DAY 1 After much anticipation regarding the nature of our destination in a four-hour long journey from Riyadh in an airplane, obviously! Landing in Sabiha Gokçën Intl. Airport was a great moment for all of us but especially for my mother. Since the planning of our trip, the name Sabiha Gokçën was always of great intrigue to all of us as, incidentally my mother’s name happens to be Sabiha too. Named after the first female aviator of Turkey this airport with its two runways lies on the Asian side of Turkey which houses a third of Istanbul’s population. After completing the formalities and acquiring some liras from the surly Forex officer, we met our reception, consisting of a local who spoke good English. We were taken in an hour-long journey from the airport, our first experience of Turkey was a very good one, there was greenery all around and so and so, I was tired so I fell asleep. We finally came to a quaint cobblestone pavement dividing into four lanes, our so-called hotel sat at the end of. We were startled by its look for it looked more like a four-story house than like a hotel. Upon entry we discovered a small reception and two employees one of whom worked for an another hotel, we climbed four winding staircases and then reached our accommodation. We were allotted two double rooms with all the facilities and provisions. There was a balcony with a wonderful view of the sea and we settled for eight Turkish kebabs. In the meantime we arranged our luggage and I roamed around dreamily. Instead of getting eight kebabs the receptionist cum porter cum room service procured eight wholesome plates with kebabs, lots of vegetables as well as wheat?? Anyway we forcibly ate four plates and then left the hotel. As we descended into the Sultanahmet square we saw a bazaar named ‘Arasta’ with exotic items such as hand-made soaps, carpets,
Chinese lamps, various kinds of spices etcetera being sold. We went past all the shops without buying anything because I had researched about shopping in Istanbul and Grand Bazaar was the best option. We observed that Sultanahmet District thrived in tourists mostly we visited the Sultanahmet Mosque which otherwise is popularly called Blue Mosque. As we entered, we noticed that in accordance with the Islamic rules all the females had to cover their heads, the cloth was provided by the authorities themselves. The interior of the mosque was exquisitely done, beautiful tiles with calligraphy, an arched ceiling on which circular calligraphy was done in gold. The beauty of Islamic architecture and the sheer amount of time and labor involved in doing this type of work enchanted me considering that time there no electronic machines and modern implements were available. I tried to picture the people writing calligraphy on sky-high ceilings while seated on ladders, This was truly amazing! The Turkish govt. has also done a commendable job in maintaining all this and keeping this marvel of man intact right from four centuries till now. My father and I sat in the mosque for sometime and then we left. The family headed for the hotel as nightfall commenced and we settled down for the night.
DAY 2 The next morning we woke up at half past seven, we were informed that the breakfast service would start at eight so we made haste and came down the winding stairs, I still remember them. There were three employees this time the lady, Oksana, a gentleman who worked night shift and their chef. It was a typical turkish breakfast in buffet style, or so we were informed. the table was laid with plates of olives, dried figs, raisins, sliced watermelon, sausages and eggs, some cheese cutlets and beverages like turkish coffee, Nesquik, Nescafe and tea. There was milk in a plastic jug kept over the tea maker or machine, I really don’t know that particular thing’s name. Besides this there was also a wide array of bakery such as two types of cake, buns, croissants and other items. I cannot call the breakfast sumptuous but it was OK. With the air of an elegant person I fashionably arranged my plate, sat on the table
and started eating with my father. After a while my mother and sister condescended to come in the area. There was a arabic-speaking family there too, their fair complexion was distinct of Levantines. Their child was constantly speaking and trying to feed the scrawny cats who looked around for tidbits. The hotel housed twelve to thirteen rooms on four floors. Just as we were leaving my mother noticed that the kitchen as small as a Portable toilet. The sink was the size of a bowl where the chef busily washed dishes. Today we planned to visit Hagia Sophia, a historical monument. As we left the hotel and walked to Sultanahmet Square, we realized that we were now in the peak hours of Istanbul. There was a lot of hustle bustle in Arasta bazaar hundreds of tourists were walking in and out and scrutinizing the various items while the shopkeepers were cleverly persuading them to buy. We were determined not to buy anything from here though we did do a lot of shopping from here later on. Leaving the bazaar we entered the main Sultanahmet square which housed all the important landmarks. There were thousands of tourists walking by, the ….. no I’ll put it formally the ‘East Asians’ were busy taking selfies, every time I saw them I smiled because they were smiling. However after seeing clearly , I realized they were smiling for selfies. It was quarter past twelve by that time our states of mind had changed, accordingly our plans too changed . We were hungry so we started looking here and there for restaurants. In good time we reached an area where there are fifty or so stairs and then the restaurants and eateries fill the streets up till the horizon. The Sheikhs sat on a bench and the elder ones started talking about things which were not of interest to the young. Me and my sister saw an elderly man sitting on a chair in a corner writing names of tourists in a very fashionable way. We immediately recognized him as a calligrapher. After much beseeching and manipulating, mother and father agreed to let us employ his services. We happily trotted down the stairs and asked him the price of writing two names i.e. mine and Aayat’s name. He said twenty lira. Here I employed the use of haggling. Haggling or pazari is a sort of shopping tradition in Turkey of which I shall talk in detail later on. I said ‘ fifteen lira’ and he readily agreed, this the main disappointment in haggling when the seller agrees without disputing and you wish you had quoted a lesser price. Anyway after collecting fifteen lira from my parents I gave it to him after he finished his work. It was mesmerizing! The words were written in an arabic style very beautifully. Sitting there we met a salesman who was organizing trips to Princes Islands and a cruise on Bosporus Strait, the strait that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. The cruise was to begin at
two o’clock and would end in about two hours. My father from the beginning was very insistent on going on that particular cruise so after negotiations regarding the price and the final payment, we decided to get a quick meal before the cruise as it was quarter to one and the salesman would be ready to take us to the starting point at one o’clock. After going through those restaurants we reached a long street with many shops and three Forex offices. Foreign Exchange offices always fascinate me because I am an avid currency collector. There was also a tram line on that road. We went to a shop and bought chicken rolls to eat on the go. They tasted good but were a bit too salty. At two o’clock we met the salesman who took us to the starting point where we, for a long time waited for the bus to arrive. We had naturally presumed that a bus would take us to the dock, instead a man holding the Turkish flag came and asked us to follow him. I went forward and walked just beside him as he took us through several lanes and streets and lastly we were walking down a steep slope and suddenly the sea which was hidden from our eyes came in the view. We reached the dock and saw a ferry in distance. The ferry steadily came in the dock’s direction and eventually reached it. As the boat docked the we entered it quickly and I requested my mother to accompany me into the lower cabin while my father went upstairs. We sat there for a while and gradually began to resent the idea of sitting there for the lower cabin was closed and had no air movement inside it. My mother and I went upstairs and sat there. The boat started after a while and the cruise started. Everyone except my father was against the idea of a cruise but …….. As we were cruising on calm waters I realized that my head was aching terribly. I laid my head on my mother’s lap and tried to sleep. After a while I woke up and we were still in the boat cruising in the Bosphorus. The boat now turned in the direction of Golden Horn i.e. the water which separates the European side of Istanbul from the Historic Peninsula. We could see Galata Tower, Blue Mosque and other monuments from there. We passed below some bridges and then after an hour or so we docked. In short, it was an OK trip neither enjoyable nor terribly boring. After leaving the boat we walked along the Kennedy Caddesi road to reach the hotel. This route was suggested by our father and he was very right in choosing that route because if we had returned using the same route we would have to go up on a very steep slope which would have been very tiring. We kept walking on the road for about fifteen minutes till we reached a curve bringing us to the cobblestone pavement. By then we had parched throats and dry lips so we decided to have a glass of orange juice each but we ended up having two. A native named
Oktai served us, a rather odd-named fellow but otherwise courteous. I reckon it seems odd to me because I ethnically a Kashmiri am not used to such sort of names. After quenching our thirst, we departed for the hotel, walked up the winding stairs and put our weary selves to rest. As the evening settled in we left the hotel for some dinner, we came to the same food street where earlier we had met the salesman. We found a restaurant with dinner in the open at the fourth floor. After much discussion we ordered flame wok chicken and lamb shish. A gentle breeze was blowing which made me feel cold. We saw that two European women behind us had taken up blankets and had contented themselves with two bottles of liquor. Our order arrived. The flame wok was excellent, in line with our tastes, spicy but not overdone. The other dish was also nice. After ordering one more flame wok and attacking it, my father paid the bill with a generous tip. After filling up our bellies we left for our hotel, laid our heads on the bed and slept soundly.
DAY 3 The third morning we woke up early and after washing and bathing we came downstairs for breakfast. On that day we had our first verbal interaction with the turkish chef who was walking by while my father was scrutinizing the yogurt, she stopped by to explain what it was and its significance, with great action of her hands and by saying ‘yo urt’ she tried to get the knock that idea firmly into father’s head. As I had done considerable research about Turkey and the language as well, I knew that yo urt means yogurt for the word yogurt originated from the Turkish word yo urt. After eating the usual, we started off for Hagia Sophia, or the Sacred Wisdom. The previous day we had asked a local regarding its timings and here my research helped for he said ‘dokuz’ and ‘alti’ which I said meant nine and six. Most of the shops and monuments close down at six o’clock. We passed the familiar streets and reached the Sultanahmet Square. Here, we saw a stall where Istanbul tourists guides were available in a wide range of languages including Chinese, Russian, French, Spanish, Turkish and Arabic. After negotiations we got one for 10 lira and bought four Hagia Sophia passes for 30 lira each. Earlier my father and me had gone to an ATM for some cash and got two hundred euros too. As I read
about Hagia Sophia in the guide, I discovered that it was originally a Church built by some byzantine emperor in the sixth century or so but during the reign of the ottoman Sultans it was converted into a mosque although they kept the church part of it inviolate. As we entered the area we saw a massive building protected by a colossal gate which, of course was open. The ceiling was tremendously high with domes. I was awed by the majesty of that great structure. We saw old tiles and walls and the burial-place of the sultans. There was a ramp existing from the ottoman era there which led to the upper floor it was astonishingly intact till now! We climbed up with a good pace but it took a lot of time until we reached the top. Here Aayat and papa, the ‘photophiles’ made themselves busy by taking clicking pictures of various things. My mother and I are not that ‘forbearing’ when it come to photos. As a matter of fact I consider taking selfies an abomination. Therefore as a formality we waited for a minute or two and then moved on. There we saw the names of the four caliphs written in a very calligraphic manner using golden lettering on the four corners of the wall in gigantic ovals. We saw a thousand year-old mosaic paintings of Mary and her baby Jesus, the king giving money and other paintings. There were also paintings of angels and stained glass windows. This all portrays the Christian aspect of the monument and gives that special ‘Church’ aura. After clicking enough photographs my father and sis encountered us, after reproaching them for taking so long they started seeing the mosaic paintings, the process started again albeit not with the same dedication. We wondered how a thousand years back people would construct these paintings as to make them one has to join thousands of small pieces together. Some of the paintings were faded but the unfaded portion looked awfully nice. After spending some time there, using the same ramp we began our descent into the ground floor. The descent took much less time and I ran down the ramp. As I had often pondered how the workers used to reach build such high ceilings as there were no cranes that time. I got the answer to my query here as the museum had showcased a very tall ladder which was used to do the sort of these things. There we saw the carriages of the nobles and the assembly hall of the aristocrats, the clergy and the nobility. After this we lost sight of papa, mother was getting impatient and we too were getting cross. After a while of searching, we found him sitting somewhere. From here we proceeded to leave but saw the enormous baptism tanks of the romans which were hollowed out of rock. We also saw their vessels for water which strongly resembled huge cauldrons. After seeing this we left Hagia Sophia. The weather in Istanbul was always very pleasant; although it was ending
June but the heat was bearable. Our stomachs were rumbling but the food was not going to be very appetizing as we still had those insipid kebabs in the hotel fridge. After arriving at the hotel, we ate them and I wondered whether they were real kebabs. Now, we decided to now go to the street ahead of the square, where the tram runs. We departed from the hotel and ate some ice cream in the way. On that street, there were hundreds of retailers selling a wide variety of items. My mother bought a few souvenir key rings and those things with something written on them with a magnet to stick on fridges. We also visited a jewelry shop where the charming salesman persuaded my mother into buying a set. My mother and my sister saw a kind of stone which changed color on opening. The salesman was very persuasive and repeatedly asked my mother to quote any price and buy off the item which my mother was clever not to do. My father and me saw the machine from which we could obtain the Istanbulkart, a card which is used to pay for using trams, metros and toilets. We carefully studied the map for a while, figured out where we were and where we need to go to reach the Grand Bazaar where we had planned to go the following day. I used my knowledge of Turkish to identify places and I saw that Kapalıçarşı , our intended destination was two stations away. After shooting questions about the tram to several tourists who abashedly begged their ignorance my father asked a Syrian who knew about things and explained about the tram. At last, we bought a Istanbulkart and mercifully left. The family resolved to fend for food now. The Kurdish salesman who sold us the Bosphorus cruise tickets had recommended Sëlim Ustä as a good restaurant so my father suggested that we go there. The restaurant was only a few paces away from our position, so we saw it quickly. Well, ‘I’ saw it quickly. We ordered kebabs and something else, I forgot about it. As a dessert we ordered Gulab Jamuns or Kemalpaşa tatlısı, after receiving them we were sure that they were just fried balls of rice flour submerged in thick sugar syrup. Anyhow, it was sweet so of served its purpose, though terribly. The moonlight was shining down upon us as we left the restaurant. We went round the German fountain and were on our way to the hotel. Today we were very tired as we had walked a great deal. We laid our bodies on the beds and slept like logs.
DAY 4 Dawn broke and my sleep too broke. I woke up very early in the morning and was unable to sleep then. So I went out in the balcony to see the beauty of the morning. The light breeze gently rustled my cheeks and the view enthralled me. I stayed up for some time and then woke up the others as it was nearing breakfast time. After a while, we started for downstairs and had the usual : two or three pieces of cake, a boiled egg, few slices of watermelon and a glass of juice. Today our plan was to visit Grand Bazaar, my father withdrew a thousand liras today for the shopping was on. We went through the streets and eventually reached the tram station. After tapping the card on the receiver our money was deducted and we were let through. As the tram moved, we heard the first station’s and then the second station’s name being called out by the loudspeaker. At both stations, a sizable amount if people disembarked, but we did when we heard Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar was constructed in the mid seventeenth century. It consists of more than four thousand shops and sixty streets. It is named Kapalıçarşı, meaning covered bazaar as it is covered throughout. As we entered, we saw a long street of shops with most of them being gold and jewelry shops. After buying few decoration bowls from there for 5 liras each, we proceeded further. Haggling or pazarı is a shopping tradition in Turkey, you cannot expect to buy anything there without a bit of bargaining. If a shopkeeper quotes a high price for an item, don’t hesitate to quote even a third of it. If he says 100 lira we should say “No, 40 lira” then you can expect to make a good bargain. This is especially very prevalent in the Grand Bazaar. Most of the shopkeepers there speak fluent English and a few other foreign languages as a place is always buzzing with tourists. As we moved into a street, we saw many decoration items such as vases, fancy spoons, copper and bronze tea sets, cups, a hundred kinds of tea and Turkish delight, lamps, shawls, handmade soaps, perfumes, souvenirs and a very wide selection of exotic items. We shopped a lot, buying different kinds of things, my father bought two wallets from an elderly shopkeeper, we bought two bronze tea sets, an Arabian nights style lamp, an assortment of wall hangings. The shopkeepers were all courteous and cleverly persuaded us to buy their items. We were no less in cleverness, I had already told my family about haggling so we, instead of quoting our last price asked the seller to quote his, hence keeping room for negotiations. If by chance the seller refused to sell the item at our last price, we simply walked out and he, in injured tones accepted our price. Finally after a shopping spree we settled down for some food in the food area. We drank orange juice as usual and ate kebabs. The meal was fine and the juice was
good too. As we moved along, I saw my treasure trove, ‘coins’ I was simply out of my mind for I am an avid currency collector. There was a big box of coins with each priced at a lira. I asked my family to sit and relax while I searched through the coins for any new currencies. I ended up getting six coins and three notes for twelve liras. After payment we left that area and came out in the Jewelry street which was the exit, but I was not satisfied as the coins were dirt cheap and I had bought but a few. So I expressed my this heartfelt desire to my mother, who after seeing my desirous countenance acquiesced. She interceded on my behalf and asked my father who too agreed. This time we realized that we didn’t knew the location of the coin shop as the bazaar was a labyrinth. Anyway we went through a street and reached the toilets. There my mother bought some bracelets and we asked the shopkeeper that whether he knew of any coin shop in the area, he asked us to wait and his reply came in form of directions. “Go straight and turn on the second left”. We did as we were told and we reached a foreign exchange. Disappointed, I felt that he must have thought that we were referring to this as a coin shop. My mother optimistically encouraged me to go left. I did and guess what? I reached the very street where I had earlier bought the coins. I marveled at the knowledge of that shopkeeper regarding a shop whose goods were of his least concern. I was overjoyed and bought three more coins and one more banknote. Now we had completed our shopping, our expenditure was at least one thousand liras. Outside we bought perfectly roasted chestnuts which were soft in texture and delicious in taste. My father and I visited the Yeni Camii or the New Mosque which, ironically three hundred years old but new from the ottoman standards. There we saw the same architecture that we had witnessed in the Blue Mosque. Near the exit we bought two skullcaps for my grandfather @ ten liras. We finally returned to the hotel using the tram with a truckload of shopping. After a bit of rest, we rose from our beds and descended into the Tram street for a dinner in Sëlim Ustä. We had the same, kebabs and that something else that I don’t remember but this time I said that we would have the baked rice pudding. It was quite palatable. A thin layer at the top indicating that the dish was baked and the creamy pudding below with grains of rice. After having this meal, we left for the hotel. That night we visited the kuçuk ayasofya or little Hagia Sophia. Though it was closed at that time, we still saw the structure and the mosque. After wandering around in the garden for a while, the family settled down for some sleep.
The fifth day was definitely going to be an enjoyable one for we were going to the city’s major tourist attraction, The Topkapı Palace. We followed the same routine in the morning; getting up, brushing our teeth, taking a bath and going downstairs for a Turkish breakfast. The breakfast, except for a slight variation in bakery consisted of the same assortment of dishes. The ‘management’ finally had endeavored to replace the leaky jug from which we used to pour milk. That was some good news! We had the breakfast and were good to go. Pleasant weather made us cheerful and so we walked up the street and into the Square. After walking about half a mile, we reached a Ticket Vending Machine. Papa bought 120 liras worth of tickets and we moved on. The gate of the palace solemnly stood before us, about twenty-five feet tall. There were two Turkish guards standing by the entrance. The tourists were clicking some pics with them. The Turkish are a very handsome race. With their milky complexion and aquiline noses, they seem just lovely! . The gardens of the palace were resplendent, green with flowers of every hue and shade. We had now set foot in the Medieval era, standing everywhere were historical structures. After walking for a couple of hundred meters, we reached the entrance of the museum. There we entered a room containing the weaponry of Ottoman era. There were old swords, machetes, armors, bows and arrows, clubs, axes, spears and God knows what other things. One thing most noticeable was the presence of calligraphy on all of these things. My mother observed that most of these were covered in gold or sometimes inlaid with gems. This amazed us as we cannot think of modern arms having gold on them. I reasoned that it may be that those times gold was inexpensive as copious amounts of it were available readily. after seeing this we entered another room where old writings of Quran were showcased. They were remarkably in a very good condition. The management had performed well in maintaining these artifacts. The main attraction in the palace was the area which housed the most important relics of history, some of which date back 3000 BC!! There was a long queue in front of that area. After a long wait of about twenty to thirty minutes, the guard let us in. My countenance turned from excited to incredulous. I saw a bowl below which was written ‘Bowl of Ibrahim, 3000 BC’ Well that was awesome! As we walked, our eyes saw the turban of Yusuf, the staff of Musa, the swords of the four caliphs of Islam, the swords of Prophet Muhammad ( ﺻﻠﻲ ﷲ ﻋﻠﯿﻴﮫﻪ وﻭﺳﻠﻢ ) as well as old Quranic texts. We really enjoyed this room. After this we went into the portrait section of the palace, a dim-lit room with portraits. We quickly saw them, or finished our duty of seeing them and moved on. Now we entered the Jewelry section. Its showcases were dripping with splendor. There were gold clocks, necklaces, boxes and a lot other things with inlaid emeralds, rubies, sapphires, diamonds, topaz and other dazzling stones unknown to me. Some were gifts from other emperors while some were from the Royal Treasury itself. By now, we were overcome with fatigue and wanted to go to the
hotel. Anyhow, we saw the crockery section where I saw huge cauldrons and gold plates and spoons. In the month of fasting i.e during Ramadan the emperors’ abstained from using gold crockery and instead used brass as a display of humility. Even here, I noticed the use of decorative writing. Now, we had seen enough and left the palace. A few paces from the palace, there was a restaurant where we decided to have luncheon. A man selling tickets for a Princes Islands cruise encountered us, from a price of € 200, we managed to bring it down to € 170. After a lunch of kebabs and a purchase of calligraphy we left for the hotel. We regretted having seen less of the palace but that’s how things are and we were dead tired. Having reached the hotel after a mile and a quarter of walk we rested for good. As nightfall commenced, we left the hotel to satiate our hungry bellies. My father was desirous of going to Sëlim Ustä but today mama, me and aayat wanted a change and were adamant on going to the restaurant where you could see the dervish dressed in a traditional Sufi attire with three musicians playing Sufi music and one of them singing. Papa gave in, so we headed for the restaurant. Our order was a platter of kebabs. The order arrived after twenty minutes in a platter, with the main plate was a pot containing a self-extinguishing flame. The dervish arrived and went up the stage and started his dance. As the Sufi music started flowing, the atmosphere became tranquil and I felt at ease. Everything seemed very peaceful. The dervish had a calm expression which calmed me. Finishing the dinner, we started off for our hotel.
A description of Day 6 coming soon!