Istanbul Express

Inside the blue Mosque

I was never tempted to visit Istanbul before reading Orhan Pamuk. Maybe the Balkans influence from back home was somehow a show stopper. For a while, the only thing that could trigger my interest was “My name is Red” and the part-fantasy-part-philosophical-puzzle, described in its pages; the miniaturists, dervishes and the society under the reign of Ottoman Sultan Murat III.

  • Sweet tooth

This weekend, I got the chance to have a glimpse at the Turkish society. I was charmed by the streets simit sellers with their vintage trolleys or their Turkish bagels acrobatically held on top of their heads; the clams sellers that would lure you with some raw clams seasoned with a squeeze of lemon, right in the middle of Taksim Square. I was fascinated by Turkish people devotion for their pastries. Imagine to see a tall, strong, dark man, having his tiny cup of Turkish tea in one hand and eating delicately his piece of baklava or almond and roses delight, with the other hand.

  • Medical Tourism

 There is a big part of Turkish society that I did not understand or I had to look it up, which makes it even more delightful than the sweets they sell in the Grand Bazaar. If you walk in Sultanahmet – Old City of Istanbul, it’s impossible not to see some men wearing a black headband and having some bloody scars and white bandages covering their heads. We initially thought they were part of a religious cult or it was a status symbol. However, it was the end result of a hair transplant procedure, offered by upscale clinics from Istanbul.

  • Friday- time for rest and protest

Friday, at lunch time, we went at the Simit Saray from Taksim Square to grab a bite. In front of the cafe, there were around 40 policemen, fully equipped with normal and tear gas guns, some of them, attentively scrutinizing the passersby, some just watching their phone or chatting lively. In Turkey, Friday is the holiday, so everybody is free, increasing the chance of movements or protests, so Polisi representatives are there, just in case.

  • Blindness and big fishes

Afterwards, we went to see the Blue Mosque, which it seemed like a good fit for out plans, but, after a through research it was a bad idea, as Friday is the day for collective prayers in the Mosque and tourists are politely asked to come to visit later. Saturday we came back to the Mosque and it was an amazing experience. Blue and sumptuous, this edifice made me think about the blind miniaturist Bihzad and about older Persian beliefs that a blind miniaturist gets the chance to paint the world from the dark, in a way that Allah would like. After filling our bellies with roasted chestnuts in the park of Topkapi Palace, we descended in the Basilica Cistern, to find the head of Medusa and to see  probably the biggest fishes in Istanbul. I won’t say more, if you are in Istanbul, don’t avoid it.

  • The good Kebap and The Bad Kebap

The best Kebab (with an amazing view), we ate at “The Kebap – Grill Stake and Kebap” and the worst, we had inside the Grand Bazaar (Derman Kebap), tasting literally like nothing but charcoal and chili. We stayed at Ottopera Boutique Hotel, which might give you the impression of living in a mahala, but its only 5 minutes away from Taksim Square and the bars/pubs/shops/metro area. The welcoming was lovely, the breakfast was cute and we even receive a goodbye gift (a Turkish delight and a traditional tea set).

  • The Museum of Innocence

I am not sure If I will go any time soon to Istanbul. I loved its charming streets, its messiness and invasion of fruits at any corner. I loved the  bus trips through the city, with wind coming through my hair and Turkish music in the headphones. I loved how Grand Bazaar merchants were giving us the Hagi discount, and I loved the colorful mahalas with narrow hills. But I am utterly happy that I’ve seen the Museum of Innocence.

After we checked out from the hotel, we got lost on the streets of Taksim, looking for the house of art built from the imaginarium of Orhan Pamuk. A Turkish lady, curiously inspecting us from her kitchen window, asked us something in Turkish. Guessing she wanted to help us (as we were looking pretty disoriented), I said “Museum”. Then she asked: “Orhan Pamuk?“, indicating us through signs “go down, one left, two right”. It was more beautiful then I thought, with small, miniatural slices of Turkish life, more European than Muslim. I got myself the oponimous book and we ran to catch the flight.

  • The moment

I still got the shivers from that moment. We were walking on a narrow, paved, cats invaded street, searching for Basilica Cistern. Perky, smiling merchants, with dirty aprons and fruity hands were offering us fresh pomegranate juice, at any step. My eyes were feasting on every corner, on abandoned buildings, boasting with plants and painted, moldy walls. On a street, guarded on both sides by lemon trees and kebab boutiques, I had the most amazing moment. In a three senses immersion, the smell of Ottoman cuisine and baklava’s sticky sweetness was topped by a prayer coming from the speakers hanged in the trees. The sun was passing the zenith, so it was time for İkindi prayer (Asr; 17:07, 5:07 pm). The voice of the man singing in the mosque, saddened me deeply, watering my eyes. In front of me, two kids were running after a stray cat and behind me, the water from Bosphorus strait was scintillating in the sun.

The End

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