Back in Istanbul for a short stopover

 

Istanbul with Jan was going to be a whole different world, I knew. She is jet propelled, not content to laze around, people watching on a park bench. We’d kept up a very fast pace during the past few weeks since she’d arrived, and although I was ready to wind down, I appreciated her drive and energy, and her urge to explore. While I was on my own for the week that she’d delayed her flight, the attention given to a solo woman traveller was wearing, I was also looking forward to the relative anonymity that travelling with others provides. It seems to be a little less immersion, and somehow a bit like a protective bubble. Perhaps it is because the intense sensations that one feels are buffered by the connection with another, instead of that heady, and sometimes overwhelming stream of impressions coming from the external environs.

 

During my first week in Istanbul, I’d scoped out a new hotel for us, the Almina, and booked it in advance for us after our return from Iraq. I rationalized that we would appreciate a quiet respite in a restful and comfortable hotel. The posted room charge was well above possibility, so I asked them for their best price, and they gave us a whopping discount, nearly 2/3 less than the asking price posted at the front desk. Done deal.

Yet another reason I fell in love with Sibil and the crew at the Almina!

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After a week at the Side Hotel, I was bored with the all male staff at reception, though I enjoyed the women who made the breakfasts and cleaned the rooms, who always managed to sneak treats into my room while I was out, and came in the late afternoons to teach me a few words of Turkish and provide companionship, which I sorely needed.

Wandering around during the week on my own in Istanbul before Jan arrived, I got completely lost on the seafront one afternoon. It was odd, because the closer I got to the waterfront in the old section of town, the poorer it seemed. There were a few renovated houses, with horizontal wooden siding, but most of the homes were the old style wooden, two storied structures that I saw a lot of in Bulgaria in the countryside. There were women in their courtyards, doing laundry in tubs by hand, and it was serene, almost like I’d stepped back in time, or arrived in a small village.

 

As I crossed an old rusty railroad overpass, I saw a quaint looking building, and that it was a hotel. I went inside and asked to see the rooms, met the house staff, who were very friendly and seemed happy to have me join them for a tour. We went upstairs to the rooftop, and I was sold. It had panoramic views of the Bosphorus sea, with it’s busy thoroughfares crisscrossed with ferries and boats. It was a little chilly, but the vistas were sensational.

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I immediately told Sibil, the desk manager, that we’d stay there when we returned from Iraq.  In fact, I’d already paid for my room at the Side in advance or I would have moved there immediately. Jan had arrived after a long flight from Vancouver, and had been scammed by her taxi driver, who charged 25 Euro from the Taxim centre to the hotel, which should have been about 10 Turkish Lira…about 3 Euro! She’d been sleepy, and it was getting dark, difficult to see which currency was which…..so easy to be taken advantage of when you’re exhausted, and the taxi drivers everywhere in the world seem to be like tigers looking for the easy prey.

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I’d spent my time well in Istanbul prior to Jan’s arrival, buying a museum pass, and passing leisurely days visiting most of the incredible museums that were included in the pass, the Hagia Sofia, the Topkapi, and several smaller ones.

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Jan had been to Istanbul before, and seen most of the sites that she wanted to see, so on our first day back from Iraq, I talked her into the Museum of Modern Art, where we spent most of a very enjoyable day. We had lunch on the balcony, which overhung the seaside, so it was a peaceful, wonderful day spent there, with beautiful scenery, and an astoundingly varied collection of art to see. One of our favourites was an intricate mosaic shark, made from clothing labels. The art ranged from ancient times to modern. The adjacent museum restaurant is worth the admission, just to sit on the balcony and watch the busy seafront activity.

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Luckily, we’d met a lovely couple from Iowa, (whom I’d spent a couple of days wandering the city with) who donated their unused museum vouchers to us, so we spent our day’s budget on a salad from the restaurant menu, which was outrageously pricey, but wonderful and well worth it just to sit and savour the blessed peacefulness.

We wandered through the backstreets afterwards, relaxed and enjoying exploring. Istanbul has so many facets to do that, one could spend years just poking around, seeing the architectural history and slowing imbibing the richness of the culture of this ancient, yet ultra modern city.

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The following day, Jan bought tickets for a boat ride up the Bosphorus, to the mouth of the Black Sea. I was grumpy, and didn’t want to join the tour (I generally detest tours and crowds of tourists), but she thought it would be great to be on the water, which it was. The day before had been rainy until the afternoon (almost the moment we stepped out onto the balcony of the Art museum, the sun came out and warmed us while we ate), so we were expecting a chilly ride. But again the sun surprised us, and we sat aloft, in plastic chairs, slightly protected from the cool breezes.

Ahem…our tour boat

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As we motored along, an elder, very scholarly gentleman, probably the boat owner, lulled us with stories and historical information about what we were gazing at.

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The tourists on this boat were as interesting as the scenery.

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As we jockeyed for the best seats, we found the jewels of our tour; Moipone (pronounced Me Pony) and Angela! Moipone giggled as she squeezed into one of the white plastic seats, “but goodness, I’m afraid I might break this chair!”

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We had seen them board the tour bus en route to the pier, and I watched them as they each chose to sit in their own separate rows on the bus. Later, on the boat, they smiled teasingly as they told us they were from Ireland. But, believe me, we knew they weren’t Irish! One was from Nigeria, and the other from Lesotho, and their husbands were ambassadors in Ireland.

The mouth of the Black Sea

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They’d come to Turkey for a few days holiday. We sat with them, laughing and thoroughly enjoying their company. Especially Moipone, who had this way about her, this beautiful smile and laughter like warm caramel. A glance from her and you felt like those big arms came around you and surrounded you with all the love of a mother for her child. We clung to them throughout the tour, and when we stopped at a village and took a stroll, bumped into them again. The entire trip back was spent teasing and laughing with them.

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Note the friendly waving woman from the top floor. She wished us well and blew us a kiss. We had “escaped from the crowd of tourists from the boat and hiked a short distance into the hilly backdrop of the village where the boat stopped.

 

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Of course, we all promised to meet up, somehow, somewhere in the next while. They were interested in coming to visit Vancouver, and Jan and I immediately after getting into our hotel room were busy looking up the location of Lesthoto, and we both knew that we’d make a silent prayer that night that it could be added to our “go to” places.

 

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