I’m on my way to Africa with Dr. Ava Cadell on a seminar tour of Tanzania and Kenya, and we stopped in Istanbul to break up the 20-hour flight. It was cold and rainy – a lot more wintry than the 52 degrees-and-sunny I saw on my last weather check.
So we put on every warm piece of clothing we brought for a trip to the hottest continent on earth, and ventured out of our adorable boutique hotel with its cozy natural rock lobby, marble bathrooms, spiral staircases and sweet courtyard.
The food was fantastic at the restaurant, including this array of desserts. These people know how to get the most out of an apricot, I’m telling you. Jelly it! Sugar it! Roll it nuts! Also, the best baklava I have ever tasted – the triangle one has sour cherry – yum!
We changed course on the way home (but still saw plenty of cats eating garbage) and were accosted constantly by restauranteurs trying to lure us in, on their off season. Just having eaten did not seem to be a suitable excuse for not dining at these establishments. There was a lot of hand-holding and earnest convincing involved. But even though I am very polite, I wasn’t going to eat dinner twice.
Instead we went to a variety store to pick up some bottled water where the guy behind the counter winked at me five times and gave me the finger slide when he shook my hand. Ew! Richard does that as a joke and it’s hilarious. This guy? Not so much.
Back at the hotel, I couldn’t get to sleep until three am, so the six am prayer call came up pretty fast, the bellowing city speakers crying out a sing-song dedication to Allah. I looked out at the dark clouds gathering over the Bosphorous strait over top of an ancient wall. Wakey-wakey agnostic American girl! But then the call the prayer ended as abruptly as it began and I slept for another few hours. I’m sure Allah would be fine with that.
We planned our one day well to make the most of the short visit, with a trip to the Hagia Sophia museum that my friend Tracey would NOT stop talking about (yes, it was worth it Tracey – and also 30 seconds from our hotel) and then lunch on the Asian side of the city. Built in 537, the Hagia Sophia is a beautiful domed building with four spires, and has been a Greek Orthodox church, a mosque and a Roman Catholic church over the centuries. Now it’s a museum that sells Hagia Sophia paint-your-own T-shirt sets and evil eye pencils – I bought five!
Next we headed down to the water and were pretty excited about crossing the strait to the Asian side. It’s where East meets West! I thought maybe the food would be different across the water twenty minutes on a ferry. Turko-Asian fusion! Maybe people speaking Turkish with Chinese accents!
We sauntered off the ferry with visions of a cozy lunch-time bistro, maybe a glass of wine and a stroll around the city square. But the square wasn’t a place for strolling yesterday.
We walked off the boat and directly into the path of a giant political demonstration, which we found out later was against a new law requiring schools to teach religious studies. There were huge banners everywhere, people shouting in unison and filling up the square at an alarming rate.
Still, someone was serving lunch somewhere. We took a sharp right turn, determined to skirt the massive rally and find our bistro. That’s when we ran smack into a wall of riot police getting ready for action. Hmm. Rubber bullets on a Sunday?
Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe in the separation of church and state, and I am behind those protesters 100% with my heart and soul. Just not my actual body right then. Visions of Midnight Express flashed before me as Ava gave me a sharp look for taking a picture of the riot police, which would be posted here except it’s actually a botched picture of my arm and hair. I didn’t take another one as I saw them assembling their pellet guns and putting on their masks. I am officially afraid of cops.
We took the next ferry back to the European side. I felt guilty not giving the Turkish people my solidarity with their important issue, but there were those three people killed in Takshim square recently and I guess I just couldn’t hack the idea of being tear gassed.
In wildly inappropriate-to-follow unrelated news, the hot black tea and bagels they served on the ferry were incredible. Seriously Montreal, you have some major competition in the bagel department.
It got colder and rainier as we walked back to the Empress Zoe, so we popped into some stores and then I did what I suppose most Americans do in Turkey – I bought a carpet!
And snapped a few more pics. Next, off to Tanzania!