East meets West

Istanbul

Arrived with nothing organised and only photocopies of an old lonely Planet. I was happy to have forked out $13 for a language book though – even if it means I only learnt yes, no, vegetarian and thankyou. Travelling with Gabrielle, Ruth (Gabrielle’s sister) and Mike (her fiance) should be fun…

First thing was a decent meal and a water-front walk to expose ourselves to the incredible range (remote control cars to fake id) of products people try to sell you on the street. Most of the street sellers are persistent, but happy enough to let you go – some even with a smile and a joke.

After a sleep only mildly interrupted by the thumping bass in the disco next door, I went for an early morning walk (after exercises and tai chi). Turkey’s light is like Australia’s – you need to be up late or early to get good light for photos of mosques and the city. We are staying in sultanahmet and the nearby Topkapi palace. The wall surrounding the palace still defines the shore of this part of the city, but the cars have a reclaimed road around the outside, the train runs on rails landward, and the homeless have claimed the space inside the walls.

Aborted seeing the interior of the palace “first thing” (crowds), and instead went to the mosque an the museum of Turkish and Islamic art. Also nearby was the Hippodrome (chariot race track) and obelisks of varying ages adn origins. The interior of the different mosques are REALLY amazing spaces with a beautiful feel, striking colours and fantastic architecture. I have been very impressed that most of them only took them 7 years to build back in 1600/1700. Though the number of animals slaughtered to commemorate different stages of constructio nis probably not something I would have wanted to be around for.

Lunch was had in the Grand Bazaar before heading back to the palace where we parted with 20 euros for entry. The palace was truly worth if for a mind boggling collection of treasures, clothes and restored buildings. Highlights included the armoury, various strands of hair from Mohammet the prophet, and a collection which included an 86 carat diamond. This “sample” of gold and jewels gives you some indication that these guys had some very, very serious wealth and power.

From the palace and other sights today there was really a strong sense of east meets west, and you could see that exchange ana influence developing over time through tne clothing, art, weapons and buildings. E.g. the changing style of architecture; the ‘dress revolution’ in 1826, when the sultans clothes went from baggy pants to tailored french military uniforms; and the evolution of art from wood to integrating calligraphy adn intrivcate metalwork with imported asian ceramics.

A roof top beer provided nice views adn some space to amke some serious decisions about what to do with the rest of our time in Turkey. The decisions were deferred, but the spread of ocean, sea and dwellings for 12 million was a bit distracting.

After beer, we had an appointment with some Turkish baths for a 20 dollar sauna, scrab and massage. It was a truly worthwhile experience and I felt really good afterwards – you would hope so based on the amount of dirt that came off while the guy was scrubbing. The massage and wash a bit “routine” but still good- especially if you measure success by the numberot times you heard a “crack” in my joints!

We then walked along waterfront to the bridge (I love the late sunsets here) and up the hill to Beyoglou. Along the way Ruth had left her bag zip open, and a young kid tied to pick through it but I pushed him away. He turned briefly to confront me, but then left and we all walked on. I reckon I would have had a go to if I was that kid…the physical space you share with the Turkish belies the distance in material and almost every other respect.

Having said that, Beyoglou is near the newest partsof Istanbul, and there were some flashier restaurants and shops. Ducking down a side alley suddenly had me feeling distinctly under dressed and out of place amongst the very funky bars and people. Popping out on to the main strip revealed a rock band all set up to play, and we decided to dine opposite at Konak with classy chandeliers above and tunes wafting in with the cool night air.

During the walk back across the bridge to the old part of town, the call to worship was ringing out from the tastefully floodlit mosques. I took a moment to ponder how every few boars everyone in tne city is reminded of their religions duty. Imagine, I said to my companions, that every few hours a cry went out over Perth to remind citizes of their duty to God, each other, other species and future generations….do you think it would make a difference in how concious people are of these things?

A boat tour of the Bosphorous showed us the parts of the coast where the modern influence is much stronger, with mosques and ancient fortifications dwarfed by modern apartment blocks adn skyscrapers. Well worth the 3 Lira. Actually, I should make comment on the currency in a place where they accept US, euros, punds, anything and where you can hold three Turkish coins and two Turkish notes in your hand at once, some inscribed with 1000 000, some inscribved with a 1….that are all worth the same!

Anyway, I love the vibrancy of this place: people trying to make a living in a million ways, but not forgetting to have a yearn along the way. The religion, history, and skyline make me forgive all the rubbish and the street sellers.

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