Day 25 - Kadikoy on the Asian side of Istanbul, the Blue Mosque, and the Grand Bazaar
The tram we wait for to get to the Moda seaport takes ages. When it comes, it is rickety, well-used, and loud. It sputters its way up the steep main street, curves round to narrow, cobbled laneways and screeches loudly and for a long time when passengers open its doors when it doesn't want to open its doors. It's a tram full of character and complaints. Rob asks a woman about a stop for the Moda seaport and she's frazzled but gets us to get off the tram with her. She gives us strict instructions not to follow the street we see with the sea down the end, but to go away from it down another. She promises "a panoramic view".
We cross the water on the eponymous Istanbul ferry and land in Kadikoy, the Asian side of Istanbul. I don't know why they call it the Asian side but when I get there it's bustling, there's lots of students and 30 somethings, and the locals outnumber the tourists many, many times. I love that. I was convinced to visit by this article and we follow this lady's guide because I like to crowdsource and take tips from random people on the internet. The ferry trip is glorious. Seagulls extend their wings and wheel behind the boat's wake. On the boat, you feel relief from the traffic on the islands.
With blind trust put on an internet article plus a random stranger, we do end up at the old Moda Seaport with the promised panoramic view. It's barely lunchtime but Kadikoy still seems half-asleep, still in waking-up mode. At this hour, the population is made up of young couples walking their dogs along the sea. We sip espresso and Turkish tea overlooking the sea at the Tarihi Moda Iskelesi Restaurant. I'm tempted by the breakfast buffet but hold back. I watch a woman bring a plate heaped high with bread back from the buffet. I'm seriously impressed by her buffet skills. Later on, we're waylaid by waffles.
Back inland, we're in the cobbled, narrow lanes of antique-shop alley. I plunge into one. If I didn't know it was an antiques shop, it could easily be mistaken for a dump. While there, I contemplate a duck-egg blue alarm clock from the 60s, several rusted vintage tins, an egg pan, and silverware. In the end, looking was enough and we leave. I have an 18 kg suitcase and Turkish Airlines will only let me on with 20. Clanking around with vintage Turkish silverware will do me in. The old man sitting at the entrance to his shop with his cat never looks up once, even when the cat swipes at his face for his attention.
We try to follow the guide which promises a gawk at a bronze statue of some sort and another lane with antique books but our map skills, even with Google map, fails us once again. We'll never be orienteerers. We self-medicate our disappointment by navigating to a street with lots of shops and restaurants. We eat at Happy Moon. The article promised "world cuisine". Happy Moon delivers substandard, plastickly Mexican food. Oh well. Even at 2 pm, the locals are only up to eating breakfast mezzes.
Down the main shopping strip, I disappear into an accessories store that swallows every 20 or 30 something woman that attempts to walk past it. It's Uzak Isiklar and if you click on the website, you'll be treated to a lovely muzak version of My Heart Will Go On. A lady shoves a plastic container at me. There are women in there with heaping piles of jewellery and stuff. I look at the prices. It's about 1 to 3 liras for earrings that you'd normally pay NZD$10 for. My mouth drops open and I start flinging random tack into my plastic box. Rob amuses himself outside on the sidewalk by watching a young kid drumming with his brother.
The afternoon ferry back to Eminonu is crowded. A young girl plays her broken accordion for tips. The sea churns below and the spires of the mosques on the European side of Istanbul come back into view. We have two more touristy items on our list to cross-off; first, the Blue Mosque and second, the actual Grand Bazaar. The night before when I was doing research on Istanbul, I realised that we hadn't actually been inside the Grand Bazaar yet. We were merely on its outskirts.
The Blue Mosque is closed temporarily for prayers so we amuse ourselves by boredly buying Turkish hats from a guy wandering the square. He asks where we're from. We say "New Zealand." Puzzlingly his response is an enthusiastic, "Bora Bora! Tahiti!" "No. NEW ZEALAND." He's insistent "But you know, Bora Bora yes?" Sure, buddy. The guy needs to work on his opener.
We wear our hats, pose for cheesy pictures, eat ice cream and watch other people paying to dress up like sultans and have their pictures taken. I'm very tempted by the dress-up photo but luckily, we have to stand in line for the Blue Mosque.
The Blue Mosque is pretty disappointing. "I expected it to be bluer," says Rob afterwards. "Me too!" I said. Instead, it's more pastels. The New Mosque, which we saw on our first afternoon in Istanbul, was prettier, less crowded and less stinky. To get into mosques, you not only have to cover your legs and for ladies, wear a veil, but you also have to take your shoes off and wander around with your shoes in a plastic bag. What guidebooks can't properly describe to you is the accompanying stench. Tourists walk all day. When a hundreds of them take their shoes off at the same time, it generates a nuclear power of stinky feet. Inside, the Blue Mosque stinks so much, I literally gag a little and coach myself not to vomit. I counter by breathing through my mouth. Rob says, "EW! That means you can taste it." I shut my mouth and hurriedly take my obligatory tourist shots. Rob's approach is to stand by the nearest exit, trying to get a breath of fresh air. The next day, Rob describes the Blue Mosque as "Stinky Feet Mosque". It is irreverently apt.
It's nearly closing time at the Grand Bazaar. The night before, I'd read this article to prepare me for getting a good deal. I'm set on my Turkish towels. I've fondled many of them in a variety of shops around the city, gawked at the price tags ranging from 75 lira to 170 lira, and all the Turkish towels in the Grand Bazaar should be shaking in fear. On the road into the Grand Bazaar, I observe a lady, bargaining for something with a seller. She's got her money in the palm of her hands and she's thrust it out and looks away while the seller pleads with her. Clearly, she's gone for the Here's my money. Take it or leave it. That's a gutsy, advanced level move.
I circle several towel shops, all in a row. I dance around, bargaining with a couple of sellers, sizing them and their stock up. I linger to hear how much they're selling to others. Finally, I zero in on my towels of choice. They are bamboo and cotton, tastefully coloured and patterned, and soft, soft, soft. They aren't the fluffy, terry towelling kind. They are the slim, lightweight, almost scarf-like kind. They're intensely Turkish. I want them.
The seller opens with 35 lira for the organic bamboo, 45 lira for the cotton. I look indifferent and bored, as instructed by the article. I casually tell him I'll give him 80 lira for four. That's a grand total of NZD$44 for four large bamboo and cotton towels. He tries to shame me "WHERE? In SCOTLAND?" he gasps. That's all part of the game. I shrug and repeat my price again. Then I start to walk away. The panic sets in and he's calling after me, coming down in price. One line the article is in my head; Their need to sell must always outweigh your need to buy. It's true! I can go down two shops and try to get the same deal from another towel guy. Finally, I get my magic price by basically not really saying much at all, grunting, and looking very unimpressed. I get my Turkish towels for the price I wanted to pay - NZD$44 for four. I guess we are in Scotland then, buddy.
Over drinks, hot buttered shrimp, hummus and bread, Rob and I wear our stupid hats and laugh and laugh. It's Happy Hour at the Turkish Kitchen Pub. 3 lira for beer, 8 lira for wine. It's right on the tourist drag. He tells me that the entire time, I had a look on my face like Your towels DISGUST me.