2011
03.04

Out of Town

I am leaving my luggage behind at the Hotel Peninsula, but I can’t stay.  They are totally booked – what a world this is!  I am taking a two-day trip to Edirne, west of Istanbul and very close to the Greek and Bulgarian borders, to explore one important mosque by Sinan.  You will not hear from me until I am back.

ET

2011
03.04

SYNOPSIS:

About a six hour walk through town and a visit to a special church.

My feet are burning.  I mean burning!  These are the moments when I would give anything for a bucket of hot soapy water to soothe them a bit.  Instead, they just have to endure after this six hour walk through town.  My clunker shoes – I bought them for the trip last year –  are two sizes too big.  One size is swallowed up by the most expensive medical inlays to support my feet, the other size gets used up on days like this, when my feet swell in agony.  These are my “Muslim” shoes.  Slip in, slip out.  No bending, no laces, no tying.  Just in and out. You have to do a lot of this around here if you want to visit mosques.

At breakfast the other day when I met Midi from Bangladesh, there also was Rose.  She is a staff member working at a university in Alaska in the Anthropology Department, and she is on a 3 week vacation in Turkey since Greece turned out too troublesome for her.  We shared a taxi this morning to get to Chora, or Cami Kariye as it is also known.  She has acquired a reputation around the hotel since she thinks it’s warm.  She shows up in short-sleeved T-shirts for breakfast and told us that people in Alaska celebrate the coming of spring once temperatures go above 33 Fahrenheit (0 Celsius) by walking around in shorts!  I guess, it’s all relative.

Rose got zapped by a taxi driver the other day.  For a taxi ride that should have cost around $15 she paid nearly $100.  The meter showed $38 (the driver must not have erased his previous fare), she handed over a $50 which the driver claimed was a $5 and then he refused to return change to her.  She was not keen to hop into another taxi.  But today’s driver was honest.  He started the meter at 0 and offered change, too.  Of course, we know that not all people are alike, but it is hard once you have been burned not be suspicious.

We arrived early enough at the famous Chora Church to share it with only a few individual visitors.  After 11 AM though, a steady stream of buses spewed out loads of tour groups into this small space.  The place turned into a zoo resembling a busy market more than a church with tour guides out-shouting each other in their respective languages explaining the exquisite 14th Century mosaics which adorn the walls of this once church later turned mosque.  That these mosaics escaped iconoclasts is a miracle.

At the entrance a big sign warned:  No Flash and no Tripods!  Of course, I was not going to use flash.  But for this occasion I had brought along my son’s monopod.  Yesterday, at the Topkapi I was out of luck.  I had to surrender the thing at the door.  They were not going to allow me to take it in even though I claimed I needed it as a walking stick.  They must have seen right through me.  But it does double up as a walking stick!  And who are they to tell me that I don’t need one.  I counted more than six walking sticks at the palace… !  But today, I showed the first guard my pod and explained that it was not a tri-pod but a one-pod.  He was satisfied and let me have it.  I hope it improved the quality of the images just a bit.  Really, for good indoor photography of dark temples and churches you need a tripod and extra lighting if you want to get anything decent.

By noon we were done and ready for an apple tea (me) and Turkish coffee (Rose).  Then we parted.  Rose, who has a bad knee and does need a real walking stick, took a taxi back home.  I embarked on what I thought was about a 6 km hike back.  If I had not gone a full kilometer in the wrong direction at the very end it probably would have been.  This way I ended up with about 8 kilometers.

I checked off a list of monuments and chores along the way:  Chora, Roman Aqueduct, Suleymanie Mosque, Spice Bazaar, and buying a new camera.  All done!

At the Suleymanie Mosque they once again questioned my “tripod”.  This time I held firm.  It’s not a problem, I said.  It’s not a tripod and I am not a professional photographer.  The guard was reluctant, but kind enough to let me go on.  He could hardly argue with the count:  Three legs are not the same as one leg.  My bad luck had it that the court of the mosque and the cemetery attached to it were closed for renovation.  That’s where Sinan is buried, the “Michelangelo” of Turkey who built the Sultanahmed Mosque as well as this one and many other structures around here.  I really had hoped to see his grave.  And I think the most famous concubine of all times is buried there, too; all of that a miss.

But I saw a lot of ordinary daily city life.  Once again, I have to state my amazement over how westernized Turkey seems to be.  There were top of the line clothing stores, art supply stores, fully stocked camera and electronic stores.  Public transportation, lots of trams and buses, were not chaos.  But there were also the old bazaars, like the spice bazaar, colorful, and aromatic.  And there were the street vendors selling roasted chestnuts out of a steamy oven, and hot chocolate out of shiny brass containers.  I am not surprised that Europeans love Turkey as a travel destination.  Americans, you would love this, too.

And now I have to moan and feel sorry for my feet.

Good night.