Mar 262010

I’m wondering if I’ve missed out on my chance to run off with a Turkish man 10 years younger than me by turning down his offers to: 1) take me to lunch, 2) take me to dinner, 3) take me on a tour of Topkapi Palace, 4) sell me a Turkish carpet for $850.  Ah the lost opportunities in life.

But I did get a chance to drink some Turkish apple tea, meet his brother, see the family’s terrace that overlooks the Bosphorus and Hagia Sophia, and hear much of Kerem’s life history…plus got a tour of the Blue Mosque.  All in all, kind of a fun experience. And if I feel the need to spend $850 on a carpet, I wouldn’t buy it anywhere other than the family store.

And I thought it was sort of sweet that he warned me about walking around the Old Town by myself, that I would likely have lots of Turkish men trying to drag me off to sell me carpets, and that I really should do my touristing elsewhere until my friend Kathy joins me.

I sort of scoffed at his suggestion, knowing I could take care of myself. And I thought I did pretty well with the first set of Turkish carpet sellers who tried to strike up a conversation that led directly to their store…except they followed me the length of the Hippodrome (sort of a park)  telling me I was breaking their hearts by acting rude and brushing them off…and then there was the next one (Hello, what is your name?)….and the next one (Beautiful carpets, good quality)….and…well, you get the idea.

They’re not put off by my walking away and ignoring them. They’re not put off by my saying I’m not shopping. One even believed me when I told him I was from Stuttgart, Germany (although we were speaking in English). I think my line for the rest of the trip will be “I’m Anastasia from Belfast.” But that’s unlikely to dissuade them either, I suppose.

My fairy tale image of Istanbul from last night (delicate minarets glowing from the lights above the mosques, the plaintive sound of the evening call to prayer hovering in the night air) was replaced by this morning’s reality that Istanbul is a popular tourist destination. And where there are tourists, there will be lots of enterprising businessmen willing to sell things to tourists.

Still, I decided to escape Old Town and move into the New District for awhile, walking the length of Istiklal Street. Quite a contrast. Other than the street musicians having an Oriental flair to their music, I could have been on any pedestrian shopping street in any European city. Big storefronts, electronics stores, the ubiquitous Bennetons (I think they hit a new city even before McDonalds does), and of course, lots of American fast food. In fact, in the 20-minute length of this street, I found four Starbucks. That’s a ratio worthy of Seattle.

I’ve successfully mastered the Istanbul public transportation…at least so far. (Which is pretty good considering every time I attempt to take public transportation in my home town of Seattle, something goes horribly awry.) The one trick is figuring out how to cross the street to get to the island where you catch the tram.

Pedestrians definitely don’t have the right-of-way here. In fact, based on my driver from the airport last night, an Istanbul driver would be more likely to use their car to push a pedestrian out of their way than to even consider the notion of stopping to let someone cross. (And likely would be driving the wrong way on a one-way street at the same time.)  The only way I’ve found it safe to cross a street is to find a group of locals, plant myself firmly in the center of the group, and allow them to sweep me across the street when they’ve decided (on what criteria, I have no idea), that they can safely make it across. If I can’t find a herd of Turks, I can’t cross a street.

My first 24 hours…at just about this time yesterday, my plane was landing. On to more adventures (and likely more carpet salesmen) tomorrow.

  2 Responses to “Istanbul First Impressions”

  1. Oh the memories you bring back! I actually own a 9×12 Turkish rug, purchased in Foca (on the coast) and shipped back to us (we waited 4 months and got kind of nervous). It’s one of our most valued possessions. But we had the help of a Turkish friend and knew what we were getting! Got in a big fight with a taxi driver who added a couple extra zeroes to our bill and tried to get $70 instead of 7 (not sure if the money still comes in million zeroes or not). Almost got killed crossing streets. I’m still trying to duplicate the taste of the yogurt I had on a public ferry ride up the Bosporus. And we got reeled in by a guy who said he’d seen us earlier that day and wanted to show us the best (pricey) restaurant. Hook, line and sinker. We stayed in the old town the whole time, except for venturing up the Bosporus. Loved every minute. Enjoy!!!!

  2. Ha ha, ha ha! Crossing the street sounds very familiar to cities like Hong Kong, Hanoi, and Saigon, you take your chances! But it is mainly motorcycles over there rather than cars which can really do a good job of flattening you.

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