Posted by: jeanne | November 7, 2018

it’s istanbul, not byzantium

istanbul, not constantinople. only the largest city i’ve seen since delhi, and we couldn’t exactly see delhi because of the smoke that blanketed the entire gangetic plain. one area i could see pretty clearly sticks in my mind – while still pretty close to the airport, we passed an area of huge estates – palatial buildings, swimming pools, long driveways. and in one small corner of the large square of estates, there was crammed a million tiny shops and houses, in all different positions squinched together to house all the many more poor and middle class. i only got an impression of it, because tho it was sunny, visibility to the ground was very faint, like peering into a stagnant pond. a photo wouldn’t have shown it. in contrast, istanbul appeared suddenly as we were flying over endless green/gray scrubby mountains scarred by the white trails of development, ranging from goat paths to villages to roads to major 25 million person cities. like the tundra, you make a mark on this landscape, and it’ll still be there in a hundred years. suddenly the dark landscape – barren mountains crinkling down to the water, the two darknesses marked by a white line of shore. turned to white and extended over all the hills rising from the water. like a giant quarry, or white mildew.


thursday in istanbul. the flight was six hours long, but they managed to make up the time and we arrived when we were supposed to, just before noon. there was a very confusing wait in line for passport control. there were 18 stations, and we had to wait behind the yellow line for the next available officer – this much seems to be universal. but people naturally got into the first line first, and this bottled up the squeeze space at the back, and nobody could get thru to even the lines out. so there was a huge bunch-up. we did finally manage to elbow our way past, and went all the way to the end counter, right as the officers at our end went on break. so we got to admire their lovely faces for ten minutes as they sat at their counters and ignored us. whatever.

we were finally thru with that, and our baggage was stacked to the side of the carousel. most of the other passengers got there before us, so it was easy to find our bags, but impossible to get a trolley (they were all locked up at one end of the baggage claim hall). so we put the handles together and steered our 5 bags to the customs point, and past.

ancient defensive walls

we found our prearranged transport dude with his sign, and schlepped our bags to the curb, where a huge minibus took us in to old istanbul, past ruins and hovels and hotels and ultramodern architecture and many playgrounds lining the shore.


traffic only got problematic once we entered the twisty little back streets behind the blue mosque, but our hotel was very easily reached, so we were there.


we picked an old place, hotel historia – a small one, one with more atmosphere and less luxury – but a view. the staff are always bend-over-backwards gracious, and we accepted their offer of tea to be brought up to our room, and went on up. the entrance to the hotel is on the 4th floor, because the back of it goes down the hill rather steeply, and we were on the 5th floor, at the back, overlooking the sea of marmara. and what a view it was. we threw open the door and window to the balcony, and relished a sea breeze and clean air. such a contrast to delhi, where we never felt a breath of wind, and the air was full of dust and smoke. we felt very grateful to be there. our vacation.


i had anticipated needing to take a nap, because while jim slept most of the flight, i was up writing and reading and sneaking peaks out of the window. only when we started our descent did they ask us to open the window blinds (regulations – if the plane crashes the rescuers want to be able to see in. or something). but we were hungry, and anxious to explore, and wanted to eat fish. we’d seen a fish and meat restaurant on the street above ours on the hill, and looked up the very mixed reviews, so we asked the opinion of the hotel manager, and he said they usually directed people to a very different fish restaurant down the street. so we took his advice, and found ourselves on narrow stairs right next to a building site just down the street. balikci sabahatttin, it’s called. family run, hidden gemlike, and empty.


the restaurant took up both sides of the alley, with tables on the cobbles as well as in two houses. and since it was around 3pm, we had the place to ourselves. we ordered red fish. and before we could even order off the menu, a guy came around with a giant tray of appetizers, so we picked rice pilaf with mussels, and sauteed spinach.

we’re kind of tired of explaining that we’re old, and can only eat a little. so we ordered only the one fish, split in half, and they brought it without a fuss. i got the half with the spine, and we ate it all up. and then they brought us dessert – turkish ice cream (very different) with honeyed figs. everything was delicious, and the meal cost $18. so, great.


then we wandered around some, walking the little streets on the hill in back of the blue mosque. the houses are all very old, and made of wood. our hotel is in a building that is over 200 years old. the street it’s in is mostly hotels, and the parallel street up the hill is mostly restaurants. and i mean every single house had a terrace out front with tables, and a waiter in the streets waving to customers and saying how wonderful their food is, how cheap. but we’d just eaten, so we didn’t even check the prices, because that only invites further hawking. we just held hands and strolled on down the street, nodding and smiling. the houses that weren’t restaurants were shops, with a bewildering array of very shiny, very sparkly trinkets, i mean tourist items, that is to say quality handicrafts and traditional gifts. (hint – avoid any place that offers pashmina at 10 lira a scarf, because you are totally showing how easily you can be taken advantage of.)

we weren’t very interested in trinkets, no matter how much shine was on them. our bags were mostly full, and we only were looking for a few blankets to take back, and a couple of painted tiles. and that’s good, because they see you coming in istanbul just the same way they see you coming in india, but they are more charming (aggressive) here, and speak better english – and they lead with where you from. one minute. come into my shop one minute. i give it to you for less than nothing (but wife and kids, oldest boy’s college/teeth poorhouse blah). they also hunt for weaknesses – if they can figure out what you want, they will sing its praises, and look very hurt when you say no thank you. in fact, they curse you behind your back as you walk away, so the show of extreme friendliness is completely fake. sorry about that, because they go to great pains to convince you they are your relatives. if my relatives acted like that i’d have had my pocket picked already and would be being set up for something worse. i was tired of it when i was here with the boys last, year, but jim was inclined to talk to them a first, so i had to step in over and over and direct them away from us.

jim being ‘interviewed’ on camera. they got him to butcher some phrase in turkish. probly on utube by now

jim elicited the same reaction here as in india. people were fascinated with him. i’m going to do a blog post that is nothing but pictures of people taking selfies with him. they stare in the street. there aren’t many old people in istanbul, either, i suppose. we didn’t see any. and interestingly, here and in india, tho there are people from every nation on earth visiting, of all ages, the americans were all retired. plenty of families, lots of children, amazing numbers of young people from somewhere else. tons of russians. but retirees only when it came to people from the states. and perhaps canada as well.

we traipsed around until the sun went down, tho we found it a bit windy with a cool edge to it, and then wanted to wander back to our hotel and go to sleep. our room is small but neat, the bed is comfortable. there’s a BATHTUB!!!!! and a balcony half the size of the room with a spectacular view and nobody overlooking the room, so i didn’t have to think about clothing. the breeze was cool – we were surprised how chilly it was when we got to istanbul. in delhi it was always in the upper 80s during the day, and dropped down to the low 70s at night. but here it went down to 60 during the night and went only up to the low 70s in the daytime. so i was on the hunt for a sweater. and so we didn’t go back to the room for a bath just yet.

practically empty. we were like an ambulatory atm

we got up to the grand bazaar, and i took him inside to marvel at the ceilings and all the painted decorations, which he objected to until i dragged him out of the traffic flow and gave him something to hold on to while he bent over backwards. the whole market is a bunch of streets on a hill, covered over a long, long time ago, with domes and columns and painted ceilings and courtyards and nooks and crannies. only if you actually just go straight can you get thru the bazaar without getting lost.

tho it was evening, they were not yet ready to close, and we had to run the gauntlet of sellers. are you interested in leather? would you like some scarves? i wanted something warm, and was only offered cloned name-brand sweatshirts. eventually i was accosted by a leather seller who wanted to drag me into his shop. i breezed in, told him i didn’t like anything, and asked for a sweater seller. he didn’t know what i was talking about. then i spotted an embroidered coat on a mannequin across from his shop, and asked it was part off his shop. of course it is, he assured me, and then went over to the actual shop owner and wanted to know if he had my size. but no. and now that he knew what i wanted, he dragged me over to another shop, where a very short man showed me the perfect knee-length coat – embroidered inside and out, a most exquisite patterned tapestry.

i asked how much, and he gave me a price in dollars! oh hell no. he wanted $250. so i walked out as the leather guy was offering to bargain him down to $150. i kept walking. he made a sulky face, and then i caught him making a hand gesture out of the corner of my eye. so no damned way was i going to buy anything from them. not if they’re giving me prices in dollars.

so we left the grand bazaar and walked back toward our hotel. it was getting dark, and the wind was whipping, and we were almost cold. definitely chilly. on the way we passed a coffee shop, and decided to stop in for a latte. the two guys working the bar were friendly, and we started talking. one of them has family in san francisco, so we talked about berkeley versus atlanta. he wants to move to america, but isn’t qualified enough, and totally not willing to live with his brother, so he only hopes to go there and get a job in a starbucks, even tho he doesn’t like their coffee (charbucks). anyway, it was really good coffee, and we really enjoyed stopping there, and promised to visit again on saturday.

the back of the blue mosque

when we left, we weren’t as cold as before, but passed a shop where jackets were on display, and stopped in. after trying on everything they had, wanting something a little longer in the hip, i settled on a nice embroidered jacket, and he let me have it for 200 turkish lira (about $60). so, warm now, we sauntered across the street and found a row of hats in the window. if i’m a nut for scarves, jim is crazy about hats. we already got a wool hat from nepal (ish) – thrown in for free after i broke the bank at the crafts museum (and emporium) in delhi. this one was an embroidered cap, in silk, and the same colors as his new nepalese patchwork shirt. the staff demured about the size, jim insisted, and i didn’t let him know the price until we were down the block (omg $100), and after that the wool hat from nepal got packed up and he wore his new outfit happily for the rest of our stay.

we walked the rest of the way back to the hotel in comfort, past silently queueing traffic, hung up our clothes, opened the door and window, and got ready for bed. jim read for awhile; i took a bath. the water smelled a bit rank; brackish and sewagelike, but so did the water in delhi. i was surprised, but wasn’t sure if the water smelled like shit or sea. regardless, we continued to rinse our toothbrushes out with bottled water.

the view all night. with soaring seagulls and moving ship traffic

i was up in the middle of the night, but it was too cold to sit out on the balcony with my computer, and so i wrapped up in a bath towel and froze for awhile, until jim got up to go to the bathroom. then i went to bed and actually slept. and slept well.


friday. we got up with the call to prayer, 2 hours before dawn according to the schedule, but actually close to 6:30, when it started to get light (did we miss something at 4am?). i’m not religious in the least, but i love the call to prayer. it’s someone waking up the world, not with an alarm, but with a song. a delightfully embroidered song. some guy in every mosque in the city was going off with slightly different timing, in different pitches, and i’m not even sure it was the same song, but there they were, singing like little birds for the dawn chorus. i had my alarm set for 6:30, but shut it off because the call to prayer awoke me, and for ten minutes, we sat in bed and listened to it, watching the lights of the asian side of istanbul, watching the ships coming and going thru the bosphorus, watching the clouds go by outside.


at 7:30 they started serving breakfast on the second floor, so we took the circular stairs down until we reached a hideously well lit room where they’d assembled a bunch of things for breakfast. turkish breakfast seems, from what i can figure, to be yogurt, raw vegetables (cucumber and tomato) and olives, with cheese, cold cuts, and some fruit. then there were watery scrambled eggs (never touch them because i used to be a restaurant cook myself), boiled eggs, some sort of sausage, french fries, or cereal. toast. i had yogurt and veggies, jim had eggs and toast. there was some juice, but it tasted like tang, so i passed, and we both had several cups of coffee. it was cold outside, so we didn’t go on the terrace, but it was nice out there, and as the sun came up, it was much more pleasant light than the fluorescents in the dining room.

we saw a family near the doors open one of the doors up every now and then and throw something on the ground outside. and then we saw why – there was a family of cats living on the deck and in the surrounding vines, and tho they were obviously well fed by generations of hotel guests, they acted like they were starving.

after breakfast, we scampered out to see something. we picked the aya sofia first, a mosque that started out in byzantium as a christian church, made it thru constantinople as a mosque, and was now a museum. so it cost money to get into. and there was a line at the ticket booth. we were there at 9, when it opened, and there was still a line. and we had to run a gauntlet of helpful, friendly men who insisted we needed a guide to see the place properly. we ignored them, of course. after buying our tickets and getting our cameras xrayed, we went into the grounds and into the building. it was incredibly old, and there were arches filled and patched and made into new arches, and in general attesting to the many many architectural adjustments that had been made over the centuries.


i was there last year with the kids, but jim of course had never been there, so it was exciting to lead him around and let him discover the size and scale of the place. it was already full of people at 9am, but they hardly dented the space. the same scaffolding was still there, but it didn’t diminish from the vastness of the area. i can’t begin to describe the space except as football fields in size. a football field high, several football fields around, huge enormous. massive. vast.


we stayed for an hour and a half, wandering around the two floors, and up and down stone ramps, around and in galleries. there’s been a lot of restoration over the years, and we discovered that they had ‘replaced’ some of the marble wall panels (many of which had actually been looted wholesale back in 1204 and taken to venice to make san marco basillica) with painted panels, the paint replicating matched marble slabs.


we had to look closely to make sure, but they were paint, not stone. we also noticed that much of the interior was actually made of ancient brick, covered by painted plaster. but, no matter, it was overwhelming, and such an engineering marvel. the restoration went so far as to reproduce a section of wall in trompe l’oeil – faked to look like continuing niches and columns. we were very impressed. we had thought trompe l’oeil was renaissance, rather than medieval. (and were wrong on both accounts. it goes all the way back)


from a window i couldn’t actually see out of

when we left the building, it was still windy and cool, but it was now 11:30am. we walked across to the basilica cistern, as our next port of call, but the line went around the block, so the hell with that. we had another idea. first we stopped at a really interesting cafe i’d almost stopped into with the boys, and had some coffee and halva (wonderful). then we stopped across the street and asked the friendly loitering men, who wanted to sell us carpets and turkish art, where we could find ebru paper – turkish marbling. they had no idea what we were talking about, but i had found the address when i had wifi in the cafe, and we marched around the corner to find it. up three flights of stairs and into a travel agency. but they were also the ones who gave the artists space to operate, so fine.

our cafe

we poured thru some very nice marbling, and selected 7 or 8 sheets to take home with us. the guy wanted cash, and asked for euros, but we came up with some nice crisp turkish lira, and he found it acceptable. we had worried about our chances for getting cash advances to work, and so we got a lot of our rupees changed to euros back in delhi. but the cash machines worked here, so we got 1000 lira out ($180) and spent it.


we walked down the hill from there, passing the lower gates of the topkapi palace and wandering down to the bottom of the hill thru the regular city of istanbul, where people had jobs and went to school and lived in apartments.


we passed an art supply store, and went right in. i was looking for handmade paper, because jim wanted some more, and he browsed the pastel sticks. we both found something, and walked out with a roll of paper, just as they were shuttering the store for lunch. never pass by an art supply store.



oooh, look at those art nouveau details

there must be a college nearby, the food was really cheap and the line went around the corner

so we walked some more, right down to the foot of the bridge over to the other side. we didn’t go across the bridge, as tourists and tour buses do, stopping in the middle to let tourists gaggle and photograph both hillsides. we stayed in the giant plaza and rubbernecked.

but we stopped at the new mosque (new as of 1660, built by queen mothers, along with the spice bazaar). we’d heard the call to prayer a few minutes before, and now came across the men in one small corner of a huge plaza, in the shadow of this enormous mosque (under repair). they were in the middle of prayer, or rather listening to the preacher rattle on as they have to do in every religion i know of.


the men who couldn’t fit inside the mosque kneeled to pray in an outdoor area

all the women sat on the walls of a lovely courtyard and examined their recent purchases or watched the kids playing.


galata tower in the distance, across invisible galata bridge, clotted with tourists getting the money shot



we were looking for the spice market, and found it, and wandered thru it tasting turkish delight, which wasn’t very impressive, and was way too much sugar. so we never did get any, except the gift box for gabi that she didn’t crave, so we brought it back.


from there it was all uphill, thru the non-bazaar bazaar, the one outside the bazaar, where the locals shopped for stuff that was definitely unlike the tourist stuff inside the bazaar – clothes, fabrics, bedding, kitchenware, appliances, stuff.

looking back down the hill

all much cheaper, and much less refined, and basically flea market quality. but hey.

we took the opportunity to get a bunch of evil eyes and some little things to take home, and then jim’s back began to hurt, so we walked up and thru the bazaar,

truly nasty once it gets going

and made it back to the hotel as fast as possible. and then we had a nap.


the call to prayer at 4pm woke us up, and we went back out to get dinner.


we’d asked at the front desk, because they gave us such good advice about the fish restaurant, and they directed us to a place up on the main street, right next to starbucks, where he said we should mention the hotel and get a 10% discount. but when we found the place, and saw the prices (starting at 48 lira a dish), we decided we’d be better off going to the place where the boys and i had eaten. i’d looked it up on my phone, and we wandered the back streets of the garment district to get there.

but first another cup of coffee. really expensive – 12 lira each, but wonderful lattes, rich and chewy, in heavy cups that held the heat. this time selchuk’s dad was in the corner, and the boy was having a so-so day we hoped would improve. dad was looking at pictures on his phone of a car he wanted to buy. we got to talking, but of course, and he was fixing to pay 7,000 euros for it used. we all agreed that old cars are better than new ones, and parted great friends.

jim’s new hat. this is when we got our first clue about why people were so interested in him

this is where i realized why i had called the place dirty in my first report of istanbul. the garment district generates a lot of waste, mainly cardboard. and by the end of the day, there was cardboard and empty spools of packing tape everywhere. we passed a wholesale shoe store, and saw shoes jim liked, and walked on in. the guy was very nice and solicitous, and we found shoes that fit and he was comfortable, and he charged us $18, so we paid in cash and put his old shoes in a bag.


i did notice one thing about buying things from people. none of them had any idea what the word ‘receipt’ means. and none of them knew how to operate a credit card machine to generate one. and when i had them write down my purchase on a piece of paper by hand, they only put the total, with never an identification or store name or date or anything else. and of course i didn’t document everything immediately as i should have, so i’ve got a whole lot of absolutely useless scraps of paper i don’t know are in turkish lira or indian rupee.

the restaurant – sar restaurant – is one where the workers of the garment district eat, and so it was cafeteria style turkish food – absolutely delicious, and a good meal for two was $20. i had lamb soup, and roasted lamb, and stuffed vine leaves, and jim had kofte, and we ate as much as we could.


embroidered. no prices showing. i want a pair

it was dark at that point, with lots of traffic stopped in the street. there was no honking, tho, and no driving up on the sidewalk to get around cars. they all just sat there and waited. so unlike delhi. we were going faster than the cars. but then, there were limited arteries to get down the hill to the highway, and we were walking along the largest one. so we got off that street as soon as possible, and found our way back to our hotel.


i was still having trouble getting my photos off the cameras, and this time the phone was giving me trouble. but it was actually the wifi. jim took his bath and went to sleep while i struggled to get a dozen photos transferred to the computer at a time. i had 350. but eventually i figured it out, and opened the hall door, and angled the phone directly in line with the router, and got them all off. i still couldn’t get the photos off the big camera, but at least i could process the photos of our last days in delhi.

the view around the side of our building to the backs of all the other hotels on the street

saturday, the call to prayer woke us up again. we got to breakfast earlier and got out to the line for topkapi palace by 8:30.

and after a leisurely stroll thru the first garden, we had a ten minute wait for the ticket booth to open at 9, and then were unpleasantly surprised to find we had to have a ticket to the palace in order to get inside, even if all we wanted to do was see the harem.

i’d learned that much of the palace itself was closed for renovation, and that the harem was the most worth seeing, but we bought two tickets, so we avoided the crowds by going around the outside, and against the traffic flow.

topkapi palace and the harem was the home of sultans and their wives for centuries, and was truly magnificent. no expense spared. a designer’s dream.

real mother of pearl – sustainable, and real tortoiseshell – antique and rare af

just one of the small pavilions

the sultan, and the sultan’s mom, have only small differences in their bedrooms; i forget which this was

so many ornamental domes, so many painted tiles, so many mother of pearl and tortoise shell doors, so many empty rooms. so many photos.

even the drains on the patio were classy

and after two hours, we were done. so we went back to the hotel and i uploaded photos and published the last blog post while jim read his book.

really? wtf parked in front of the tourist police office. is that a water or a sound canon on top?

and then we went out again. it was only 2pm, so we wandered up to the bazaar, looking for blankets and tiles, our last remaining items we wanted to bring back home. i hadn’t had any luck finding the vendor i’d bought blankets from last year – the street was now filled with one gun dealer after another – never have we seen so many guns of all kinds, old fashioned and modern, automatic and shotgun, with bipods and scopes. all apparently available to all and sundry. but no blanket vendor.

an entire street devoted to gun shops

so we went around the outside, or tried to, but every alley we took led back to the gates of the bazaar with their armed soldiers and metal detectors. so we marched right thru, front to back, passing someone inside selling the blankets, but wanting 120 apiece for them, when i’d paid 80 last year. we started looking around for someone who would sell me a blanket outside the bazaar. we found a place selling lace curtains, and found a sample hanging over the door that was perfect. but the guys inside tried to sell us modern turkish designs, one after another, and we kept saying there was only one we were interested. in the end, he confessed that those samples over the door were ancient, and what was wrong with the ones he had for sale. so we walked out. vendors selling blankets were selling either wool or polyester, and none of them had the same diamond weave cotton blankets i actually wanted. so the whole thing was fruitless, and we found ourselves back in gun street again, so we headed thru the bazaar again.

this time we stopped at the place we’d gone into before, and i told the guy what i wanted to pay, and he agreed, so i bought four blankets, just not the color allison wanted (white). and then we stopped at the shop next door to that and bought the tiles for angela, and one for jim, and one for me, and then we were done with our shopping. yay. struggling with a large plastic bag full of blankets, we waddled down to the coffee shop halfway back to the hotel.

our friend the barista wasn’t there because it was his day off, but we met a couple of english tourists who were staying in the hotel above the coffee shop. they pointed out a glass structure across the street and said it was a cistern, newly discovered, and holding an art exhibition inside among the columns and water. and it was free. so we went to see it.

this cistern, like the famous one, was discovered quite by accident, in this case when they demolished an old town hall on the spot. so they fixed it up and opened it to the public. it was a whole lot smaller than the basilica cistern, but every bit as impressive, being deep underground, and 40 feet tall (or so), and holding water around huge columns. only this one had intaglio prints of horses on the wall, so we had a double treat.

half an hour later, we went back to the surface, bought the book of the artist’s work, and talked to his rep, who was selling prints. the artist is jim’s age, and has single handedly revived printing in turkey, and is the head of several college art departments, and jim is pretty sure he learned from someone who learned from the guy who taught jim, and who himself invented the process this turkish artist was using so well. so we had a lot to say to the guy, who took a picture of jim, and got his website and name to send to the artist.

and then we walked down the hill to our hotel, only we took a wrong turning and got lost, going thru some very narrow streets and down areas tourists never go unless they’re lost, like us.

but we figured it out, and got back as the sun went down. dropping the blankets for later, we went right back out to the fish restaurant, because we were hungry. but it was saturday night, and half of the hippest locals were there for dinner. the head waiter told us to come back in 30 minutes, so we returned to the hotel and i set the clock for 30 and finished posting the blog. then we went back. the second head guy told us to come back in 15 minutes, but got yelled at by the first head waiter. so they stuck us at the bar, where two middle aged turkish women made a big fuss over jim. again, while an american couple stayed invisible. the sound the ladies made upon seeing him was a mix between cooing over a baby and being in the presence of a movie star. i should have offered them a selfie with him.

in ten minutes they came for us, leaving the two turkish women and the american couple still waiting for seats, and gave us a table right in front of the door. hey brought around the tray of starters again, and we picked the rice pilaf with mussels, and a plate of marinated baby sardines (which jim didn’t like because marination=vinegar), and we ordered a salad and a bonito, then we sat and waited.

the restaurant was very crowded, and everyone in there was having excited, animated conversations with everybody else. half of them seemed to know one another. we could hardly hear each other, so whole minutes went by when neither of us said anything. we were the only calm, quiet people in there, except maybe for the waiters. the food was really excellent, and we ate it all up, and then we sat and sat and sat and sat. the turks are very like other europeans, and love to sit for hours at the dinner table. they eat, and drink, and drink some more. but we were tired, and it was getting late, and we had no intention of staying until midnight. it had gotten chilly, but since mostly everyone was smoking cigarettes, it was getting stale inside, so they kept cranking back the accordion roof, and that just made it colder. so finally jim went down to the bathroom to wash the fish off his fingers, and i accosted the most busy waiter and said we were done. he looked surprised, but cleared off our table, and then we sat and sat and sat. still no bill. finally i stood up, and a waiter came to ask if he could call a taxi. but we hadn’t paid, so i told him that, and we waited and waited and waited. finally i went to the bathroom and left jim with our last 100 and some, and when i came back he was waiting for the change, and so we left most of the rest as a tip, and went back to the hotel.

sunday. up with the call to prayer, we thought we’d spend our last few hours seeing the basilica cistern and the blue mosque. a helpful, friendly man chased us to the gates of the mosque, asking where are we from, and how are we. i said we’re tired, and he immediately suggested to jim that he get me a massage, after which he could get more babies in me. which was incredibly insulting, and we turned around at the gates (we were half an hour before opening) and left. when we got to the cistern, it was an hour before its opening, and they only took cash. so we returned to he blue mosque and had to wait ten minutes for the cops (the armed attendants) to unblock the gate. thru the gates we entered a courtyard and circled counterclockwise to a marked line (we’d seen this line much longer on the afternoon we’d peeked in, spiraling inward from the line to the other gate). when i’d been here with the boys, we went in a completely different entrance, but the mosque is under renovation and things were different.

we were first to the area where you take off shoes and socks, so jim got a seat and took his time discalcing.

then it was a superbly textured red and blue carpet that covered the entire football(2) field of mosque floor, and…scaffolding and a false ceiling only 25 feet off the floor obliterating the view of 7/8 of the entire domed ceiling. i felt oppressed by the lack of atmosphere, the i-beam-in-the-face impalement of the interrupted view. there were so few sight lines, it was so dim, even the trompe l’oeil scaffolding cover blocking the major part of the dome – even the printed plastic tarp over the scaffolding was a 42dpi cartoonish rendering of what i knew it hid.

jim was in heaven, however. the magnificence of the blue mosque wasn’t dimmed in the least for him. just like the scaffolding that’s still in place in the aya sofia didn’t dim it for me.

he wandered around peering into the little distance he could see, photographing all the beautiful decorative work and composing complex photos of architectural perfection with more glee than he’d shown photographing the taj mahal. which by the way was in many ways a quick copy of either of the mosques in easy walking distance of our hotel in istanbul.

so we went to find a cash machine to get a mere 40 lira, and our card was declined. we tried a total of 5 cash machines, and got the same from each, so we returned to the cistern, which now had a dozen people in line, and i left jim there and tried one more machine, just up the block. which declined the card. when i checked the wallet, i discovered we still had 20 lira left, and that was enough for a single ticket, so i suggested jim go down, and i’d wait at the cafe where we’d had coffee and baklava.

the breakfast deck at our hotel

but he wasn’t having any of it, so we went back to the hotel, took our novels down to the breakfast room, and had more coffee sitting on the patio with the cats. then we went back upstairs and jim sat on the balcony and read, while i went down to the front of the building with the computer and started reporting on our days in istanbul. and then it was time to catch a lift to the airport.

great modern architecture, stylish and with humor

we grabbed our bags (i had packed and repacked the night before), and paid our bill, and half an hour later we were at the airport. we had to go thru xrays and metal detectors on the way into the airport, and then security and passport check on the way to the ticket counter, and then a quickly moving line to passport control, and after that we had to xray our bags again. then we were in the passenger section, and hit the food court. it was going to be hours and hours before they fed us on the plane, so i got some spinach, and rice for jim, and then we got coffees and baklava, and then it was time to go to the gate. we only had the one carryon and our two backpacks at that point, and had the packs strapped to the rolly bag, making it hard to control. but, no matter, neither of us needed a load on our shoulders. at the gate, we had another security check, then a pat down and rub for chemical residue and physical check of our bags, and then one more when we actually loaded onto the plane. was that 6 or 7?

a flashy safety video starring emmit and wyldstyle

but we were on, and waiting to leave. the plane slowly filled up (those last security checks), and we were eyeing the window seats, because again, while i wasn’t looking, they switched us to aisle seats. note to myself, check flight status before leaving for the airport. several americans had decided to sit together in their not-assigned seats while the plane was still empty, so that their babies could be together, and they were making a big ruckus when others showed up to ask them to move out of their seats. but eventually we took off, and two hours later they fed us (again, all the blinds are closed, even tho it’s broad daylight outside), and now we’re over newfoundland and only have another 5 or 6 hours in the air before we’re home. they’ll feed us another very good whole meal on the other end of the fllight, too, because it’ll only be 7:30pm when we land and michael picks us up.

our view of the ground. live video from the cockpit. pretty cool actually, but not like a window seat grrrrrr

we’ll be very happy to be home. this has been a really eye-opening trip for us, one we would have never thought we’d make, and a very interesting journey. the excitement of india, the conrasts, the poverty, the beauty – all of this is going to take some time to process. india was work; turkey was vacation, and we really enjoyed ourselves. we took thousands of photos, bought lots of cheap textiles and clothes, and burned ourselves right out, so it’s going to take a further post to reflect on everything we saw and did. that’ll be the post where i show all the selfies people took with jim and reveal the secret of his popularity. but for now, i’m going to try to get a little sleep. we’ve watched several movies (downsizing, the remake of total recall, tower heist), eaten, and now our butts hurt. here’s some disaster movie involving a large shark on the screen of the seat in front of me, and it’s just one surprise after another, but we don’t care. how many gags involving sharks can you make?

home at last, and immediately applying for film extra jobs

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