Monday, November 7, 2011

Around the City

I woke up again to the call to prayer just before dawn and dozed until the sea gulls came awake at sunrise.  Today the plan is to take a bus tour around the city to get a feel for the landscape. It’s a double decker bus that leaves from the area  between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque…the center of tourist activity.
The bus is full, so I sit on the lower level. The audio is in seven languages and I’m tempted to try out my French, but figure English is the better bet. We begin the trip by traveling through some very upscale shopping areas and cross the Galata Bridge.  At some point, the original was burned and the remains dragged to another location.  Istanbul seems filled with bridges, but then it also is surrounded by water on three sides, so bridges are important.
We pass by numerous mosques, many of which look like grey wedding cakes with turrets and spindles. The ornate designs of Ottoman architecture lend a fairybook sense to the city.  It’s as if the pages of fables have come alive on the hills.
At Taksim Square, the Times Square of Istanbul, the bus stops amid dozens of other buses and public transports. At one side of the Square is a “statue” of a cat made entirely of flowers.  It’s sort of reminds me of a Hello Kitty, to be honest.
After we circle the city, my companions decide to visit the Basilica Cisterns, but I opt for a second trip around, this time on the upper deck on the opposite side. And I listen to the audio in French. A young Arab woman from Saudi Arabia who is on holiday with her family sits next to me.  In between the audio, she tells me about her life, about wearing a veil, a burka, arranged marriages.  Her father, she says, is progressive, but her mother is more traditional.  As the wind whips over the low shield, she shivers and tells me that this is the coldest she has ever been in her life. I’m cold, too, but not that cold.  One of the things she says is that wearing the traditional covering for a woman, especially in the summer, is extremely hot and that she tries to go from air conditioned home to air conditioned car to air conditioned store and not be outside. I don’t blame her.
When the tour ended, I walked up yet another hill to the Basilica Cisterns. Just beyond the Hagia Sophia was discovered an enormous cistern, like the size of two football fields, completely underground. Supported by magnificent Byzantine columns, it is one of the eeriest places I’ve ever been. Lit with yellow-orange lights, the vast shallow “lake” is something out of Phantom of the Opera. The classical Turkish music that reverberates helps cement the impression.  Under the boardwalks swim the most enormous carp, aka goldfish, that I have ever seen. Apparently they have been there since ancient times when they were used as poison detection devices. When the fish died, the water supply was known to be compromised. The cisterns were lost for centuries and only rediscovered in fairly recent times.
One other oddity:  deep with the cisterns, at the far back wall, are two enormous carved heads of Medusa.  Why they would be there, in the dark depths of a city water supply is a puzzlement. The Japanese tourists seem particularly intrigued with them.
When I emerge, a bit disoriented from the experience, the day is nearly over and the wind wafting down the cobbled streets has a definite bite to it.  I pass alongside numerous carpet salesmen, but with my head down and eyes averted, they realize that I’m not a customer.  After twisting and turning past many little shops and houses, I finally spot the pink walls of our hotel.  Entering through the back door, where the front desk clerk is having a smoke, I climb the marble steps to the room.  A nice cup of tea is in order.


  1. Delicious, Woodeene! I am THERE with you!

  2. I just heard about an earthquake in Turkey. Please let me know that you are all right.

  3. I'm worried as well especially since you haven't posted an update since Momday.

  4. Thanks, annfromtexas, for posting so I don't feel like a dope. Woodeene! Tell us you're OK!

  5. The internet has been very spotty and I've not been able to get on long enough to post. Not to mention, 14 hour days of sightseeing are a killer! I've been pretty tired at night.

  6. nothing here about earthquakes, so we may have been unduly concerned. But glad to see you back. Wouldn't be nagging at you if it were not for those reports of earthquake.