|Chris and I in front of the Blue Mosque|
So we were off to the farthest place east I've ever been, ready to brave the chaos of the bazaars and for me to step into Asia for the first time. We were eager to search out certain street food and learn what it's like to walk around a city where many citizens drop prayer rugs in the streets for when the call to prayer rises up from nearby mosques. And although not every aspect of this trip was spectacularly positive, it was an amazing experience we won't soon forget.
Thanks to the recommendation of a friend (thanks, Melody!), we stayed in great little pension right in Old Istanbul with views of the famous Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya from the roof terrace, called Side Hotel and Pension. Clean, inexpensive, and perfectly located, our trip was off to a great start at 11pm Wednesday night upon check-in. We planned out the next few days and settled in for a good night's rest...
...and then, Good morning, Istanbul! The 5:45am call to prayer rising from the city and into our windows was a little startling coming out of a deep sleep. Being my first time in a Muslim country I had no idea that I wouldn't have to worry about setting my alarm, for the amplified song-like prayers to start the day would do the job. I opened my eyes and listened, unsure of what I was hearing, half-convinced I was still dreaming. Chris, of course, slept right through it, but I listened to the whole thing before going back to sleep for a couple more hours.
This is where the stories and warnings truly begin for any future travelers to this great city, for we were and you will be pulled in to one of the many attempts to sucker you into considering buying a fine, Turkish carpet, what you would think must be the life blood of this place by the actions on its devoted vendors.
His English was perfect and he was wearing a Sarasota, Florida golf club jacket when he called out to us as we passed, making our way around other obvious salesmen to Sofya ahead. "American?" he asked. "Canadian," we replied without slowing down. "I'm not selling anything, I was just curious. I'm from Florida." He smiled and we turned around, embarrassed of our rudeness. "We are, too, actually" we said. "I didn't think you sounded very Canadian," was his reply.
|Aya Sofya, former mosque|
|Inside Aya Sofya|
So against better judgement, we went for the lesson and the apple tea, both of which were great. When fifteen minutes and a free lesson turned into nearly three hours and me really wanting to throw a few thousand dollars at him for a beautiful hand-woven, wool masterpiece of a carpet made with all natural dyes, it was clear we'd been had. Luckily for us, Chris is more immune to such ploys than I, and we were able to escape without handing over a cent. Mr. Sarasota had made excellent use of such sale tactics as authority (he was the owner and was the only one who could make us such an incredible deal), time sensitivity (we couldn't leave and think about it because he had an appointment and would have to call a guy with the credit card machine to run over since this office wasn't normally a shop for sales), and so on. How could we walk away knowing we were throwing away such an amazing opportunity to own a beautiful piece of art which we could pass along to our children, paying just $3,000 instead of the $15,000 we would surely pay in the States? He knew, KNEW we'd regret it once we got home and realized what a deal we let slip through our fingers.
So even though we lost a few hours on our first day in Istanbul to a sales ploy, we decided to call it a much needed lesson to start a trip that would surely be chock full of other opportunities to avoid. (What was more interesting was upon scouring the internet that night at the hotel, Chris found descriptions of similar experiences with a Turkish man from Sarasota who had an office near Aya Sofya, with every weird detail lining up with our afternoon. This man is skilled!)
|Us in a few years?|
|Every line of children that passed was a long line of enthusiastic "Hello!"s|
|Inside the Basilica Cistern|
|Medusa Head One|
|Medusa Head Two|
Istanbul at night was just as beautiful as it was in the day, though we knew we had much more to explore in the coming days. Our first day, Thanksgiving Day, concluded with some delicious Turkish cuisine at a restaurant called Amedros Bistro. Excellent food, excellent service, and some nice tea at the end of the meal made for a memorable Thanksgiving in Turkey.
At the end of the evening that melodic question entered my mind... with how beautiful, friendly, and richly historic this place already was to us, why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks.