In preparation for this visit to Istanbul, Pat and I have read another Barbara Nadel story about the Istanbul detective Cetin Ikmen. As we search for an elusive plaid carry-all bag, we accidentally tour around some of the parts of town mentioned in the book. Nadel describes the roads as being narrow, steep, crowded, eclectic – they are. But no plaid bag is to be found. This city used to abound in these cheap bags but they’ve disappeared. We’ve bought an incredibly ugly nylon bag instead.
The bag is a requirement to stow all our purchases for the journey home. As good Silk Road travellers, we have engaged in the age old pursuit of shopping! Ie trading money for goods. Perhaps not quite in Silk Road tradition but as close as we can manage.
Our Istanbul shopping has taken us to markets older than Canada as a nation. The Spice Bazaar, where we roam every narrow alley, has been operational since 1664. The smells and sights of the shops under the high valued roof are evocative of everything exotic. I think it’s my favourite place in Istanbul.
Exhausted from our quest for the plaid bag, we refresh ourselves with coffee and cake then go to “our” hammam.
Pat spent over an hour yesterday painstakingly checking website after website and finally it popped up. When we find it, we realize we’d walked passed it at least once the day before but it is tucked in behind other buildings and only a small sign and doorway attest to its existence. The other challenge to finding it was the constant assurance from everyone we asked that such a hammam does not exist. As tourists we are always directed to one or other of two fancy expensive westernized hammam spas. More fuel for my Turkish lies theme.
The hammam – Tarihi Sifa Turkish Hammam – is just as special as we remember it from when we first went there three years ago. It was our first Turkish bath. After this trip, we have much more hammamming experience, yet this one retains the 300 year old charm that first attracted us. It intrigues us that people have been bathing there on the same marble slabs since 1777.
We meet with Helen for dinner and just before we finish a young woman comes over to our table – she’s recognized us from the Caspian Sea boat trip. What a phenomenal coincidence! We chat for a few minutes before she and we head off into a rainy walk home to our respective hotels.
That was yesterday.
Today it is cloudy and cool but dry. We continue our trip down memory lane with a walk over the Galata Bridge, crossing the Golden Horn near where it connects with the Bosporus. This is an exciting stretch of water as boats dash up and down the Horn, swing into and out of the Bosporus, churn up the Bosporus to the Black Sea or out to the Sea of Marmara – all this frenzied shipping can be seen from the bridge. Vehicles roar across, while people fish from the upper bridge deck. Over priced restaurants line the lower pedestrian level. Walking by is running a gauntlet of solicitations. “Come in. What is your name? Where are you from? Coffee.”
We do pause at one place – a call of nature giving us cause.
“Do you have cappuccinos?” we enquire.
“No Nescafé. Turkish coffee,” we are informed.
“Do you have cake?” we suggest.
“No. Fish,” we are assured.
“Do you have a toilet?” That’s after all what we really want.
The guy sighs but is gracious. Our need is met and we continue on our way.
One the other side is the fish market where we have lunch – an enormous fresh fish sandwich. Once again, our memories don’t let us down. The sandwiches are as delicious as they were three years ago. There is a bit of added excitement in the market as a tuna has been brought in. It rests in the middle of shinny red floor because it’s too big for any of the stalls. Some restaurant is going to be advertising fresh tuna on tonight’s menu.
From there we walk through a newly created waterside park then across a pedestrian/subway bridge. Then we walk up the hill and under the towering remains of a fourth century Roman aqueduct, on to a mosque and down through the Grand Bazaar. This place has been a Bazaar since 1461 and contains about 3600 shops. I consider buying a silk scarf to mark the end of the Silk Road but of the tens of thousands of “silk” scarves for sale in the Grand Bazaar, most are polyester, rayon or very cheap poorly woven Indian silk. Pat and I did get a couple of beautiful silk scarves in Samarkand and the Istanbul offerings pale in comparison. Instead we find an English book store and a couple of Silk Road/Istanbul related books are now added to the stack of luggage we have acquired over the past few days.
Tomorrow we will let the day unfold slowly as our trip home begins in the evening. With three flights and an overnight in Frankfurt, it promises to be a bit tedious. Still, our Silk Road journey hasn’t been as long or arduous as Marco Polo’s twenty-four-year odyssey. Our’s has involved less camel riding and hiking than we’d hoped, but it has been a rewarding adventure with enough horse, train and other odd escapades to make up for a lack of camel related excitement. Like Marco Polo, we’re returning home with silks and silver – unless it’s polyester and nickel – and with stories galore.
Once again, thank you for following our adventures. My apologies to all who so kindly commented but who didn’t get a reply. Word Press has been awkward to use after some updates – responding to comments is causing me grief. Please know I read and appreciate every one of your comments.