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I wish a week was a lifetime.

TURKEY | Wednesday, 18 February 2015 | Views [394]

Look at poor little doggy in the corner of the picture!!!!

Look at poor little doggy in the corner of the picture!!!!

Every day in Instabul feels being lost in a fairy tale. Fairy tales don't come cheap it seems, and ticking off all the sights could have bought me another backpacks worth of goods from the Grand Bazaar. And getting lost can be just as costly, as I found out on my two return visits to the Bazaar. I did get lost enough once to find the Egyptian Spice Bazaar, but that was the same as its Grand kin except for a quarter of the stalls and perhaps a few more of them selling spices.

One day was spent looking at just museums because travel apparently makes you a more charitable person and do stuff you would consider as boring as bat shit back home. $15 was well spent visiting the Basilica Cistern, a vast underground network of columns built in the 4th century which really felt like the bowels of Constantinople. I had a pretty good idea what to expect having read Dan Brown's latest novel 'Inferno' which features the cistern in its far from gripping climax.

Aside from being mildly atmospheric with orange lights at the base of some of the columns, sharp, contrasting shadows and soft music echoing from all quarters, the space was nothing more than a big room of columns, but an awe-inspiring one at that. Water dripped constantly into the 3 feet deep lake like a coy pond and large fish swam around doing whatever it is fish do when they have nothing to play with other than the base of columns. In the far corner, two Medusa heads had been pillaged from Rome, and laid as the base of two of the columns, and were the only things that offered any variety.

That's got to give you a headache. 

Not that the place was dependant upon that. With the streets outisde covered in snow, I was thankful for the shelter and pleased that the other visitors were awed enough to maintain the peace. It is haunting being in such an old space, relatively unchanged since it's construction and overlooked by the sands of time. The same couldn't be said for the constantly morphing Haghia Sophia, my next port of call.

It was just across the tram tracks from the Cistern but the short trip and the queue to get in was long enough to require dusting off a layer of snow before going inside. The current building was apparently the third on the site, and most likely the grandest as it would take more than a fire to destroy this old dame. 1000 years it spent as a Christian Church before conquering Sultan Mehmet decked it out to suit the needs of his Muslim brothers.

Half of the interior was covered in scaffolding, giving the paradoxical appearance of being ancient yet still under construction. It was similar to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, in as far as it had a dome and lots of Arabic calligraphy, but the few differences like the scale and blend of Islamic and Christian art didn't realy justify the $20 price tag. It also lacked the sacred feel of a religious spot, now being used only as a musuem, and wandering around was more historically interesting than spiritually so.

The workmen must be off praying. 

I should have left it there for the day as I could feel my interest in old buildings waning, but with the Topkapi Palace sitting directly behind the Haghia Sophia, and the snow refusing to relent, I thought I should wax another $20 and visit there as well. Being the Sultans Palace up until the fall of the Ottoman Empire, I should have known that the exhibits were just going to be normal shit with extra bling. Granduer is fine if it is for the glory of God or spiritual pursuits, but when it is pampering to some rich snot, it just seems extremely wasteful. The Palace kitchen employed 6 master chefs and about 100 apprenctices, in the confectionary section alone! If all of Constantinople ate so well, all well and good, but judging by how rulers have hoarded their wealth over the centuries, I would say the Sultan wasn't big on sharing his lollies.

Out of boredom I decided to spend another $10 to visit the harem, half hoping there might be some modern concubines in there to inject some life into the place. I thought there must have been something different for having to pay more again, but alas, the only thing there was more of, was indulgent opulence. I pretty much just walked straight through and felt the snow as a welcome wake up call after nearly falling asleep on my feet.

 I imagine a lot of rich person sex happened here.

My room was a similar degree of opulence compared to what I am used to tralleving, so I spent the evening there getting as drunk as a sultan, minus the 15 attendants he had for each meal, and the concubines he undoubtedly used as a digestive. That meant the next morning was used to do very little except watch the snow fall outside the window. Living in a part of Australia that rarely gets cold enough to justify pants, I could easily justify staying in a warm bed and looking out at the world slowly turning white.

I paid the Little Haghia Sophia a visit, as it was right next door to my favourite restaurant, but that brief wander through a magical snowy wonderland made me realise there is only so much time you can sight-see before you need to buy something. I had seen an amazing calligraphy artist plying his trade in the Grand Bazaar and I had only managed to pull myself away by being unable to decide what I wanted him to write.

 A present for a special person.

So, I had a definite destination in mind and prepared for the trip thoroughly by completely failing to look at a map of the layout again. I wandered past the same tea shop so many times again that getting lost is starting to feel like it is some undiscovered skill of mine. It's a good thing I never played football or I probably would have gotten lost on the field. Fortunately, I managed to buy only one fridge magnet before finding the guy. And one t-shirt trying to find the exit again.

On my last afternoon I did another tour, ostensibly to cruise up the Bosphorus Straight. We first went up Pierre Loti Hill to get an elevated view of the city beyond the Golden Horn. Sometimes I have to try really hard not to make crude jokes. Looking at the Cable Car we were to take to the bottom was no laughing matter though. We hoped in, the tour guide asked me where I was from and where I was going next and we were at the bottom. It is so ridiculously short they should just ditch the cars and make it a flying fox instead.

 Beautiful skyline behind the worlds shortest cable car.

Fortunately the rain had eased enough to be able to see both shores on the cruise. But the wind made being on the top deck feel like doing a luge run in the nude. Tiny slits for eye holes and fingers briefly exposed to take photos were all I could muster. Luckily enough the scenery was a fitting compensation and I marvelled at all the massive liners that made their way onto the Black Sea and Russia as they cruised passed the beautiful little seaside homes, punctuated frequently by mosques, both epic and quaint in structure.

As my blood felt like liquid nitrogen, I headed straight to the cafe next to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque because I knew they had heaters blaring non-stop. And it was the most Turkish, and not just in a touristy way as most of the clientelle were locals. Waiters constantly carried trays of tea to lounging folk smoking shisha and playing the Turkish version of backgammon. I dined on a plate of mixed dips while a three piece band played the sort of Arabian inspired music that for once confirmed a stereotype.

 For awhile, a Dervish dancer joined them on stage and swirled so constantly, even I was starting to feel dizzy. I believe the origins of the dance came from, or encouraged, a sort of mystic ecstacy, but old mate looked more bored than inspired and after more twirls than your standard Gravitron ride, he retired back stage probably to stare at the horizon for awhile.

 Don't stare too long or you'll get dizzy too.

It was a fitting way to end my stay in Istanbul, inelegantly forcing in chunks of dip covered bread while breathing in the heady aroma of apple shisha under the shadow of the amazing Sultan Ahmed Mosque. The city had been so entrancing, even while it rained and snowed on me and only showed me sunshine on my first afternoon. Thanks to a failed military operation 100 years ago, Turkey will always be a special place for Australians. And after one of the most magical weeks I have spent traveling, Istanbul will always have a special place in my heart as well.

Tags: ayasophia, basicilia cistern, dervish, istanbul, topkapi palace, turkey

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