Istanbul – Days 4 & 5

Monday morning and I headed back to Sultanahmet for my second tour with Context – this one of the Topkapi Palace. As always, I made sure to give myself plenty of time to get lost on the way to the meeting spot – and did exactly that. But not too badly and I made it there eventually with time to spare.

Claire was our guide – an art historian hailing from D.C., though she’s lived in Istanbul for 20 years. She provided a wealth of information about the history of the Ottoman sultans – a subject about which I knew virtually nothing. I left that day feeling I’d at least scratched the surface of Turkish history. Her descriptions of life in the palace and in the harem were particularly fascinating.

The palace is much different than what one typically thinks of as a palace, insofar as it is made up largely of a series of courtyards, moving from the most public to the most private as one proceeds through the front gate. Certainly there are buildings and rooms – but it’s a much different feel than a European palace.

The line to get into see the Treasury was ridiculous. Happily, as a registered guide, Claire was able to walk us right through with nary a moment in line. The rooms were still jammed, but we saw the highlights, including some magnificent jewel-encrusted jade and rock crystal pieces and the 86-carat Kaşıkçı Elması diamond.

The palace sits above the Bosphorus and the views overlooking the water were spectacular. I took a few photos during our visit, of course – but frankly, learning about what actually went on there was far more interesting than any picture I might take.

After saying our farewells, I had a really enjoyable lunch at Mozaik, just next to the tram stop. I sat outside on a charming street, eating kofte and yogurt with a glass of rose, watching a trio of kittens scampering among the rugs on display at the shop across the street. Oh, and my waiter was super-dreamy. It was a fine way to spend part of the afternoon.

Headed back home – it was early and I was beat – with a stop at one of the restaurants I’d been trying to eat at. I figured I could book a table in person, since Skype has been pretty much unusable over here for making local calls. Of course the place was closed, so I was foiled again. Oh well… Went home for a nap and thought how nice it would be to visit the hamami again – and that is exactly what I did. I’m sure I’ll be plotzing when my credit card bill shows up after my trip is over, but right now I have no regrets.

Dinner at a local place up the street, then home for my usual four hours of sleep. Though actually, I think I made it to five last night!

This morning I joined the hordes clamoring to get into the Hagia Sophia at 9AM opening. The audio tour was pretty interesting and the mosaics of Jesus H. Christ, Mary and John the Baptist were magnficent.

Next stop: the Grand Bazaar. It was…something. I mean, I enjoyed looking around and there seemed to be some quite beautiful fabrics and jewelry – but it’s kind of stressful having to studiously avoid eye contact with every merchant so you don’t have to refuse their invitations to look at their wares. I mean, I don’t mean to suggest they stop it – it’s their job after all to sell things. But it gets exhausting.

I actually had one shop I wanted to find, that was recommended online for Turkish towels. And I actually found it! Like most of the stalls it was tiny and piled high with goods. I strolled in and was quite literally ignored by the two people working there. WTF? The one place I was actually contemplating buying something from and not so much as a glance up from the sales folk. Weird… I may actually try again when I’m back here on my way home. I’d looked at towels at another shop – they were beautiful, hand-woven, organic cotton – and 115TL each. That means if I buy eight, we’re talking $500. The place in the bazaar was chargining half that – though they are not hand-woven apparently (do I care?). The expensive ones will last 20 years, they say, but still…

Back to Beyoglu for lunch at Datli Maya, followed by a wander through the streets of Cihangir. I started seeing barber shops and was reminded that I needed a beard trim. I’d heard Turkish barbers do a pretty mean shave and was looking forward to one – but which shop? I was plagued with indecision and I’m always paranoid about having haircutting services performed by someone who speaks a different language. Eh, what’re you gonna do? It’ll grow back.

So, I wound up at Ahmet Berber Salonu, on a side street off Istiklal (if you’re looking for it, find the MAC cosmetics store and head down that street). I explained to the fellow in front that I wanted a beard trim and neck-and-cheek shave and that my mustache should be left alone. Another fellow showed up from in back and my request was relayed to him in Turkish.

WELL. The beard trim was pretty straigthforward – clippers on a 2 setting (though it seemed just a tad shorter than I might’ve chosen – but it wasn’t all Miami Vice or anything). But then he went back through with scissors, meticulously getting the hairs around my mouth and mustache in tip-top shape, as well as making sure things were even all over. He went back over the sides with another clipper to very slightly fade it (and no, he didn’t give me an N’Sync). Trimmed my eyebrows. Buzzed my ears. Shaved my neck and cleaned up my nape. Then leaned me back, lathered up my neck and cheeks with a brush and some very hot water before going at me with a straight razor. Once done shaving me (and checking a couple of times that my beard line was symmetrical), he leaned me over the sink in front of the chair and rinsed me off with his hands. Leaned back again while he applied some type of astringent (which he also used to clean my ears) after shave, massaging it into my neck and face. Then a good neck rub and face and scalp massage. And finally, I have a stray hair that grows on my cheek next to my nose – he tweezed it right out and that was that. It was a fantastic experience and I felt like a million bucks.

The price? A shocking 15 Turkish lira – that’s about eight bucks. I tipped him 10TL and it still felt like the bargain of the century. Can’t wait for a return visit when I’m back here on the 19th.

Then home to catch up on my blogging – with a pitstop for some gelato naturally. And now, I need to figure out where I’ll be having dinner tonight and pack. Tomorrow, I leave for Israel! But in the meantime, I’m watching the three kittens who live out back gamboling about the yard.

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2 thoughts on “Istanbul – Days 4 & 5

  1. We had a good experience at Egin Textile in the Grand Bazaar. They have 3 shops there, the largest one being near one of the entrances on the other side to the tram stop. Look for their white cat with one green and one blue eye. They will give a bit of a discount (maybe 10-15 percent) and will vacuum pack everything to make transport easier. Very happy with our towels and blankets.

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