Monday, 28 July 2014

Kidnapped in Istanbul? And the Grand Bazaar

Kidnapped?  No not really but it seemed that way for a while. It had been a long trip from Cannukale back to Istanbul and as  we approached this mega city of some 15 million people  we noticed that our driver was becoming increasingly tense.  It wasn't long before he was asking directions from cars parked beside us at the traffic  lights or shouting requests for help at pedestrians. He was hopelessly lost.  Our driver, Eko, comes from a small town and despite the fact that he had been to Istanbul many times he still felt intimidated by it.  Mind you, who wouldn't? The rush hour traffic jam started 20 kilometres from the middle of town and had to be seen to be everywhere, drivers ignoring traffic signals, in general, road mayhem.

I feel in love with Turkish lamps

When we finally made it to Sultanhamet, Istanbul's old town, we became entrapped in the one way road system and could not get to our hotel.  We drove around in circles for a while until a man Eko had asked for directions agreed to get in our van and direct us.  This had happened a couple of times during our travels.  The Turkish like to be helpful. Having been within a couple of hundred metres of our hotel we now set off on a long journey in the opposite direction.  As we drove further and further away everyone in the van fell silent and I passed a note to our tour guide asking if we were being kidnapped. But, of course, I was only joking. Our good Samaritan rang his wife to tell her he was in a van full of women and would be late home. I've no idea what his wife made of that but he delighted in telling her.  I think he was quite proud of himself. I knew we were safe with this kindly man but it sure was a long trip to get where we were going.  About 40 minutes later we finally arrived at our hotel.    Anyway with laughter and smiles and big thanks all round he at last set off home for his dinner and, no doubt, lots of questions from his wife!

Inside the Grand Bazaar
The next day, our last full day in Turkey, we went to the Grand Bazaar.  It wasn't at all
as I imagined it to be.   I had pictured dark, crowded alley ways teeming with pushy vendors and pick pockets.  The Grand Bazaar is quite the opposite.  Covering 30 hectares with 61 interconnected streets and 3000 shops it would be quite easy to spend a whole day there....and get lost! The 550 year old bazaar provides work for 26,000 people in  light, airy covered streets boasting magnificent architecture and wide walkways. It is a shoppers dream with stalls selling everything Turkish - lanterns, scarves, tiles, jewellery, soft furnishings, clothes, shoes - you name it.    We shopped  and drank coffee and people watched to our hearts content.

Grand Bazaar

That evening, for our final night in Turkey, we dined at a restaurant over looking the illuminated Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia.  It was a perfect night in an utterly romantic setting.  As the calls to prayer rang out from the several mosques in the area we felt sad to be leaving this wonderful country and its people.  Our trip had been crammed with history, spectacular and varied scenery, cultural experiences, kindness, delicious food, adventures and great companionship.  It was everything you could want from a trip and more.

Our happy group on the last day.  I'm front right.

Here are a few things I learnt in Turkey:
1. Turks rarely, almost never, drink Apple Tea.  It is for tourists. Strong black tea drunk by the gallon is their drink of choice
2. Although most Turks are, at least nominally, Muslim, many of them drink alcohol
3. The countryside looks barren and arid but is amazingly fertile
4. The Turks are obsessed with cats.  They are everywhere but are always well cared for.
5. The Turkish people are kind, friendly, good company and love New Zealanders.
6. Their plumbing is not great and most hotels are quite basic
7. Turkish food is delicious
8. The very few beggars are, in the main, gypsies
9. Turkish lamps are absolutely desirable
10. It is a vast country with a wide variety of things to see and do.  If you ever get the chance - go there!