Ate another of my favourite Çig Kofte wraps (for 4TL!) and tried the Istanbul equivalent of Spud-U-Like called the ‘Kumpali’ for supper. I’ve bought another craftsy course – and sit on the banks of the River Bosphorus and complete a line drawing of the Süleymaniye Mosque whilst listening to the call to prayer echoing around me.
Istanbul is enormous – straddles two continents and consists of three separate parts – Old City- gentrified and where the Blue Mosque, Sophia Hajj and Grand Bazaar are situated to the South West – New City to the north of the ‘Golden Horn’ where the buzzing, crowded Iskitlal street leading to Taksim Square is to be found – and the enormous Asian side to the East, where I cycled along the Sea of Marmaris (looking out at the Princes’ Islands). There are ferries galore, an underground system as well as easily navigable buses and trams. There are areas where just tools are sold, or china or bicycles or hairdressing equipment or antiques. There are industrial areas, residential area, pub and jazz clubs or hotels. It’s an all night city (especially around Taksim).
I finish my book and get a cheap lunch at the hostel of soup and the Turkish equivalent of a roast dinner for 10TL which makes up considerably for the expensive sütluç (rice pudding) and baklava I’ve indulged in.
Then I ride around, catch another ferry to hang around outside the Kadikoy Marmary Station to meet Serbun Behçet – my warm shower host for the next several days.
He turns up on his bicycle so is easy to spot.
Serbun and his sister Dilber share a flat not too far from the Marmary station and go to great lengths to make sure I’m comfortable. I am plied with tea, beer, raki and then a fine fish (Bonati) supper that is absolutely delicious. Dilber has given me her bed to sleep in. I am spoilt. (Next night – Dilber disappears off to stay with her boyfriend – so I think she’s happy!).
ON the Saturday I sleep in until 9am – and Serbun and I have a leisurely breakfast of lovely crusty fresh bread, organic boiled eggs with runny golden yolks, fried sausage, white cheese (which isn’t feta but looks remarkably like it!), olives and honey. Not a wilted, tasteless tomato or cucumber in sight!
After this feast we go off for a cycle ride around the Asian side of Istanbul. First to a new community initiative – allotment style gardens with playparks and benches – the first of its kind in the city. This adventure was followed by a nose around a Greek Cemetary and a visit to what used to be a national treasure but which is now privately owned: a wooden floored, wooden constructed and beautifully painted hotel/restaurant with a fabulous view over the Bosphorus.
Serbun leaves me to explore as he’s horrendously busy with his work as a philosophy teacher and a current project coming to a head where he’s editing two books which should make him a fair bit of money, he hopes.
I’m well able to entertain myself – and appreciate the value of being able to stay with a local. Serbun won’t allow me to treat him – but I manage to ply him with beer and cook a meal for him on my last night (tart’s spaghetti again).
I get to know the cat – a feral cat who has got herself adopted by Serbun and Dilber (a feat many of the local wild cats seem to accomplish – the Turks love their cats!). She is tricksy and an excellent killer, and my knitting needles are fair game.
I blog seriously and feel like I must be getting energy back after the long haul up to Istanbul – I didn’t complete any daily drawing, and now I feel the urge to paint a lot! Serbun gets a portrait – and Dilber gets another of the cat.
I visit the Anthropology museum, the sprawling Topkapi Palace, and stroll through the old Palace gardens at Gulhane park. Topkapi palace had what I thought was a recording of the K’ran being sung verse by verse. Then I went around the corner and saw a guy all dressed in black sitting in a booth with the holy book in front and I realised it was his voice echoing around the place. The sound made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I buy a ton of postcards in the Palace shop with the intention of sending them to as many people as I can - if you don’t get one, it’s because I haven’t got your address! I loved the tiled walls, the collection of gold clocks, the fountains where hooded crows where playing, and the views of the sea. The Harem felt like a beautiful prison within the palace grounds.
I also visited the Istanbul modern art museum on Tuesday (costly for me, but free for students and young people on Tuesdays) which wasn’t included on my 5 day museum card but which was thought provoking and interesting with an exhibition by Inci Eviner that I found disturbing but oddly enjoyable. I loved her approach to pattern and video sequences but wasn’t so sure about the large, black and white ink sketches and their depictions of dismemembered bodies. This (according to the BBC documentary “Heart of Turkey”) was the museum that changed art in Turkey.
On Wednesday I visited perhaps the oddest museum of my stay: the Science and Technology of Islam in Gulhane Park. It was a ‘look but don’t touch’ museum that spent much time lauding those European scientists who acknowledged the part Islamic scientists played in most of the major scientific breakthroughs and discoveries over the centuries: Islamic scientists were discovering most of these things years before Europeans got around to it.
On the last day of my stay at Serbun’s, it’s arranged that I visit his school: Findikli Mesleki ve Teknik Anadolu Lisesi – a vocational health studies college for 15-18yr olds. I attended two classes – one where I presented a little powerpoint display of pics and talked about my midwifery experience in the UK; the other was an English class where the students practiced their English by asking such questions as “What is your favourite food in Turkey?” Serbun was not impressed by the latter! He did most of the translating in the former. It’s a mixed sex school and I noticed it was mostly the male students who felt brave enough to ask questions. I also got to meet the Principal of the school who didn’t speak English – so Serbun acted as translator again. I inevitably ended up supping çay while the two of them had an animated conversation. The view from the window over the river was fabulous!
Staying with Serbun was great, despite his workload – and I want him and Dilber to know how much I appreciate the considerable effort they put into making my stay in Istanbul the best.
On Wednesday I moved on to stay with my second Warm Showers Host – Saine and her sister Sanita and her mother Mahvash. I had some trouble finding the address as even someone who lived opposite didn’t know where it was. So Saine was out at a dance class when I arrived and I met the girls’ mother – who couldn’t speak much English though she can write and read English very well.
Transpires they are not a Turkish family – but Persian. It felt like the universe had taken note of my disappointment at not being able to cycle through Iran and had made it possible for me to experience the famous Iranian hospitality another way.