Thoughts and impressions of Istanbul

mosques dominate the skyline of Istanbul

mosques dominate the skyline of Istanbul

Turkish tea and Turkish cakes

Turkish tea and Turkish cakes



Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks. — Song of Solomon 4:3

Let us go early to the vineyards to see … if the pomegranates are in bloom – there I will give you my love. — Song of Solomon 7:12

When you treat people with respect you send positive energy. — Priya Sher

Flight Turkish Airlines to Istanbul was excellent. Plenty of legroom, excellent service, no floggıng stuff, and excellent breakfast. They put British airlines to shame. Shame same cannot be said of Heathrow or Istanbul Airport.

Heathrow Terminal 3 is grim.

At Istanbul Airport the nightmare begins.

10 pounds, 15 euros or 20 US dollars just to enter the country for 90 days. Then be prepared for a very long wait to get to get through Passport Control whilst you wilt in the heat.

Once through you search in vain to find where your luggage is as not shown on the display board. Then, when you finally get through you find your booked transport is not there. Another long wait whilst Airport Information does their best to sort out the problem. Eventually a drıver turns up, but no English. Phone call to office, to be told will have to wait an hour for passengers on incoming flight. I tell them what they can do with their one hour wait. Phone is slammed down on me. Eventually we set off. Once the old part of Istanbul is reached, a tour of the old part of Istanbul as driver is lost!

Mosques everywhere!

My flight was on time, I should have arrived at hotel at around 1530, but do not arrive until some time gone 1800!

Hotellino is excellent! Simple but elegant. Not surprised Hotellino has excellent reviews on Trip Advisor. Free water in room. Free internet. Free wi-fi. Whilst I am chatting to the very charming receptionist Elif, my friend Elaine turns up.

Food outside is excellent. Nearly everywhere empty. It gets very tiresome when they keep trying to drag you in off the street.

I wander around at midnight, but not far, as the streets are a veritable rabbit warren. It is very dark, and I do not wish to get lost.

I try fresh crushed pomegranate juice. This is a fruit juice to die for! And it is a Superfood!

No sleep the night before. I do not get to bed until around 1am, but do not sleep for until at least an hour has passed by. I wake maybe 4am, if not earlier. 5am wailing from the mosques. 6am I am wide awake with no possibillity of going back to sleep. Three hours sleep!

Breakfast at Hotellino ıs a simple but excellent Middle Eastern affair. Turkish Delight for breakfast! And halva. I show them how to make tea! Most delicious walnuts I have tasted.

Whilst waiting for Elaine, who does not appear until midday, I wander down to the river.

We visit the Spice Market, but the people approaching us are starting to get to us. A simple polite no, does not seem to penetrate their thick skulls. You have to shout NO in a very aggressive manner, then they get the message and walk away with a foul look on their faces.

Outside the Spice Market seed stalls. I am excited. I find orca French beans!

The crowds are so thick we can barely move. We walk down to the river. We could go on a boat, but they arre so overcrowded, and we do not know where they go.

By the river try grilled mackerel from a street vendor. This is a meal in itself. On the way down to the river, hot chesnuts from another street vendor.

Now so tired brain not functioning. We decide to go to bed.

Night I wander around, find somewhere to eat. I finish meal with Turkish red tea. I must find out what this is.

Today walked to the Hagia Sophia Mosque and the Blue Mosque.

Hagia Sophia was the church of Constantinople and the hill on which stands the church the centre of the Byzantine Empire. The Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque, is so-called because of the blue tiles on its walls. The Hagia Sophia is now a museum. My overall impression of the Blue Mosque was that of vast space, the unpleasant smell of unwashed feet and noise.

Walking up the hill to Hagia Sophia Mosque and the Blue Mosque I become aware of the armed police, even armed soldiers, everywhere. I ask a policeman near a shoe black. He responds by reaching into his pocket. Oh My God, he is going to pull a gun on me! It is quite a relief when he pulls out a mobile phone, a relief that is until he starts tapping at the keys. What is he doing? Maybe calling for back up, checking me out? He then shows me a picture of him with a semi-automatic weapon. Boys and their toys.

Being harassed on the street is really starting to get to me. I am walking down the street, am I really wanting to buy a carpet? You say no, and still they do not go away. To get rid of one pain in the arse I had to threaten to call the police.

In a museum, a former palace, nearby the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia Mosque I found a book on Nasrudin. But it was a collection of papers on Nasrudin, not his works.

I note the irony. Turkey’s greatest living writer Orhan Pamuk mentions the unmentionable – Kurds, Armenians, nationalism, Islamism – and is forced to flee the country. His books, including Ka (Snow), are on sale in the cultural museum.

I wish the people who are harassing me on the streets of Istanbul would show the humility and wisdom of Narusdin. Those that do are the street vendors and the shoe blacks.

I had a pleasant chat with two lads who were carrying out a school project. Even whilst we were talking the harassment did not stop. One of the lads took a video on his mobile to show how bad it was.

By now I was lost and feeling paranoid. Then it started to rain. It then turned cold and wet.

First published published in Brazil (August 2010), then Portugal (February 2011), Turkey (11 March 2011), Elif (O Aleph in Brazil and Portugal) is now number one best selling book in Turkey!

Followıng an evenıng meal, it ıs now cold and wet, I enjoyed fresh pomegranate juice from a street kiosk.

On my way out I was harassed yet again by a man outside a restaurant. By now I had had more than enough. The owner came out to ask what was the problem? On my way past later, he beckoned me in and humbly apologised. He gave me a cup of tea and said I would no longer be troubled as the guy had been fired. Rough justice! I felt guilty and tried to get the guy reinstated, but they would not. [ see The Law of Unintended Consequences]

Wet, cold, miserable day, raining all morning. It finally eases off lunchtime and feeling hungry I wander down to the river where I again enjoy excellent grilled mackerel straight off a hot plate.

I then wander to the New Mosque. I do not go in as I do not fancy taking my shoes off. I have a very interesting conversation with three Muslim girls about Islam, Turkey and the harassment on the streets. What amuses me is that although they are dressed in black, they are far from drab, very elegant with silk head scarves. I tell them that to wear a head scarf or a veil is not required in the Koran. I suggest they read Reconciliation by Benazir Bhutto which dicusses the role of women in Islam, also the relationship between Islam, the West and democracy. [see Women and Islam]

Two days ago Elaine and myself had wandered through the Spice Bazaar and seeing a jam-packed, narrow thoroughfare, we thought, no way. This time I walked around the Spice Bazaar and into this thoroughfare. What I found was a real market with everything under the sun for sale. Very narrow streets, old buildings, real people. I found a tiny little cafe where I had Turkish tea and two delicious Turkish cakes. An interesting conversation with the owner of a spice shop who was a Paulo Coelho fan.

For the first time I felt I was in a real Middle East Market, no one selling overpriced junk for tourists. And guess what? It was unbelievable, I did not get harassed once!

Walking back to my hotel early evening I was again called into the restaurant where the guy causing the trouble used to work to be told the crazy man had gone. Whilst there I was asked to talk to a couple to explain what there was to see. I asked where were they from? Brazil!

Evening meal in a restaurant. Seems to be the haunt of Russian working girls. Or maybe they were taking the night off?

It gets colder by the day. I thought this was the Middle East. Is it not supposed to be hot?

Met with my friend Jane this morning and I took her to the real market that lies beyond the Spice market. We then hot footed it to a press conference at the Pera Palace Hotel given by Paulo Coelho.

Pera Palace Hotel has been recently renovated. It was built for passengers on the Orient Express. Many famous guests including Ernest Hemmingway, Greta Garbo, Agatha Christie, who wrote Murder on the Orient Express whilst staying at the Pera Palace Hotel. In the entrance foyer is an old sedan chair. Chairs such as this were used to carry guests from the station, across the river and up the hill to the Pera Palace Hotel. The electric lift inside the hotel was the second only installed in Europe. The first was the Eiffel Tower. Pera Palace is listed in 1000 Places to See Before You Die, with a copy opened at the relevant pages in a display cabinet in the hotel foyer.

On leaving Pera Palace I wandered to Istiklal Avenue where I found copies of Elif on display in a bookshop. I had hoped to see the historic tram which Orhan Pamuk writes of in one of his books but I was out of luck. The street was blocked by a massive anti-nuclear demonstration.

I walked to the end Istiklal Avenue and caught the funicular down to the tram station, where I caught the tram to my hotel. A charming girl who was on the funicular offered me what she was eating, and paid my tram fare.

Before I visited Istanbul I had never in my life seen a tram, let alone travelled on one. Nor had I seen or travelled on a funicular!

In the evening, the highlight of my trip to Istanbul, a party at the Pera Palace Hotel hosted by Paulo Coelho, and boy, does he know how to throw a party!

On my taxi ride down from the hotel I got a stunning view of the Mosques lit up.

I do not get back to my hotel until 3am. I go out for a drink and find myself in a bar drinking with Russian prostitutes. I write up Paulo’s party and finally get to bed some time gone 5am.

I thought it could not get any colder, but it does. I am frozen all day long. I walk through the Spice Market and through to the market beyond. It is Sunday and many shops are shut. Now street traders have taken their place.

At Paulo’s party the night before he signed two copies of Elif. These were for two local girls, but it looks as though I will see neither before I go away. I hope Işil and Elif like the surprise presents I leave for them.

I climb and climb and through narrow winding streets and once again I find I am lost. I am somewhere way up beyond the Blue Mosque. I seek help from a very charming hotel receptionist. She explains where I am. I tell her of the hassle on the streets, and she says it is a major problem that is giving Istanbul a bad name. I tell her of a vendor selling postcards at 50c which I had seen previously at 25c. She tells me they are free! She decides to buy Elif by Paulo Coelho after talking to me. I buy hot chestnuts off a street vendor and share with her.

I had wanted to go to the river and have grilled mackerel, but I am too cold and tired. I take lamb kebab off a street vendor.

I see Paulo Coelho has posted kind comments on my article on his party.

I am acquiring Middle East eating habits. I eat out at night later and later. Tonight I went out to eat at 11pm!

I am feeling quite sad. It is time to go home. I shall miss Istanbul.

On leaving my hotel I am handed a pack of Turkish coffee with instructions on how to make Turkish coffee. A nice gesture and I am touched.

At the airport I see a newsstand has Elif on display. I ask how many they have sold in a week. 15-20 they say, which for a little kiosk is a lot.

Inside at Duty Free at a bookstore cum record shop they not only have Elif on display, but also piled up in a tower. I ask the same question, to be told around 60.

I pick up an album by Baba Zula.

I am sad to report that the majority of Turks I have met have been not very nice, shysters who are after your money, who harass you on the street, who do not seem to understand the meaning of no, but when it finally sinks in that no does really mean no, turn very nasty and unpleasant. But there was a minority who were very kind, generous, and who more than made up for the obnoxious majority.

Gates of Istanbul

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7 Responses to “Thoughts and impressions of Istanbul”

  1. Adriana Campos Says:

    Thank you for sharing your impressions! I really appreciate that.

  2. marie-christine Says:

    ah ah ah Very good I enjoyed reading your summary of the Turkish roundabouts.
    Maybe you should think about a red carpet to bring back to your home.
    Turkish delights sound pretty good…and for breakfast. Some people have all the luck.
    Enjoy your stay and have lots of fun
    Keep on smiling. 🙂

  3. Ileana Rodriguez Says:

    Thank you Keith, Even the harrasment issues I se eyou are having a wonderful time! Please take some pictures to us! And say hello to Elaine! 🙂

  4. D Says:

    …was once in instanbul, too…reading your post made me smile very much…thanks…enjoy!…the world needs your happy energy…

  5. Natalie - Turkish Travel Says:

    I really did not experience that much hassle when I went to Istanbul. Maybe because I was able to reply in Turkish. Who knows?

  6. marie-christine Says:

    oops somethin’s missin’


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