chapter lx

Time to finish the story of Greece and Turkey. I arrived home Thursday afternoon. The flight from Istanbul was delayed three hours, and I missed the connection to Halifax, so United put me up in a hotel overnight, and gave me food vouchers. It was probably better, because I was due in to Halifax at 0:30, meaning I would have been driving home in the middle of the night, after flying for ten hours. The room was enormous, at a Doubletree. Funny though, a $100/night room, and you had to pay for wi-fi! I didn’t. But did have a good sleep, nice dinner, breakfast, and arrived in Halifax around 1 pm, feeling refreshed. The drive home was nice, open roads, smooth and wide, and the scent of late summer. I love this time of year.

Random thoughts about the holiday. A couple favourite things: floating in the Aegean Sea, so clear, so blue and warm; whirling dervishes, very moving and deeply felt; hamam, such a treat and pampering. One thing I like about being in a Muslim country is the call to prayer five times a day. It reminds me to pause for a moment and give thanks, acknowledge that I am part of something much larger, and be present in this moment. The food was wonderful in Turkey, fresh and many vegetables. There is so much more to explore in Istanbul, one could spend weeks. I would love to go back, and then I look at the whole world, and how many other places I would love to visit. Traveling alone has real benefits, primarily interacting with many other people, being flexible enough to seize opportunities on impulse, or change plans.

I am moving out of a comfortable situation – the trip was the first step, the next is moving in a couple weeks. I groan every time I think of packing up again, and keep putting off starting. On the other hand, it will cut my rent by half, and if I do want to travel and have a little breathing space, this is the trade-off. I had a yard sale yesterday, and cleared out quite a few things; will have another one next Saturday, and hopefully have fewer things to move. Thankfully, it’s only across town, very small town. It is a sweet little house, too. I will have my own room, with a large closet and skylight, shared living room, dining room and nice kitchen, and a basement with a washer and dryer, and space for storage. Also a little shed outside for storage. Once I get in and settled, I’ll be glad. It is only a year lease, though which is what is giving me a sense of uprootedness. Who knows what can happen in a year, and where I will be then?

Last day in Istanbul, and a wonderful and full day. I wasn’t feeling very well this morning, but had a simple breakfast and tried to stay hydrated, and by mid-day was feeling better. I walked down to the pier to see about a sunset cruise on the Bosphorous, which sounds lovely, and then went down to Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque. Aya Sofya is awesome, just the sheer size of it for starters. The dome is 34 meters tall, it was built in 537, and for nearly 1000 years was the largest cathedral in the world, until it became a mosque in 1435. The icons are beautiful and the stonework incredible. Truly a holy place.

The Blue Mosque is across a large square from Aya Sofya, and rivals it in magnificence. It has intricate blue tiles, and many blue windows. Again, a holy place with so much history of worship. My camera has been kinky this whole trip, and stopped working in Aya Sofya, said the battery needs charging, but I just charged it a couple days ago, and sometimes has been giving a message “lens error”. I don’t know what’s going on with it, but resorted to┬átaking photos with the iPhone and I really don’t like how they come out, but better than nothing. We’ll see when I get home and have a good look at all of them.

I then spent the next few hours talking to a man in his rug shop. Only started talking because there was a row of old colorful wooden houses that I stopped to photograph. He asked

if I would like to see his rugs – they all do, and I made it clear that I was not going to buy a rug, but appreciate the beauty of old carpets, and know a little something about them. He took me downstairs where they keep the old ones, and they were all beautiful, such careful work, natural dyes, real wool and patterns that were each unique. I told him I was on my way to the hamam at Cemberlitas, and he wrote a note to the owner to treat me well. He had just returned from a trip to Canada, and likes Canadians a lot. He said the best time to go though is 7, so that you go home and have a good sleep. That put an end to the Bosphorous cruise, but next time. So we sat and drank tea for awhile longer, and it was about six, so I went to the hamam, and he said he would meet me after for tea. Then we went to a pipe house, and smoked apple tobacco, and I had a mint, rose and lemon tea, and then dinner. It was nice to spend time with a Turkish man who was just nice and wanted to show me some of Istanbul without an agenda. The hamam was wonderful, lying there and being washed, massaged, lathered with rose soap, rinsed, into the jacuzzi, very relaxing. It reminded me of the mud baths in California, just letting all the tension and tiredness go.

My flight tomorrow is already delayed a couple hours, although they say to be there as though it is leaving on time, as if. I just hope that the long connect time I made for the flight to Halifax doesn’t shrink. It is down to 1-1/2 hours now. I am sorry to be leaving, it has been an enjoyable time. One of the advantages of traveling alone is the chance to talk to many people. It has been fun.

What a full day yesterday. I walked from about 10 in the morning until 8 in the evening. Started out at the Grand Bazaar, gave it a good two hours. The place is huge, and like the Spice Market, sells almost everything, although I think the Spice Market has more practical things. I didn’t cover the whole Bazaar though, so can’t be sure. Every booth wants to draw you in, leather jackets, purses, ceramics, jewellery, scarves, shawls, textiles, drums, belly dancing costumes, on and on and on. Often it is the same thing over and over, so when you see something special, it really stands out. And crowds. Istanbul is a crowded city, people everywhere. I left the Bazaar thinking I would go over to the Blue Mosque, but somehow was twisted around, so walked for a long time in completely the wrong direction, up hills and down stairs cut into the sidewalks where it is steep, like San Francisco. Saw a huge mosque, so thought I might as well go inside and maybe orient myself. It was closed for prayer, so sat in the courtyard where it was cool and quiet, and talked for about an hour with an Australian traveler and we told each other stories. He was a little lost too, but we figured out where we were, and he headed me in the right direction when we left. Made my way to the bridge and transit to go over to Taksim, in what is called New Istanbul. From there, I walked all along Istikal Cadessi, down to Galata Tower where I had a very nice Anatolian meal. Stuffed melon with rice, ground beef, olives and herbs. I could taste dill. Very tasty.

I thought I might as well walk over the bridge, but it was not the bridge I thought, the Galata Bridge which is close to where I am staying. It was the farther bridge, so when I crossed, nothing looked familiar, and I thought I was lost again, but following the water found familiar sights, and got home. Tired, my legs did not want to move again. Had some nice experiences walking along the Iskital Cadessi. It is a very long pedestrian mall, with many upscale shops, chains, and I counted three Starbucks. Toward the bottom there are many music shops, so I looked at drums. Stopped at one, and sat drumming on a lovely small djembe while the owner played a large resonant djembe. He would give me a rhythm and then take off on wild eastern rhythms. It was fun, drumming is good anywhere. I would love to buy that drum, it is only about $50 but how to get it home? The thought of lugging anything extra just doesn’t work, and I really don’t have that money to spend. The credit cards are already bloated from coming here.

I am not feeling well today, began yesterday. Traveler’s tummy, and a wicked headache. I guess I will find a pharmacy and get on with my day. Last day here, will go to Aya Sofya and maybe a hamam. It is another beautiful day out there, and plenty of things to walk around to see.

Today was a day for sacred places, among other things. I went to Chora Church this morning, thanks to Molly for recommending it. What a beautiful place; Byzantine, covered with gold mosaics with so much detail and beauty. When you look at the colors still so vibrant after 1000 years, and the work that went into covering every surface, I just felt awed. It was worth a bus ride, which is interesting in itself. The bus I took into the city Friday passed a whole string of shops selling store mannequins. Today it was a whole string of bridal shops – one after another. Busses are interesting, too because you get out of the tourist trap, and see real people and where they live. After visiting the church, I had lunch at Asinate, a restaurant that serves food made as it was in the Ottoman era. They research old records, letters, ledgers and whatever other source they can find to recreate the food that was eaten at that time. I had an interesting pastry filled with pistachios, olives, cheese and green onion. It was very tasty. Of course, there were tomatoes and bread. No meal is complete here without tomatoes and bread. Typical breakfast is tomatoes, cucumber, cheese, olives and bread. The breakfast here at the Emin Hotel also has fruit and cold meats. Sometimes there will be a boiled egg.

This afternoon I went to the tombs at Aya Sofya, where sultans and their families were buried – you can imagine how elaborate those rooms are. Also wandered and found an area of shops that sell local crafts, not the usual tourist goods. Some very interesting things to look at. Also the Istanbul Handicrafts Market, where local artisans learn old techniques and produce new items with a contemporary and individual feel. The more I walk around and explore, the more I am loving Istanbul.

This evening I went to a ceremony of the whirling dervishes, and came out feeling as though I could fly, that being there while they danced lifted all of us up, took our spirits with them in their ecstasy. It was quite amazing. Had some Turkish meze after, a plate of vegetables prepared in different ways. It was very tasty and fresh; eggplant in tomato, spinach in yoghurt, potatoes, I can’t remember what else, and bread! Got drawn into a carpet store, I guess because what I saw in the window was not run of the mill. Anyway, the man took me downstairs to see some of their old carpets – for awhile in California I was apprenticing to repair antique carpets, and do love the colors, the stories that are woven into them, honour the women who kept the design of the whole thing in her head. So I made it clear right off that I was not there to buy anything, but would love to see what they have. It did turn into a sales pitch, but I had a nice glass of apple tea, and saw some lovely old carpets. The uncle was downstairs with us by that time, and cut the price of one more than half if I would buy it tonight. I made it clear that I was not going to buy anything right then, if at all. There is a beautiful small piece that is very tempting. I also saw a piece of embroidered silk this afternoon that is very beautiful, careful elaborate work.

Tomorrow I think I’m going to Taksim and explore that side of the river. Only two days left, and I still have not been to Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque, or the Grand Bazaar, except for a cursory visit before I left for Chalki. I know that I can’t just go all day, though without totally running out of steam, so if I don’t see everything it doesn’t really matter, just being here is good.

The staff here is so sweet – when I got back from the dancers, the man who made the reservation for me was on the front desk, and asked how I liked it. I told him how light I felt, and like flying, and he said you need a cup of tea now, and got me one. I saw someone washing the front of the hotel this morning. I also saw a street person wander in, and a waiter on the patio noticed and ran right in after him.

I don’t think I have eaten a meal inside since I arrived, not here or Chalki. Maybe the odd meal, but mostly outside. Restaurants all have tables outside, and in Chalki there were not even doors or walls, just a kitchen and then covered area where the tables all were. Nice. And great for people watching.

Yesterday was another one of those days when plans went south. Why did I assume that Dalaman airport connected to anything? I guess it would bel like flying into Halifax and assuming that you could get to Lunenburg easily. It would have made more sense to fly straight to Rhodes, I didn’t save a nickel going by ferry. The ferry was about 40 minutes late leaving Rhodes, which closed my 45 minute window to catch the 10:30 bus to Dalaman – the only bus!! So a $100 taxi ride. But I was not thinking clearly enough, it was still early in the day and my flight was not until nearly four. I could have stayed in Marmaris, had a nice breakfast outside in a cafe, sat by the sea and enjoyed the time. Instead, I was already in a taxi at the ferry dock, had to get into the town somehow, but when I went to the ferry dock to cross to Rhodes, I got a town bus for about 3 Tl. The cab driver, of course, was anxious for the fare, so took off, after we haggled some on the price. I hadn’t had breakfast yt, no coffee even. I had to leave before the pension served breakfast, and didn’t want to miss the ferry. By the way, the room in Rhodes the previous night was charming. Mango Rooms, situated in a far quiet corner of the Old Town, with a pleasant cafe, clean well appointed room, and a very large tree just outside that caught the breeze and shushed all night.

So I got to Dalaman Airport hours before my flight, paid airport prices for mediocre food, and was sorry that it turned out that way. But wait, the day was not over yet. Flight was pleasant, they served little sandwiches and coffee, no taking off shoes or separating liquids and gels, landed at the far airport and took transit into the city, but over the river from the hotel I had booked. Taksim Square, New Istanbul. Figured how to buy a transit pass, but how to know which bus? A man selling something on the street looked at where I wanted to go, and drew out the number 96, showed me where to catch it. Rush hour, like rush hour in any large city, thousands of people waiting for hundreds of busses. I waited about 45 minutes, and every number bus had passed but no 96, so I asked another man who was waiting and he told me which to get on, and stay on until the end. Great, but how to find my hotel? So I asked a woman who was getting off the bus, showed her the address of the hotel, and she said ok, you come with me. We walked for awhile, through a neighborhood where people really live and she was saying hello to people all along the way.we got to her house, and she called her teenage daughter down, who speaks better English. I found the hotel ok, but what a run-down nasty little place. The neighborhood is Kumkapi, close to a very large fish market. There are streets and alleys with seafood restaurants lining each side, lights strung everywhere, and each restaurant has a band, each playing at full volume. People get up and start dancing and clapping. It was as crazy as Las Vegas, or carnival. I managed to find a tiny kebab place in a side alley, but did sit in a pub for a $6 beer. It was an experience but I didn’t want to stay more than one night, so got on the Internet and found another room for the rest of my stay. Even had to wait an hour for breakfast this morning.
One more move this morning, dragging the wheelie and carrying the carry-on and purse. Went to the bus stop, again wondering which bus and a taxi driver approached. I thought, what the heck, it can’t be that far, why drag all this again? So I showed him the address where I wanted to go, and he didn’t understand it so moved me to another cab and driver. Bargained the price with this one, about $7, and felt ok about that. He was Kurdish, spoke about three words of English, although we did struggle to make conversation. He drove to a dead end, pointed up a hill and said, walk about a kilometer or kilometer and a half, and I would be there!! I tried paying him less than we agreed, he didn’t take me where I wanted to go, but my bag was in his trunk. Hmmmm.

I am so happy with where I am now. The Emin Hotel, in Sirceski district, clean, friendly, well-maintained with a restaurant and right on a tram line. A very nice part of town, easy to walk everywhere. And only one Euro more a night than the dump. So I have unpacked the bags and settled in for the next four days. Went to the Spice Market this morning; what a place. You can buy anything there, a real department store. I mean it, clothes, kitchen equipment, hoes and axes, boots, spices, fabrics, toys, party supplies, what do you want? Of course, Saturday morning the place was jammed. More varieties of Turkish delight that you can imagine. Too bad I’m not that crazy about Turkish Delight, but many other goodies.

Went to Topkapi Palace this afternoon and am still amazed. The opulence and beauty and luxury that they lived with is incredible. This is from the 15th to mid-19th century. I think about how people were living in Canada then – no comparison. The difference between the Old World and the New World. Beautiful grounds and setting with views over the Marmara Sea and mountains. I didn’t go to the Harem, although everyone says they are a must, but by the time I got there it was almost three, and the whole complex closes at 5, so I didn’t think I could do it all justice. There was a special exhibit about the harem, and harem life, which I think gave a good representation.

Tomorrow I think I’m going to venture out of the touristy old part and go up the Bosphorouss to some other neighborhoods and palaces and churches. I have tickets for whirling dervishes at a cultural centre tomorrow evening. I am looking forward to that. The other thing i really want to do when I’m here is visit a hamam. Istanbul really is a lovely city, with so much to see and taste and experience. You hear all languages, see all dress, many women with headscarves, bright colours and attractive. There are also some in burkas but not in great numbers. My experience is that Turks are warm and generous people, but stay away from cab drivers!

The days are warm but not too hot, and the evenings are lovely and cool. Perfect time of year to be here. I wish I could post photos, but will have to add them in when I get home, unless I can find a very cheap camera gizmo here. I feel like I have been bleeding money the past couple days, but things are more predictable now.

We are sitting in a cafe on the waterfront waiting for our ferry to take us away from this paradise. It has been a wonderful few days, relaxing and just hanging out. It doesn’t rain here until winter, just one sunny day after another. We have decided that floating in the Aegean is one of the favourite things that we have done here. The water is the most incredible blue, and so clear you can see to the bottom even far out. There were two beaches we went to, a white sandy beach, and a pebble beach. I think my favourite was the sandy beach, shallow way out, warm water and just lovely. When you go to the beach here, there are lounge chairs and umbrellas – the sun is way too intense not to have umbrellas. Our other favourite thing was having breakfast on the table outside. Always fresh, yoghurt, plums, feta, tomatoes, bread, honey, juice. We have eaten so well here, simple food but tasty and fresh.

We met the mother-in-law of the woman who owns the house, and she suggested that we would like to take a tour of the island, so we did. It has been inhabited for thousands of years, there are ruins from second century B.C. There is also an old monastery that was built six hundred years ago, set way up on a hill.

The whole geography is hilly and brown, very dry. There is no source of water on Chalki, it is either collected in cisterns or brought in by boat. There are roosters always crowing, and goats tied up here and there. Mourning doves are the most common bird one sees, also crows. There is another small bird that I don’t recognize.

Our days were slow and easy. Now another day of travel to get back to Istanbul. Overnight in Rhodes, ferry to Marmaris first thing in the morning, bus to Dalaman airport – as far as I can tell, there are only a couple a day, then a short flight to Istanbul. I do have reservations at a hotel when I arrive, so hopefully it is pleasant and I will stay there the whole time. I am sorry to be leaving Chalki, and Joan and Amina, but excited to explore Istanbul. From idyllic Greek island to one of the largest cities in the world.

A few days in transit and away from wi-fi, but back again. Got to Rhodes on a ferry from Marmaris on Friday. Was it Lawrence Durell who said that arriving in Rhodes by ferry is one of life’s treats? Or maybe Henry Miller. In any case, it is a lovely sight, you can just see the knights gathered. Finally met up with Joan and Amina and we stayed at a lovely small hotel, the Hotel Africa just across the street from a beach, so spent most of the day on the beach, then walked into Old Town for dinner.
Lots of old,old buildings and too many tourist stores, but a nice town to walk around. The next morning had time to walk around a little more, and then a long bus ride to get the ferry to Chalki. The ferry was another hour or so. We arrived in Chalki late afternoon. It was like coming onto a movie set, beautiful old seaside town, red roofs, fishing boats tied up around the harbour, church towers and colourful houses ranked up the hills. No one quite knew where the house is that Joan has rented, although the owner had left the keys at a cafe on the harbour. Finally a young man arrived who took my bag and we followed him up narrow paths between buildings until we arrived at a white house with blue shutters. The keys worked, so we knew we were in the right place. However, there was no kitchen! Joan phoned the owner, and we discovered that it is upstairs and downstairs.
Two large rooms, a kitchen, bathroom, washer, and windows that open wide. We moved the table and chairs outside, so we can eat out there and play games. The views are beautiful over the harbour and town. Last night was a full moon and just stunning. We have been to two beaches and the water is so clear and warm. Walking down to town is a treat, having a snack or drink, strolling along the waterfront. The waterfront is lively all the time, lots of summer people and many cafes and tavernas. The food is fairly cheap and fresh. I am looking forward to staying here for a few more days, relaxing and enjoying Greek hospitality.

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