Beguiling Istanbul (not Constantinople)

Istanbul is beguiling. I spent several days here over the long Easter break (on the grounds that I knew nothing would be shut here unlike the rest of Europe) and while one often comes up with several words to describe a city for Istanbul I always kept coming back to this one.  After all what else do you use for a city that straddles two continents, who was the capital of two major world empires, where all the cultures of the worlds mix together?

I’d have a drink at sunset on the rooftop terrace bar of the guesthouse I was at (Bahaus Guesthouse, seriously recommended), gazing at Asia across the Bosporus ahead with the spires of the Blue Mosque behind, listening to the haunting calls of the muezzins to prayer from all around the city.  There was no other word for it except for beguiling, except perhaps “enchanting” or “all around awesome, thanks for asking.”

Looking to another continent just a few kilometers away- I mean I’m the sort of person who still reads the “welcome to Ohio!” sign with great fanfare whenever I cross into that state, how do you think I could handle looking to Asia in a normal fashion?

Watching the boats plying up and down the Bosporus from tiny ferries darting back and forth to giant tankers whose foghorns invade the dreams of everyone in Istanbul was also a never-ending source of entertainment.  There are few things more lovely than watching the world pass by in front of you and imagining everyone’s story as they do so…

One of the many street cats in numbers one is used to in the Mediterranean.  Always fun to run across them, with the notable exception of the one time I was resting in my room and heard two tenuous meows, followed by a thump.  Turns out a cat had jumped in my open window in a clear attempt to check whether I’d left any food out (as prior guests surely have), though he was quick to jump back out when he saw no food and an unhappy occupant…

Plus there were flowers everywhere.  Fun fact: a few centuries ago a famous Turkish imam was asked by someone if there was anyone in a particular crowd was guaranteed to go to heaven, and the imam without hesitation chose a gardener.  When asked why his answer was according to Muslim tradition heaven is a giant garden and it’s understood that you’ll do what makes you happiest in heaven, so a gardener is a shoe-in for the afterlife.

Incidentally, between Turkey and now Holland I plan to be sick to death of tulips by the end of this month, but it does make Istanbul very lovely this time of year!

And of course one can’t forget the Grand Bazaar, and in fact all the shops and restaurants of Istanbul, didn’t hurt matters either.  You see, even the most touristy shop in Istanbul looks like a venerable Aladdin’s Cave of lamps and jewelry and carpets and who knows what else.  There are 3,000 shops in the Grand Bazaar, each with at least one person desperately trying to get your attention to look at some object or another.  If you’re actually considering buying something a lot of haggling over tiny glasses of Turkish tea ensues (there are countless young men running around the Grand Bazaar filling tea orders for the thousands of transactions occurring each day), which is pretty quick for something cheaper but can stretch far longer for major purchases.

I picked up a good quality leather jacket for less than half its original price after a good bit of haggling, and the most amusing thing about it happened when I inquired about whether the jacket was waterproof- without a word the seller whipped out his lighter and put a flame under the sleeve while it was still on me.  And then later the guesthouse owner was also admiring the quality of the jacket and a nearby girl was asking how he could tell… and without word the owner poured a nearby glass of water onto my sleeve (once again, while the jacket was still on me).

In both cases nothing happened as it’s of course a kickass jacket, but you can’t help but think it’s not the only time in history a Hungarian has been held to a flame and doused with water by the Turks. *wink*

As I said, somewhere between the adventure, the sights, the foods, and the people, I kept coming back to thinking how Istanbul is beguiling.  Trust me, there are definitely a few more stories on this topic to come…

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