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.
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.
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.