I continue about Istanbul with my most treasured experiences while visiting last summer. This is the first:
THE DANCER IN THE ARASTA BAZAAR
Late in the afternoon I saw Istanbul for the first time from the plane. Surreal, dreamlike, it was barely visible through clouds that were like scraps of tattered old lace. It seemed like there were vast expanses of taupe-colored earth from which Istanbul’s matching magnificent buildings had sprouted like occasional arabesques of indigenous vegetation.
Later my first excursion from my room was at night. Serpentine tendrils of hauntingly exotic music lured me into a small bazaar. In an open-air courtyard I found musicians playing instruments I’d never seen. While the spectators smoked water pipes, a large man I would never thought capable of the grace of a dancer appeared and started turning slowly, eyes closed. His elegance, the softness of his motions…like a whisper on the breeze, held me spellbound. I was standing close enough to see an expression of spiritual purity that I didn’t believe could be faked.
The dancer wore a long brown, cylindrical hat; a black belt around his considerable girth; a white, waist-length jacket; and a flowing white skirt that reached his ankles. As he turned the full skirt slowly bellowed out around him in a circle, undulating with waves like the sea. Dimly I realized I was seeing a “whirling dervish,” but those words, with my culture’s relegating him to the status of some amusing curiosity, were immediately forgotten. Eyes still closed, ever so slowly, he raised his arms toward the moon and stars as he continued to turn, his long skirt a pearly white ocean rippling around him. He seemed to turn to that impossibly beautiful music forever, spinning through all eternity, while no one watching made a sound, and he never once opened his eyes.
Continuing with what I learned last summer while visiting Istanbul:
Tom Brosnahan’s excellent site was my bible, or should I say Q’uran? I refer you to it with just a few tweaks/additional thoughts. Like I would add to his wonderful advice about stretching out a five-day museum pass into six days by starting in the afternoon at out-of-the-way Chora Church (AKA Kariye Museum): You might also want to see the Istanbul Fethiye Museum (AKA Pammakaristos Church) on the same afternoon, since it’s about a 10-minute walk from Chora and is another small museum that’s a little out-of-the-way but was very well-reviewed on Trip Advisor. And I suggest keeping in mind that a lot of places in Istanbul have more than one name for the same thing, like the two examples I gave above.
Be warned: Personally, I found it hard to find a lot of what I consider basic information, like where exactly (streets, intersections, et cetera) the tram stops are. Although I was staying in Sultanahmet, the only way I could find the Sultanahmet T1 tram stop was by walking along the tracks I spotted to the left of Haggia Sophia until I located the station up a hill I’d never gone before. And I think it’s important to know that whereas tram tokens are purchased at vending machines (Jetonmatiks, jetons being tokens), tokens are also acceptable on ferries but not on buses. For a bus you need a card bought at a kiosk selling things like candy and cigarettes. (There may be ways to avoid all this with some kind of transportation pass, but buying one was never worth it for me since I walk, even great distances, just about everywhere I go.)
Quick, it’s time to book your summer travel before all the bargains are gone. I’ll contribute, in this and future posts, with what I learned last summer while visiting Istanbul:
THE ONLY PLACE TO STAY IN ISTANBUL
Assuming your priorities are:
- As cheap as possible but reasonably functional and clean.
- Easiest access to Istanbul’s antiquities.
- At least minimal kitchenette so you don’t have to pay to eat every meal out.
…AND you’re okay with climbing little stairs, Isabela’s sea-view studio (which accommodates from one to three people) is THE only place to stay in Istanbul. I’m not a friend or family (only met Isabela once), so I’ll warn you that the accommodations aren’t ritzy. But they’re perfectly adequate for anyone who wants to see Istanbul, not sit around staring at their hotel room all day. And with a humble-but-functional kitchenette so you don’t have to pay to eat out, and a location so close to all the sights on the historic peninsula that all you have to do is walk out the door and you’re tripping over them, the price couldn’t be better. An added bonus (who knew?) is that the sea-view balcony (where you can eat) has the best possible acoustics in the entire city for hearing the calls to prayer. On that balcony, overlooking the Sea of Marmara, the calls to prayer wash over you in waves as all the local mosques sing back and forth to each other in a lovely, haunting “stereo.” With sometimes intermittent internet service, Isabela is sometimes a bit slow to respond to email, but other than that my stay in her sea-view studio was perfect.
Click here to book Isabela’s sea-view studio.
“The poor quality of this new shipment is absolutely appalling.”
“It’s my suppliers. Whaddaya gonna do?”
“Oh come now. Half of your last batch died before we completed the first round of experiments. And this shipment’s humans look even less disease-resistant.”
“Who ya gonna go to instead?”
“Perhaps…one of the missions.”
“Them humans selling humans? What perks they givin’ out these days? Them frequent flyer miles? Think they’ll ever offer you…eternal life?”
“Look, God, let’s be real. That eternal life nonsense is about as likely to materialize as my last check to you that, of course, is in the mail.”