Friday, April 29, 2005

Karyn's Istanbul Trip - Day 4 and Last Day (April 27 & 28)

After breakfast, we met up with our new guide, Esim, and she took us to the Spice Bazaar. Unfortunately, she didn’t give us much time to look around there. The Spice Bazaar was really cool. You could smell the pungent odor of curry everywhere, and the spices were very colorful. But like the Grand Bazaar, pushy merchants were constantly all over you. I wanted to get some apple tea, but I figured it would be ridiculous to buy from there. Once again, it would be overpriced like in the Grand Bazaar. I was tempted to get some spices too, but I already have so many spices that I don’t have room for more. I also looked at getting some dried apricots, but I thought they wanted too much for them. I walked out of there with a cashmere pashmina. Several in our group had already bought them, and I liked them…they are pretty shawls/scarves. I haggled from 35 lira down to 22. I don’t think that was bad…I paid less than my friends did for theirs (I think it helps that I’m blond and they love blondes). As Ruth and I were leaving the bazaar, a guy popped out of the shop and begged to have his picture taken with me. So he wrapped my pashmina around my head in the Muslim style and posed with me. Then he tried to offer me a taste of the honey he was selling. I told him I was allergic to bees, so I couldn’t have honey.

After the Spice Bazaar, we walked to where we needed to meet up with our boat for the Bosphorus cruise. We spent 2 hours on the cruise, first going up the European side, and then going down the Asian side. Our guide pointed out things of interest along the way. When we turned to go down the Asian side, it suddenly got very chilly and windy (good thing I had my pashmina!), so most of us went on the lower deck, which was an enclosed cafeteria. We stopped for about 10-15 minutes, at a small island which houses what is called the Maiden’s Tower. We climbed up to get some views of Istanbul and then came down and hopped back on the boat to finish our cruise.

After the cruise, we had lunch, once again, at Paşazade. By now, we were all sick to death of eating there, but the food was pretty good and it was included, so what could we do? They served us vegetable soup (pureed veggies), a flaky pastry with vegetables, a giant meatball wrapped in eggplant with rice (I normally am not a fan of eggplant, but I thought this was pretty good), and a flan with chocolate sauce for dessert.

After lunch, we had free time. The plan originally was to listen to a concert by the world’s oldest army band, but none of us were really interested in that. Our guide arranged a pottery demonstration for those who wanted to go, but I decided not to, lest it be anything like the Turkish rug demonstration with vultures all over me, trying to sell me stuff. I didn’t sleep well the night before, despite my Turkish bath, so Ruth went off on her own to do some shopping and I watched a little television (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Looney Tunes in Turkish) and then took a nap. I knew we were going to be out late that night, so I needed to refresh myself, though having my nap interrupted by the 5 pm call the prayer wasn’t very restful. During that stretch of 5 hours, I also wandered down to a shop a few doors down that I had noticed the day we arrived. I wanted to get some Mother’s Day gifts. So I found something I really liked and it was a reasonable price (I didn’t even have to haggle). I got two. And of course, the guy tried to sell me even more stuff and he was offering me good deals all over the place, but I told him I didn’t have the money and asked him for his business card. I promised to send some business his way, and then he seemed satisfied enough to let me take my leave (though he tried to entice me to stay with some apple tea).

When it was getting close to our date with Umut, I showered, put on makeup, and dressed up really nice. I don’t get the chance to dress up very often, so I put on my cute new skirt and my dressy sandals, and tied my pashmina around me like a shawl. Umut met up with us at the hotel at 7:30 with one of his friends (I guess he wanted to better his odds to 2 against 31) and we hopped on the bus and went to Sultana for dinner and the 1001 Nights show (Sultana, by the way, is the mother of the Sultan).

The place reminded me of a Las Vegas casino. It totally catered to westerners. In fact, I think Tuba, Umut, his friend, and Rabia were the only Turkish people in the audience. Dinner was fantastic though. They served meze, which is an appetizer plate with things such as stuffed peppers, a tiny portion of eggplant salad (again, good), some tzatziki for spreading on bread, some feta, a helping of coleslaw, a bean salad, and a few other things. That, honestly, could’ve filled me up. But then they served chicken kabobs with this absolutely gorgeous spicy rice (I think it had green curry in it…it was a tad hot) and salad. Dessert was a plate with tiny tastes of various desserts: there was flan, a chocolate pudding, and some other unidentifiable but reasonably tasty thing. And they served a plate of fruit with it: sliced apples, and two types of Turkish apricots. One kind was sweet with a consistency of a grape. Another was small and hard like an apple and sour tasting, but the waiter told me to eat it with salt and he sprinkled salt on it for me and popped it into my mouth. It was okay. I also tried some Turkish white wine, which wasn’t bad.

Anyway, the show came on during dinner. We were treated first to a belly dancer, then to Turkish folk dancers, then to another belly dancer, another Turkish folk dance, and then they had some cheesy skit that recounts how the Sultana would choose a concubine for her son’s harem. They picked some people from the audience to help act that out, and some people from our group were chosen (I was sitting far enough from the stage that they didn’t pick me). Then they had to choose the Sultan, so they started picking guys from the audience, and we were screaming for Umut to get up on stage. They only wanted to pick 4 men, and they had 4 picked out by the time Umut made it up there, but once they heard us screaming for Umut, they sent one of the guys back to his seat. HAHAHA. So the guys had to participate in a strong man contest, which is too difficult to explain, so I won’t. Anyway, Umut won. There would have been mutiny if he hadn’t. So he was crowned the Sultan and they put this silly robe and hat on him. It was absolutely hilarious. I laughed until my sides hurt. The actors took him backstage to teach him this really simple dance, and then he had to come out and do this dance, and then they seated him on this throne and the newly chosen concubine did a belly dance for him. He was thoroughly enjoying himself.

After that, we had some more dance acts, and then the final performance – Miss Vena – the finest belly dancer in all the land. She was really really good…far better than the other dancers we had seen. It was amazing what she could do with her body. We were all laughing at this guy sitting across the room from us who kept staring at her, hardly ever blinking, and practically drooling all over himself. His wife was oblivious to it. It was hysterical.

After that, some cheesy Turkish lounge singer came out and started singing badly rendered tunes that represented each of the nationalities in the audience. He sang “New York New York” for the US and “Waltzing Matilda” for the Australians (there were a lot of Australians in town for the Gallipoli ceremony…I know nothing about it) and countless other things. There was polka, there was French music, there was Spanish and Italian. He sang the Beatles. It was really quite awful, but amusing. He couldn’t come up with a song for Canada though, or a song for the Norwegian girl in our group. He decided to give a belly dance lesson and chose some women in the audience for that. So again, several people from our group went up there. After that whole stupid spectacle, the dance floor was opened up, and we all went out there to boogie the night away. The belly dancers from the show came out (dressed in their regular clothes) and danced with us.

One of our group thought it would be hilarious to dress Umut up in the Sultan’s costume again, and then have all of us pose for a picture with him. So we did that. He sat on the throne and we all sat around him – Sultan Umut and his harem (that’s what we kept calling our group for the entire trip anyway). So several of us got pictures of that…Umut wants copies and left his email address with a couple of people, and also hinted that he might like pictures from the Turkish bath (HAHAHA…like you could even have anything on your person in there, especially a camera).

Anyway, it was so much fun. But we didn’t leave the club until about 1:30.

Umut came for us at 9:30. We were all bleary-eyed and dragging from the night before, but some of us had breakfasted and were ready to go. So we checked out of our hotel, hopped on the bus, and he took us to one last place before going to the airport. We went to another high point in Istanbul in an area that is largely populated by very devout Muslims (he said fundamentalist, but I really don’t think so…I doubt there would be so many western tourists there if there were). We had a pretty view of Istanbul from there, particularly the Golden Horn, and there was a café for anyone that wanted tea or Turkish coffee. We also had view of a school, where we listened to them having marching band practice. And we had a view of the largest Muslim cemetery in Istanbul. Muslim cemeteries are really pretty. I should’ve photographed it.
After a half hour or so stay there, we hopped on the bus to go to the airport. Umut gave his goodbye speech to us, and he said that we were the most fun group he ever had. I actually believe he was sincere about this. And he said that the night before had been one of the best nights of his life. We had collected a tip for him in secret, so we presented him with the tip and told him to use it to buy a plane ticket to Germany, and then we could all fight over who gets to have him stay. He honestly made this trip for us. If you have a bad guide, it can ruin everything, but he was a lot of fun and very open-minded (he says he’s a practicing Muslim, but not very devout) and took all of our teasing in great stride. He was also witty with the comebacks. Anyway, he invited us back to Istanbul to come and see him again, and he told us to be sure to bring a single friend next time…HAHAHA. And he said he wanted to shake our hands at the airport to say goodbye to each of us individually, but he would accept kisses too. So most of us kissed him on the cheek and hugged him and his face was covered with lipstick. I think we were all a little sad. Tuba (our Turkish escort that came with us from Germany) called him when we arrived in Düsseldorf to let him know that we made it back safely, and he told her to tell us all hi. I think he’ll remember us for the rest of his life.

So now I’m back in rainy, dreary Germany. My allergies are back. I was spoiled in Istanbul by the gorgeous weather. I’ll never forget this trip for as long as I live.

Pictures here

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