatling guns and harped on about the harmony of the place completely unaware of how much they were upsetting it.

I breathed deeply of air redolent with centuries of prayer and could see how mankind can imprint its beliefs into the very structures they use to communicate with their God. I was moved, but not enough to convert, and wandered out before the mosque could assume its real purpose and fill with people who surely must feel blessed to worship in such an amazing place.

I wanted to continue on in the same vein of historical and spiritual examinations, but the Haghia Sophia was closed on a Monday and I interpreted that as a sign to fully embrace the contrast of extremes available to me in Istanbul. Or I just wanted to go shopping and any justification will do. Whatever the reason, the short walk between the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar was long enough to convert my burgeoning spiritualism into rampant commercialism.

That didn't stop me from being impressed upon first seeing the grand bazaar, but that was more out of knowing what laid within instead of what was immediately visible. I hadn't even bothered to look at the layout of the place, and it wasn't long before I came to regret that oversight. I planned on a 'turn whichever way seemed most interesting' approach because I assumed the place was large enough to afford such aimless wanderings.

And the consumerables on offer meant I wouldn't care where I was going anyway. There was an abundance of carpets, silks, shishas, lamps, leather goods, teas, tiles, Turkish souvenirs, knock off crap and on and on I could go. This was a trinket Mecca to a person like my sister. I had come ostensibly to take photos only, but when the camera battery started flashing red after the first photo I took that as a sign. A sign that makes stall holders wring their hands in anticipation.

So many bargains. 

I was spending like Turkeys economy depended on me and my bargaining approach turned out to go like this, “How much you say? Holy fuck, that's cheap man, here's my wallet. How much of anything you're selling will that buy me?” Fortunately my short, sharp breaths of excitement didn't stop me from remaining aware of the need to carry whatever crap I bought for the rest of my trip, so I kept my purchases to as small and as cheap as possible. I even bought tea, and I don't drink the stuff. As I walked past with a fist full of money, the guy pitched it as a relaxant that is very good sedative when you are stressed. That sounded like other things I had enjoyed in the passed so I bought 100 grams before figuring out I had no way to make a tea in my room.

By the time I passed the tea shop for the third time, I realised I was probably just seeing the same 10% of the place. My random turns weren't as random as I thought and I must have one leg shorter than the other or something. I continued this pointless exercise because I still had palpatations and it was fun looking at stuff I wanted to buy if I could somehow figure out a way to combine a backpack with a shipping container. And I was accumulating as I went along.

After the tea shop guy merely laughed when I passed for the fifth time, I knew it was time to find the exit. That intention introduced me to another 10% of the building and I couldn't help but think how lost you had to get to see it all. I always figured that if you get lost badly enough, you usually end up in the right spot. Strangely enough, that theory wasn't turning out to be related to fact in any way. I was starting to stress enough to consider just eating handfuls of this 'relaxing' tea.

Just when I thought I'd find Dr. Livingstone before the exit, there it was. I had still managed to buy another 3 things before getting there though, and had only stopped because I had ran out of money. I consider them gifts, but I am so in love with Istanbul that I will probably not want to give them up once I get home. I may not need 4 bookmarks right now, but it sounds like a pretty good reason to start reading a lot as soon as possible.

The entrance to consumer heaven 

As I dragged all my bargains home wishing I had taken an empty horse and cart out with me, I turned random corners that the map in my pocket would have made seem less random, and came across all manner of delights. In Australia it would be a pub, in Thailand it would be a 7-11, in Bali it would be an Australian, but here it was either another beautiful mosque or a ruin whose prominence suffered from the sheer frequency of them. What a city! Before eating dinner that night, I quietly gave thanks for such an awe-inspiring day that other travelers will appreciate, but too few people experience.


Postscript. This journal was written before the Gallipoli blog posted previously, but I chose to post that one first because it was far more important than the things I write about here.

Tags: istanbul, lost, mosque, shopping



Trinket mecca, hey?? I will forgive that comment about your commercialist sister, only if you bring me home lots of Grand Bazaar goodies.....seriously, very envious of your adventures, so glad that Istanbul is far exceeding your expectations......

  Kirsten Taylor Feb 17, 2015 8:44 PM

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