The Grand Bazaar

We visited the Grand Bazaar twice. One late afternoon we made a “scoping,” toe-wetting, exploratory, exciting foray to “get a feel.” It’s bigger and more fascinating than I even imagined – more than 4000 shops offering everything from tourist trinkets to antiques – textiles, silver and gold jewelry, ceramics, silken ware, light fixtures, prints, books, and much, much more – all along street-like arteries and byways, under a high curved ceiling of tile or patterned paint.

Persistent shopkeepers assail would-be customers with jokes in English (and probably jokes on us in Turkish), “Do you feel like seeing some of my rugs. I could feel like showing you some of my rugs!”

At one point the trail boss said yes (his spirit of adventure to bargain strengthened by the sweet bride who has been bartering all her life at home in Thailand), and we climbed tiny stairs inside a shop to a low-ceilinged space. Of course the salesman was charming, calling my good-natured husband “uncle,” offering us tea and chairs, and explaining the quality of his carpets by showing the double knotting and describing the natural dyes.

So, so beautiful. I am no good at bargaining anyway – and speechless in front of these glorious rugs. (I love the worn and bedraggled rugs we have, many tufts gone from the one in my studio – the pattern fragmented – but still a constant, daily pleasure.) So I tried to stay quiet and drink my apple tea, only reminding the trail boss quietly that he had a birthday to celebrate coming up.

The salesman quickly figured out the styles and colors most tempting to the young people (who kept saying “so beautiful, but more than we can afford”), and instructed his assistant to bring carpet after carpet to unroll and spread out, till we were surrounded by carpets on the walls and in layers on the floor.

Then one after another he’d ask, “This one you like?” An irresistible question, our minds want to make that decision. Soon just a few remained spread out on the hardwood floor – not large rugs, but alive with peachy warm tones and blue and red in geometric designs, both mysterious and utterly satisfying.

But no agreement on price. “Thank you for tea, the rugs are beautiful, but more than we can afford.” Much regret all around.

On our second, more deliberate day, the trail boss having figured out how to decode the maze of shop addresses, we returned with a list of shops in hand (I wanted linens for a wedding shower present for the daughter of my clever friend and found large Turkish towels in muted stripes with tasseled ends, and also rose kilim pillow covers for the young writer’s reading couch). And, we went back to the carpet store.

The trail boss is by trade a good negotiator, but admitting defeat in the face of desire, he named a price, heard the counter offer, the sweet bride suggested a third number – and suddenly, deal done, the rug was wrapped tightly in a whir of strapping tape and paper into a carry-on duffle for the airplane.

A grand day at the Grand Bazaar and a rug for a lifetime and beyond.

The Grand Bazaar

On the Bosphorus

Touts repetitively beseech you with “Bosphorus, Bosphorus, boat boat boat ride!” when you walk down Istanbul’s broad sidewalk waterfront. They are right. The boat’s the best.

We live on the Strait of Juan de Fuca across from Canada, and it is wider and has much less vessel traffic than the Bosphorus strait. There we watched all kinds of ferries, fishing boats, cruise ships, and tankers perpetually jostling for clearance. Mosques, hotels, summer homes, palaces, bridge access, and recreational beaches line the shores of the Bosphorus, both the European and Asian sides are completely developed.

We caught the 10:30 a.m. excursion ferry, and sat by the window for the hour and a half it takes to arrive at Eminönü on the Asian side, a fishing village become tourist destination. From the water we could see our goal – Adadolu Kavagi Kalesi – a ruin with a strategic position and a breathtaking view.

People piled off the ferry and dispersed. Like us, many began the steep hike up a street to the medieval castle. Rain caught us half way up, forcing a lunch stop with a view back toward the skyscrapers of Istanbul.

At the top a guard let us through the castle gate, and we leaned against a sturdy wall (only fragments remain from the original eight towers), thrilled to view the Black Sea and two continents!

Back in Eminönü, we caught a local bus full of shoppers juggling their baskets on wheels and rode past military installations, farmer’s markets, and small villages. In Kanlica, another steep climb led us to an elaborate residence, Hidiv Kasri, its impressive gardens now open to the public (and popular for wedding photos).

Back down the hill to the ferry stop, and across the strait to our beginning dock – just at sunset.

Bosphorus, Bosphorus! Yes!

Bosphorus Day

Istanbul – The Dark Side (Not)

A faithful reader asked when the travel stories would appear and again expressed dismay (he’s complained about this before) at the limitations of “Her Spirits Rose…,” pointing out that my posts are always upbeat – is there no dark side he asks?

As I began to write about the trip, I thought about that and how little tension from travel travails really impacts a trip’s overall flavor. This one had discomforts for sure: the cold and rain in Tuscany, getting sick, and concern about the Turkish protests. (I had a moment of real iPhone love as I sat in my bed in Rome, found the Istanbul hotel on the Internet, pushed the phone number, and spoke to a reassuring desk clerk who explained how far the hotel was from Taksim Square). But modern travel is a miracle – waking up knowing I get to take a boat on the Bosphorus to the Black Sea, see beautiful things and historic places. No darkness there.

The sheer pleasure of being with my family in such settings overwhelms my memories. The trail boss has an infectious embrace of life. He searches for gardens now that he’s a gardener, loves to sit on the piazza and watch the scene, is pretty much indefatigable, and the best route finder and guide book reader imaginable. To try and keep up with him and his always game sweet bride makes me really happy. And laugh. At each other, at ourselves.

Because of feeling not so great some of the time, I was doubly appreciative of my good-natured companions, and I can’t help wanting to celebrate that here.

It’s a good adventure to follow along wooded lanes or through Istanbul’s ancient spice bazaar (with an unusual detour through the dog and cat food market, stall after stall of animal chow), around the New Mosque, the Galata Bridge, and the Istanbul Post Office! (Actually a swell place with wooden benches where we stopped to get out of the sun and the crowds, watched regular people mailing parcels and buying stamps, and admired tile and woodwork.)

There is darkness in the protesters hurt in Taksim Square, and in the reality of being in a country where local television didn’t cover the demonstrations at all. But we walked by an Iranian embassy in Istanbul, making you think about Turkey as a link between two worlds, that badly need connection, in the same way Istanbul physically bridges two continents.

It is such a privilege to have actually been in Istanbul, and I’ll finish out the record with a few album pages of our four days – no time at all in a city so rich. I imagine thinking back as time goes on – remembering food and sights not covered here.

On the Internet are beautiful photos, a Google away, of the amazing places we visited – digital albums of stained glass and tile and carpets, imagery as rich as Istanbul’s history. (Hagia Sophia, in particular, has a virtual presence with videos of the dome and gorgeous photos.)

I owe my sister-in-law, long-time Turkey traveler, for the pleasure of reading “Strolling Through Istanbul” by Hilary Sumner-Boyd and John Freely before we left – a way to really learn about the city, stroll markets and monuments – from a summer armchair!

Tiles - Topkapi Palace Harem

A Tale of Istanbul and Italy

     At the end of May and beginning of June, we (my good-natured husband, our younger son, and his sweet bride) were lucky to do another ATG walk in Italy (from San Gimignano to Siena), spend a little time in Florence and Rome, and then four days in Istanbul.

As I began to write this post, I realized that just a week earlier I spent the morning at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and the afternoon at Topkapi Palace. Late that afternoon I sat on the hotel’s rooftop terrace reading news reports of ongoing protests and a year-old article by Dexter Filkins about Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan.

From the roof I could see – across the waterway where the Golden Horn, the Marmara Sea, and the Bosphurous all meet – the skyscrapers of modern Istanbul and the location of Taksim Square and Gazi Park, scenes of the demonstrations.

     The hotel was in the old part of Istanbul, the Constantinople of history and novels, for more than 2,000 years the center of trade and commerce, adventure and conquest. A short walk or quick tram ride from the hotel led to major sites: the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Basilica Cistern built by the Romans in the 6th Century and filled with eerie light, Medusa head sculptures, and 336 marble columns.

Fortified, developed, conquered, and embellished, Istanbul is so old – both exotic and modern, linking Asia and Europe. Women in burkas, women in tank tops, many in headscarves. Young people with Twitter accounts making themselves heard,

     My body is here in the Northwest again, but my mind is really unfocused. I’m trying so hard to figure a way to absorb – and share. I haven’t so many notes or drawings as I’d hoped. But I have desire to tell and energy is slowly returning.

Maybe a little chronology, but mostly I think about individual moments and objects – having to buy wool hats and plastic ponchos for walking through Tuscany, apples from many sources, the sweet bride’s pedometer showing 4 miles on a “rest day,” roadside shrines and astonishing mosques, and ibuprofen and cough drops from an Italian pharmacy.

So what follows here for a while will be not so much a tale as a medley of travel notes, realities of travel, spirit lifters of travel.

Map of Istanbul