Departing Istanbul today, I figured things would only get better.
Now mind you, that is some pretty long odds. I’d already been given tearful parting gifts by a waiter I’d met once, found a pal in my hotel staff barman and never yet been disappointed by a meal. The law of averages was sure to kick in soon, whether I was in the Land of Wonder or not.
After spending a day in Samsun, I assure you: It gets better and better.
Before I regale you with photos of what I saw in Istanbul, I’ll share an anecdote from my ongoing discoveries about Turkish hospitality – each a eureka moment:
I had managed to partial amputate the power cord of my laptop, then short out the adapter box. Given that it came with my laptop, and was from the US, I thought I was out of luck. I ended up in a small electronics store, faced with a taciturn Turk.
“Merhaba,” I say. “Cord broke.”
He then proceeds to grab the power cord from me. He pops off the rubber feet. He urges me to sit. Then he unscrews the whole adapter section of the cord and begins to tinker.
I wait, mystified that service was not only instant, but productive. The fellow works with a soldering iron on the adapter itself, cuts a new cord, wires it. All the while, he exchanges somnolent “Salaams” with various quiet visitors who enter, sit, mellow.
Finally, he’s done. We test it. Sure enough, it fits the laptop and runs perfectly.
How much, I ask.
“5 Lira.” He tells me. About three dollars and change.
This kind of thing is not uncommon here. It’s practically the rule.
Now for Istanbul:
On the first day, I saw the mosque of Sultan Akhmet – the Blue Mosque. Akhmet struck me as kind of like Reagan – he presided over a time of relative growth and strength for the Ottoman Empire, and pioneered new frontiers of debt in the process of making Ottomans proud of their country again.
Anyway, his mosque has more minarets than just about any mosque, so there.
There are more rug salesmen inside the mosque courtyard than worshippers in the mosque – and this is Ramadan, mind you. Inside is quiet lovely and dim, with lighting that webs every capacious and frilly angle with its dangling wires. It is a very peaceful place.
Outside the Blue Mosque is the Hippodrome, NASCAR track for its epoch – the place where tens of thousands of plebs gathered to get bombed, watch vehicles whirl around and around the track, and secretly hope for a crash.
Unlike Talladega, the Hippodrome’s chariot races revolved a gigantic bronze plated column (that had its awesome bronze plates melted down into weapons by invading Crusaders), a beheaded serpent column from 490 BC, and this mighty obelisk, a third of its original size, from 1500 BC.
The next day took me to Topkapi Palace, where generations of Turk decorators veered between saturating themselves in their steppeland frippery and emulating the design styles of Europe.
It was vast, drafty, and extremely ornate. The rambling green space is made for both cultivating flowers and playing Cirit – a form of polo where you hit the other riders, not a ball, with a stick. In this is, it is distinctly Turkish.
Quite distinct is the Hagia Sophia – our next stop – which is distinctly Byzantine. This means it’s looming, like some primeval dinosaur created by a Judgment Day deity, sleeping in red brick before the showdown. Its guts are dark and rumbling, enough to swallow the largest western church.
Once a basilica church, then a massacre site, then a mosque, and now a museum, the Sofia is one fierce, forty-story fossil.
A milder delight is the Archaeological Museum near the palace – the mot just of my trip. It has a great array of artifacts from the origins of the world up to the soaring economies of Pax Romana, and then down into the tribal clumsiness of Dark Ages Byzantine art.
Above is a statue of Oceanus, one of the patrons of Ephesus, with Zeus reclining behind him. They are but a few of the hundreds upon hundreds of pieces of beautiful old stone there – so many that they spill over into snack stands, cat gardens and bathrooms.
More to come as I head east!
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