Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Sublime Porte

After dealing with the balagan that was my lack of luggage, I remained serene and sanguine and made my way out of the baggage.  Thankfully, there was a sign with my name on it in the lobby.  The hotel offered free transfers from the airport, and I got a ride into the city.

The driver chatted on his mobile in Turkish baby talk, as we sped into the city.  The radio blared eastern violins and rhythms as singers crooned in vibretto Turkish melodies.  Red Turkish flags flapped in the breeze blowing off the Marmara and I was reminded of my night drive in Delhi as I returned to Bharat.

I arrived to the St. Sophia Hotel- once an Ottoman mansion, and checked in sans luggage.  Unfortunately, my airport transfer was not free as advertised, but rather 30 euros, so I am negotiating with the management on it.  I was meeting my friend Mel in Istanbul, because she is working in Ankara at the Embassy there.  We were going to get a hostel, but since I hit the IDB lotto, I sprung for a hotel for the night she is here.  Turns out the hotel upgraded Mel and me to a suite, but rather than give the 2 beds as requested, we got a big queen.  When I remarked to the bell hop, he laughed and put a pillow in the middle of the bed.  So it goes, Mel was out, and when she returned I promptly called big spoon.  But meanwhile, the suite opens up a terrace overlooking Hagia Sophia, and is lovely.

We wandered out to the old Byzantine Basilica Cistern, the old cistern built by Emperor Justinian some 1500 years prior.  We walked through the dark columned depths, as carp swam in the water below.  The columns were lit up in an eerie glow.  The piece de resistance of the cistern were two statues of medusa's head, one sideways and the other upside down.  The

We walked on down Sultanahmet, as I bounced with excitement and began swimming through memories.  Shops with Turkish delights and baklavas stacked high caught my eye.  We waded through the Grand Bazaar, and past the shop selling all sorts of wares and barking hawkers.  I was full of smiles as I admired the life of the bazaar and the beauty of the Turks.  The women were gorgeous with their light skin and light eyes, and floral veils.  Turkey seems more veiled than when I was last here, but the veils here are done with a florid flourish that feels more fashion than formidable.  Meanwhile, I feel back in my element

We made our way down past Yeni Camii Mosque with bowl domes, and down to the Golden Horn.  We went down to the quay, where shops on boats sold fried fish sandwiches for 5 lira.

Editor's note: I have suspended my vegetarianism while on the road because it seemed that it would be tricky for my travels in Kurdistan, so I have been slowly reintroducing meat into my diet.  It has been a little strange.  I find that dining on flesh is not my favorite, and I don't love living on living things.  But I also like trying new tastes when I am traveling, and think that hospitality trumps my ideology in some regards.
Anyway, Mel and I stopped at the buoying boats with gilded trim, where men flipped fish fillets and stuffed them in baguettes with onions and parsley. We sat on small tables, and poured lemon juice and salt onto the sandwiches.  The  taste of the fish was a bit of a shock at first, but it was pretty tasty.  Admittedly, I did miss fish the most when I was full veg.  We sat by the water, watching the men fish off the Galata bridge and split a cup of turshu- a cup of pink briny pickled cucumbers and cabbage.   We walked across the Galata bridge, across the Golden Horn as men cast lines into the sea.  I had taken a picture of the same site years prior.  We made our way over to the Galata Tower, where people were sitting below having beers ala Europa.  We had just missed the closing time for the Galata Tower, but her guide book mentioned a hotel next door that had a great view without the touristy kitch.

We went to the terrace of the Aenemon Galata Hotel, and found the most immaculate view across the Golden Horn as the golden sun was setting.  We ordered sundowners, and I sipped a Efes dark- a Turkish dark kinda like a porter Sam Adams but lighter.  I bounced back and forth from our view across Asia to the view of the sun setting across the Horn.

The resplendent view of sun setting over the sublime porte in its golden effulgence over minarets and domes had me ebullient, and alive with joy.  I climbed my way out of the restaurant and down a spiral staircase to get some incredible shots of the sun setting over the Istanbul vista of mosques and minarets as the sun cast its golden glow on the evening.

We hopped the tram back and walked through the Blue Mosque complex- lit it up the night's glow.  We made our way past the dining hard sell and grabbed a dinner of mezze.  We dipped piping hot Turkish bread with black seeds on top into a variety of yogurt and lentil mezze.  I had a delicious red lentil soup to go with it. We split a pide- a Turkish pizza boat filled with olives, tomatoes and onions.  We made our way back to the hotel to watch the end of the Greece-Russia match at the hotel and have a Efes pilsen.

Thus ends my first day back on the road, and I feel like me again.  I love the road and all its adventures, and I missed it while I was still.  I was not meant to be still.

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