We are in Istanbul for three days and the fabulosity meter does not stop ringing the entire time. I love this city and three days is not nearly enough. We see everything we can possibly see in three days. We use the trams (packed, but wonderfully easy and clean) and the ferries, and we walk, and walk and walk.
The Blue Mosque
The breathtaking Hagia Sophia Museum and Church of Divine Wisdom
Topkapi Palace……. home to 500 concubines
The steep hills are lined with seemingly endless stairways and narrow streets that no car could ever climb, each one possessing its own neighborhood. One is lined with antique shops, another with trendy boutiques of clothing by local young designers, and another with tiny galleries. All have interesting cafes and restaurants with tables and chairs outside on the steps or leaning precariously on the steep pavement. Some of the less attractive and steeper stairways are not as interesting. We find ourselves on a couple of such passageways. Here students dressed all in black with piercings, tattoos and alarming hairstyles share the steps with the out of work, drowning their sorrows in beer, and the streets in urine. But everywhere feels safe. As in every city there are pickpockets, but we are alert and never experience any trouble, or feel uneasy.
But, what is unpleasant, is the desire of the merchants to cheat you out of your money wherever possible. Haggling is a way of life which we find hard but can cope with, but often means you pay far too much for something you want. But even worse are the taxis that give you the run around and the restaurants that overcharge. We had read that restaurants will always try to overcharge and add things to your bill. Our first experience is lunch where we just have a shish kebab and a drink and think we are fairly safe. But we are not. The waiter charges us substantially more than the menu quotes for the shish kebab and adds a plate of olives. We expect to be charged for the bread and water which automatically appear but he also adds a 20% service fee, when most Turks wouldn’t even pay a 10% tip. Lots of bickering gets the tab reduced a little.
From this point on we followed the advice we had read, and sat with a pen and paper beside our plate and wrote down each item we ordered, as we ordered it, together with the menu price. The article advised us to make sure the waiter saw what we were doing. It felt strange to do it and even a little rude, but it worked and from that point on we had no trouble. One waiter even picked up our piece of paper to compare it with his bill, and smiled when he saw we were in agreement.
The only other downside to Istanbul is the traffic and the crowds. We have never been in a City with so much traffic every hour of the day and night. We are used to rush hours in major cities, but here it is like rush hour 24 hours a day. And everywhere you go the streets are crowded with both locals and tourists. It takes a little getting used to.
After the first day in Istanbul we return to the ship and there ,as always, are the Boca Raton Mafia. They are sitting in the lounge with a group of women around them. It seems they have been jewelry shopping (of COURSE they have) and, I mean, jewelry shopping in a very serious way! They are busy showing off their purchases to those less fortunate than themselves.
Louise Brooks has a large ostentatious and very flashy gold necklace studded with small diamonds surrounding large green stones . It is displayed in a large ostentatious and very flashy box to make sure there is no confusion about how much this may have cost. Don Corleone, meanwhile, is sitting quietly with his cocktail in one hand and a small but happy smile on his face, clearly enjoying his wife’s moment in the spotlight
She then produces another large ostentatious and very flashy box inside of which nestles earrings and a bracelet to match the necklace.
“I am so happy” she declares “that the fashion now is to have sets of everything”
“A few years ago” she continues “nothing came in sets, so I only got to buy one piece at a time. I so much prefer getting a set of three pieces”
Of COURSE she does.
I politely commend her on her purchase, saying how beautiful it looks.
“It is beautiful, isn’t it “ She say
s “ And I particularly like it because it is so Egyptian looking”
At this point, her husband finally looks up from his cocktail and says
“Honey, its Turkish”
“Yes dear, that’s it. And I do adore it”
“But everyone”, she continues, addressing the peasants around her, totally oblivious to any sniggering that might be going on “You have to look at what Beth got. She did SO MUCH BETTER than I did. I am really quite jealous”
As Beth digs deep into a black and gold shopping bag and begins pulling out an array of large ostentatious and flashy jewelry boxes, we quietly slip away listening to the ooohs and aaahs from the less fortunate.
This is in fact, the last night of the cruise for the Boca Raton Mafia, and they are leaving the boat the next morning, although staying in a Hotel for a couple more nights. We have warmed to them over the past few days, and have developed a soft spot for Don Corleone.
After dinner they come over to us and say how much they have enjoyed our company and if we are ever in Boca Raton we must look them up. Louise Brooks hands me a card that is gilt edged (or should that be guilt edged), clasps my hand, and says “Promise to call. We will miss you”
We will miss them too, but perhaps in a slightly different way.