- Hearing the
call to prayer echoing about the evening cityscape
reminds you that you are not in Kansas
- Hearing the call to prayer at
5 AM reminds you that you have a minaret (prayer tower)
about fifty yards from your hotel window and it contains
very loud, loudspeakers.
- Needless to say I was up early
this morning, sometime around 5 AM. Breakfast is not
served until 8, so I walked around Old Istanbul
) for a couple of hours and
watched the city come to life - produce trucks, street
sweepers (both the motorized and the manual kind), bakers
and vendors, all setting up for the day. No carpet
salesmen yet, I guess they sleep late.
- Istanbul is a
city of wonderful smells - flowers and spices, olives,
dates, and coffee. The
streets in Sultanahmet are clean but beware, there is not
a level surface to be found -stairs and cobblestone
ramps, curbs and cliffs -no street is straight in any
direction -left, right, up or down. There is a reason
that sultans made this area their seat of power for 400
years - it is easy to defend and allows for successful
ambushes -a fact not lost on the carpet
- Istanbul is beautiful - the people
are kind, friendly, generous, and wonderful - even the
carpet sellers are polite if not persistent - In Istanbul
you cannot throw a rock without hitting a carpet salesman
but I do not think throwing rocks would keep them away.
Most think I am in need of a carpet, the rest know I need
- The weather is perfect. High 70s
to low 80s - no clouds, no humidity - soft and gentle
breezes. Feels much like the weather I left at
- My hotel,
Hotel Empress Zoe,
is perfectly situated in Saltanahmet
- about a five minute walk
from the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii) , Ayasofya
(Hagia Sophia or St. Sophia - Justinian's 537 A.D.
Greatest church in Christendom), the ancient
cisterns of Istanbul (Yerebatan Cistern), and the Topkapi
Palace (Turkey's Forbidden City). I visited all today.
- But first, I ate - the hotel has a
breakfast to die for: ripe olives, goat cheese, fresh
strawberries, oranges, tomatoes, cucumbers, yogurt, fresh
bread, homemade preserves (apricot and strawberry),
hardboiled eggs, and Turkish coffee. I ate outside in the
hotel's private garden with a cat (there is always a cat
where ever you eat in Istanbul).
- The guidebook
said to visit the Topkapi
It said to get there as soon as
it opens (at 9 AM) to avoid the crowds and to be first in
line for tickets to the Harem: "Head straight for the
Harem when you enter; the crowds are so thick and the
tour groups so numerous that individual travelers
sometimes are out of luck as the groups book all of the
tours in advance." I did as I was advised only to find
that the "Forbidden City" has become the "Lonely City"
since 9/11. If it had not been for the school children
and their teachers, I think I would have been alone.
- 5000 people once lived at the
palace. Built by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453 over the
ruins of Constantine's Imperial Palace, the Topkapi
Palace was the seat of power and intrigue for 400 years.
In 1855, Abdulmecid moved the imperial residence up the
Bosphorus to Dolmabahce Palace -too many people, too much
noise, and from what I could see, the place needed a lot
of work. Walt Disney and William Randolph Hearst did a
much better "Harem" than Mehmet did. Being a Sultan gave
you a lot of mouths to feed and some really crabby wives
and wife-wanta-bes. I saw the "Hall of Sultan Portraits"
and they all looked fat and unhappy. They also look very
much like a family of dwarfs - In the book of rules for
painting Sultans, I guess it is stated that "no Sultan
can be painted standing." Unfortunately, there was
nothing in the rule book about "how to paint a seated
Sultan." One or two artists got it right but the majority
just painted what looks like very short and deformed legs
on otherwise normal torsos.
- School children were great - all
in uniforms, most holding hands. Many noticed me and
wanted to speak English, "My name is ...., what is your
name?" "Hello, do you speak Turkish?" "Why does your
President hate us?"
- Three hours at the Topkapi Palace
and on to the next architectural treasure. But first, a
carpet salesman story:
- I decided to
experience a carpet sales pitch.
It works something like this - You are walking along and
you hear a voice, "Excuse me sir, could I offer you some
tea? "Excuse me sir, are you American or Canadian?" "Do
not be concerned, I am not a guide." "Can I answer a
question you might have?" If you respond in any way, you
have entered into a negotiation for your time and
possibly your money. The goal here is to give you
something of value and have you reciprocate. A friendly
man in his fifties began a conversation with me about
what to see and do in the Old City. He took me into the
Blue Mosque through a side door, told me about the
history of the building, pointed out features I would
have missed had I been on my own, and then spent at least
a half hour showing me short-cuts to other buildings in
the area. His spontaneous tour of the old city was his
gift to me as a friend - how could I refuse his offer of
a cup of Turkish tea at his place of business?
- I was taken a short distance to a
very nice carpet shop - spacious, Spartan, tasteful, and
I was introduced to the owner - quiet, dignified, and
well dressed. He asked his assistant to bring us two
chairs and my choice of drink (I chose a spiced apple
tea). We talked politics and family and at no time did we
discuss carpets (my spontaneous guide had since
vanished). We talked for an hour. At the end of our
conversation, my host noted that I was not motivated to
negotiate for carpets and that we could do that at
another time of my choosing and he offered me more tea.
My time was worth his tea - we both met our obligations
honorably and parted. Very civilized, but the process can
take valuable time if you let it - I let it and I am glad
- I still had
time to tour the Blue
and the Yerebatan
(the ancient cistern of Istanbul).
All are enormous, awe-inspiring, beautiful, and old. I
shot over five-hundred photographs today and produced at
least four panoramas of the sites I visited. Many
pictures to share with you when I return (If Betty can't
go to Istanbul, I will bring Istanbul to Betty -You know,
that Muhammed and Mountain thing).
Another great meal tonight at yet
another cheap restaurant with a cat to keep me company.
Tomorrow I cruise the Bosphorus.
- The Lonely but Well Fed