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Written by Peter Smith   
Wednesday, 08 April 2009 19:33
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Day 12: Istanbul Tuesday 2nd October


Nowhere is this technique more horned than in the Grand Bazzar. I have heard and seen many programmes about the place but none of it had prepared me for the reality. I expected a dirty market of discarded boxes and packages, rotting smelly food and aggressive selling techniques and the reality couldn't be more different. The architecture alone is worth the visit, from the outside just another fine old building like many surrounding it but on stepping inside through one of the main entrances and looking down the main thoroughfare is breath taking. The vaulted roofs are a mosaic museum of coloured tiles setting off all that lies below. The main street is a series of jewellery shops and stalls all glittering silver and gold all meticulously hand placed to maximise the overall impact. Running of this main alley at 90 degrees is a warren of further alleyways each reflecting colours like giant kaleidoscopes. Carpets of every size, colour and quality, sparking lamps showing every coloured shade imaginable, antiques and pottery of every green, blue and jade, headgear to suit everyone from a Tommy Cooper to a Lawrence of Arabia, leather goods from wallets to overcoats like ones worn by the SS in Hallo! Hallo!, musical instruments hanging like curtains and meerschaum pipes of Turks and horses heads, and of course, spices of every hue and smell, completing the dimension of the place and intoxicating the senses. Standing outside each establishment like a sentry guard on duty waiting patiently to question 'who comes there' and then commence transaction irrespective of creed, colour, nationality or language. 'Feel the quality of my hand made towels', do you want to come inside and see my full selection of rings and bracelets?' and all 'at the very best prices'. A very business looking shop keeper takes me towards his shop, lined with carpets of every pattern and quality. Pointing to one small example he says in near perfect English 'guess the price of this lovely hand made carpet correctly and I'll give you it for nothing' In order to help me further he tells me that it took a single individual months to make and then writes the correct price into his calculator and holds it away from my prying eyes. 'guess to the nearest dollar and it's yours'. Smiling at his little game I utter '300 dollars'. He smiles as he turns the calculator's screen towards me. 'You see' he says 'it is much cheaper than you thought'. The screen clearly shows two hundred dollars. We part like old friends, me saying as I slowly walk away 'it's too heavy to carry around the world', he 'retorts give me your address and I'll post it'. I respond not wanting to be too final 'I'll visit next year and buy it' and he replied from a distance 'I'll look forward to seeing you'. Nothing in this alli Baba wonderland hinders the act of final exchange. I left the bazzar the owner of a Lawrence of Arabia head scarf for fifteen lira and two Turkish towels to replace the tatty one I brought from home.

The visit to the bazzar came after a morning of amazing at the two great mosques. Firstly Ayasofa, once a Christian church and now a museum of awesome proportions. The central dome, some 30 metres across, fifty four metres above the ground and the fourth largest in the world and held up by a series of semi circular arches traversing the walls bellow. All the arches are covered in frescoes which were only saved because the church was converted into a mosque and instead of being destroyed they were whitewashed over and later uncovered when it became museum.

After the mosques we made our way to what is left of the Hippodrome: three columns; one with a base of figures from antiquity. Mohamet our guide then led us to what I thought was the old sewer. His English was pretty poor, although better than my Turkish, and I left the mosques knowing little more than on entry. Many of the group drifted away to explore on their own forsaking the mixed up broken sentences. It surprised me that an academic didn't have the English skills of most of those selling in the bazzar.

Anyway on paying our 10 lira and entering the expected sewer I was gob smacked to walk down into a cavernous underground water cistern built by the Romans two thousand years ago to provide fresh water for Constantinople.

The Cistern is an underground temple consisting of three hundred columns stretching as far as the eyes can see in the dimly lit chamber and supporting the roof some thirty to forty feet above a solid stone floor which now lies under a foot of crystal clear water. The pool is now the home for a collection of aged carp some very large indeed. After traversing the raised stone walk ways we eventually came to a column with the ancient sculpured upside down face of Medusa. As I attempted to photograph the blue lit base I was engulfed by a crowd of Italian and Japanese voices and bodies who then, positioning themselves firing squad fashion with their backs to me, block my view and opportunity of a good shot.

Had our first real scare as we sat to have dinner close to the Grand Bazzar's entrance. Being concerned about my head being in the sun we moved tables as one in the shade came free. In the rush to gain the table I left my rucksack at the previous table which contained my PDA with all our bank information, phone addresses and nearly two weeks observations for my blog. It also contained the camera and all its minicards. A sudden feeeling of sickness overwhelmes and adds to the confusion. Anne very quickly asked the waiter and he indicated that he'd picked it up and placed it inside the café. Relief fills the senses and settles into a feeling of grovelling gratitude. I tip the waiter thirty lira to try and obsolve my stupidity and I suspect embarrassed him in the process. Later when we enter a tea (chi) shop nestled in the grounds of a synogogue and a 19th Century grave yard I am conscious of making the same mistake. Before returning to the hostel we stop for Anne to buy a ring for Lucy outside a Muslim grave yard. All the graves have stone columns of varying size. John tells me he believes the size of the column is the height of the deceased incumbent. Before returning to the hostel we decide to eat dinner at a fast food café displaying all the exotic dishes in the window and a man outside who on, establishing we are English, began reciting 'yummy yummy yummy we need food in our tummy'. I had beef and vegetables wrapped in a kind of cheesy membrane and an auborigine stew. Anne and John both had what looked like a Spanish omellette, stuffed auborigine and coucous. Food looked great but the taste was a little disappointing. Found an internet café which turned out to be as slow as my Virgin account at home and only had time to check and delete email. I'm finding it very hard to upload my blog and download photos. Life on the road is very much wake, wash, eat and take down tent and shoot lots of photos through the coach windows before putting tent back up, eat, drink and sleep. Hopefully things will improve when we enter Iran in a few days.

Arrived back at the hostel to find everyone across the road outside the bar, all seated crossed legged on cushions drinking beer and smoking from three or four of the hubble bubble things. We stayed here until bedtime at about 12.0pm. Some of the more adventurous went off to explore the night life. 
 


Last Updated on Thursday, 09 February 2012 16:49