Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gobbling kebabs in Turkey

Previous experience told me I should fly from Santorini to Istanbul. I wasn't prepared for another two day stint on buses and ferries and trains and the flights were quite cheap. I arrived late at night and found my hostel down a narrow cobblestone alleyway full of little kiddy chairs and tables with people playing backgammon (not badminton, hey Fi), smoking shi-sha and drinking in little cafes with waiters trying to hassle all the passers by. My hostel seemed to be on the busiest street in Istanbul. Lucky I was exhausted and collapsed into bed.

In the morning I met up with Fi and Shelley to do some shopping at the Grand Bazaar and to go and see a mosque or two. We caught the metro which used these cool little tokens that made you feel like you had won the jackpot whenever you purchased them in the machine. We arrived at the Grand Bazaar and the hassling began. First a man at the entrance asked if he could feel my hair and then just went ahead and did it anyway. We got called everything from "Spice girls" to "Angels" to "Shakira" in the stall owners attempts to lure us into their stores. One of my favourites was "Hey, you wanna come into my store and by some things you don't need?". But some of the vendors were really fun. We spent a while picking out some gorgeous cashmere scarves with a man who showed us a cool way of tying them and then offered up his arm to parade us around his store once we had them on. So cute. At another store they gave us some Turkish tea and gave us a lesson in how to spot the quality scarves while we showed them the new scarf tying technique we had just learnt.

Then Shelley got her bum pinched in the crowd (lucky nothing else got pinched - apparently there are some expert pickpocketers in the Grand Bazaar) and we decided it was time to bail. We walked around and saw some mosques before deciding it was simply too hot to function any more. The next day we did more sightseeing and shopping, this time doing the Spice Bazaar where walking around you could smell every type of exotic spice displayed in big piled up pots and buy some fantastic Turkish Delight. We also had a Turkish bath, which was certainly an experience even all the onsen in Japan couldn't prepare me for. We walked into the big stone room which was centuries old and these old ladies with huge floppy bellies who were walking around in black underwear simply whipped off our towels and motioned us to lie on our backs on a big stone slab in the middle of the hexagonical room. There were already other girls laying around it, so we did as we were told and they proceeded to scrub us down with big soapy sponges as we lay there in nothing but undies. I felt like I had stepped back in time, as the building was so old and everyone was laying around like sirens from a Greek myth or something. Then they wash your hair for you (I felt like I was 4 years old again) and then the best part - a half hour oil massage.

That night we went to see a belly dancing show. Of course I got summoned onto the stage by the lady who was acting as the Sultan's mother and ushered out the back of the stage. They put a scarf thing on my head and what they didn't tell us was that we were going to have to go out and dance in front of everyone, to see if we were good enough for the Sultan's Harem. So they played some Turkish belly dancing music and I shook my booty like Beyonce... I'm pretty sure the Sultana was impressed. Fi and Shelley were just laughing their asses off at me. We then went to find a nice bar to drink at. We stumbled upon one that had some cool live Turkish music flowing out the front door, so we sat down for a beer/wine. But we were drawn inside and decided to have a bit of a dance, only to find we were the only foreigners in the whole place, which was fine with us! A song came on that everyone clearly knew and they all got in a circle and joined pinkies (which we were right in the middle of) and we danced around kicking our legs and laughing. Apparently there was some significance of a guy who had a napkin, so we called it "The Napkin Dance". Very fun. Then we sat outside again and an old man started passing fruit out to us, some of it we had never seen before. So random. Then a guy tried to teach us some Turkish - even a simple thank you was beyond us. Shelley thought she had it down pat, then tried it on another Turkish man who replied "Sorry, I don't speak English". Oops, nice try Shelley!

The next day Shelley decided she needed a belly dancing scarf, so we went back to the Grand Bazaar. Now, Shelley is clearly a natural born haggler, because the lady in the shop was so unimpressed with the price she named, she pointed at Shelley and said "This is bad!" as if she was an evil force that needed to be eliminated. But she gave us the named price anyway, not before Fi had upended a whole hat full of tiny beads all over the shop, which Shelley and I thought was hilarious.

Then it was time for Fi and Shelley to leave on a plane bound for London, and I farewelled them and set to making some plans for my remaining week in Turkey. Coincidentally, I found out my cousin Ana was flying to Istanbul the next day, so I decided to wait for her. That night I went to see the whirling dervishes, a branch of Islam that go into a meditative state through turning in circles. It sounds a bit silly, but it was actually quite interesting, and a lot of the beliefs outlined in the brochure reminded me of Christian beliefs. I think our religions are closer to each other than most people think. It took us a while, but Ana and I found each other and caught up on things over a meaty dinner of doner kebab, which really is just lamb off a spit with no salad or any other filler to speak of. Mmm, meat. We did a three hour ferry cruise down the strait between Asia and Europe and then rushed around to do some sightseeing. At the Spice Bazaar I was looking for a present for my dad and an old man tried to convince me that he would really like some Turkish viagra. Considering it was just a huge ball made of nuts I was pretty sure it wouldn´t make it back to Australia and decided my dad would probably prefer some Turkish delight.

The next day we caught a 6 hour bus to Canakkale, the base for tours to Gallipoli. Unfortunately, as I was stepping off the kerb with my backpack on, my ankle decided to give way and for the first time in my life I sprained my ankle. Ana was very sympathetic and was laughing too hard to help me up as I lay sprawled in a ditch with my backpack still on. I was halfway between crying with pain and laughing with embarrassment, as everyone was staring at me. Luckily the guy at our new hostel (who thought he was so Aussie, using phrases that only old men at the RSL would use like "kangaroo loose in the top paddock") was a little more sympathetic and gave me some cream and a bandage to ease the pain. The next day we were doing a Gallipoli tour, so I decided to rent some crutches. The lady at the medical centre didn´t speak any English so she brought in a translator from the shop next door and I had to buy a crutch for ten Lira (about 7 AUD). Ana thought it was hilarious that I was doing Gallipoli on a crutch. I´m glad someone got some joy from my pain :).

So we spent the next day travelling on a bus to Ayvalik which seemed like a cute little seaside town. Unfortunately I didn´t get much time to explore it as the only bus I could get back to Istanbul left at 10am the next day! Dóh! But Ana and I had a nice wine by the water and ate some amazingly juicy peaches and stayed in a gorgeous little homely hostel. Then it was time to say goodbye as Ana went on to Greece and I flew to Spain. I hate goodbyes. At least we would be catching up again for Oktoberfest in September. Can´t wait!

Farewell (just for a little while),

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