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Journeys : Apr May 2012
When it’s clear we are not in the market for a carpet, he moves away and we are left to marvel at the imposing structure before us. The dying sun glints through the trees, casting shadows over cascading domes and setting gold-tipped minarets on fire. As we wander, the evening call to prayer, plaintive and haunting, wends its way through the sultry summer air. The same call to prayer wakes us at five the next morning. Breakfasting on our hotel terrace we are greeted by a view of the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya on one side, the Sea of Marmara on the other. I want to linger and drink it all in but we head across early to Topkapi Palace in the hopes of beating the queues. The harem is a highlight. We w ind through hallways and courtyards, every available surface covered in hand-painted iznik tiles. The designs are intricate, the colours a wash of turquoise and lapis lazuli. Our afternoon is a lazy exercise in getting lost. The Grand Bazaar is a bewildering maze of stalls and shops, and the range of goods is mind-boggling – potter y, jeweller y, gold, leather goods, carpets, clothing and copper ware. We see only a fraction of what’s on offer before seeking refuge from the crowds in a sheltered courtyard and relaxing over endless cups of tea. The Spice Bazaar is smaller but just as busy. Shops are crammed with pyramids of spice, Iranian saffron, dried fruit and nuts, bottles of oil, jars of honey and mounds of jewel-like lokum or Turkish delight. We leave the market laden with various spices, loose tea and vacuum-sealed boxes of Turkish delight. On the way back to our hotel we make a necessary stop to purchase an extra suitcase. Taking a Bosphorus cruise shows us a different side of the city. Our boat hugs the shoreline for a closer view. Expensive homes graced with pools and landscaped gardens are interspersed with more humble dwellings. Men fish and dive from the rocks, kids play ball in the streets. Back at Eminonu we disembark and stroll over to nearby Galata Bridge for tea. The ritual of drinking tea in Istanbul is beginning to seduce me – tiny glasses and spoons, stirring in small cubes of sugar. We linger on the bridge to watch rows of men fishing from the pier, rods dangling over the side, their fishing line swaying gently in the breeze. By the time we return to Eminonu the sun is a fiery orange ball, throwing the nearby mosques into sharp relief. Gulls wheel overhead and blocks of yellow light fall between the bustling crowds. Vendors sell colourful pickles, ice cream and bagels from carts. Tightly-moored boats rock on the water – gaudily-decorated with gold and neon, they are f loating restaurants. Smoke rises in clouds from large hotplates as men frantically work to cook and assemble fish sandwiches, before passing them across to waiting hands. The following day we once again brave long queues, this time for a glimpse of Aya Sofya. Little of the exterior prepares me for the grandeur that waits inside. Light floods in through stained glass windows, the effect ethereal and other-worldly. The soaring ceiling is patterned and beautiful. Climbing to the upper gallery distances us from the din of the crowd below and gives us a magnificent view over the whole of the interior. Readying ourselves for a long f light, we make our last stop at Cemberlitas, an historic Turkish bath. I make my choice from their menu of options before saying goodbye to my husband and heading for the women’s section. An attendant directs me to the raised marble platform that lies under a domed roof. Another attendant gives me an exfoliating scrub and I rinse off in one of the small antechambers. Then I have as much time as I like to relax again on the platform. The effect of the warm marble is soporific. Steam fills the air and the light filtering down from the roof is hazy and diffuse. Eventually I drag myself up and rinse off once more. Emerging from the bathhouse and into the early evening light I feel disoriented for a moment by the crowds on the street. As we make our way back towards our hotel, bypassing the Blue Mosque, the evening call to prayer fills the air once more. Our time in Istanbul has been brief, a short taste of what this magnificent city has to offer. I don’t want it to end. Later, at the airport, I’m already contemplating our return. Destinations April / May 2012 19
Feb March 2012
Jun Jul 2012