25.01.2008 - 28.01.2008 5 °C
I scrabbled through thousands of passengers at the huge Ankara bus station after 11pm and got myself a bus to Istanbul. The cost doubled this way but I had no choice. After a sleepless and freezing night, I finally arrived at my friend's flat in the trendy town of Bebel in Istanbul. Finally, a day of rest. I did nothing except walking along the mighty Borphorus river that divides Europe and Asia, taking photos of fishermen and exotic cars. I sipped my first Starbuck hot chocolate in months. Welcome back to the Starbuck society with a Starbuck generation.
The modern tram system took me downtown early next morning. Two feline friends ran toward me when I walked towards the Topaki Palace the next morning between Roman grave stoneyard. I sat down for some purry cuddling that really warmed me up on this cold morning. The Harem, where the Sultans and his Corcubines reside, and various exhibitions are impressive proof of the opulent Ottoman empires.
By the time I left the Topaki Palace, busloads of tourists had swallowed up Aya Sofya Square in Sultanahmet. I squeezed myself inside the Aya Sofya and managed to admire this great Byzantine architecture triumph. Built by Emperor Justinian around 530 AD, Aya Sofya is a church in the Byzantine period, then mosque during the Ottoman era, now a museum, protected by yet another feline in front of the spotlight shining on the mihrab.
Hungury and exhausted, I sat in the courtyard of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) to watch families and tourists. School children and young couples came over and asked me for photographs, a first in Turkey, after many from Egypt, Jordan and Syria. What a difference of friendliness between ordinary locals and tourist shop or hotel keepers. My perception of Turkey was renewed in this Islamic countyard.
Among the many underground water storage area in this area, the Basilica cistern is one of the most magnificent constructions built by the Byzantine emperior Justinianus I around mid-550 AD. It has 336 marble columns raising out of water and capacity to hold 100,000 tonne of water. Fish swim freely in this impressive hugh 'tank' and Medusa's heads were put upside down underneath one column to prevent people who look at her turning into stone, according to ancient belief.
My last destination of the day is the Cagaloglu Hamam, with news article from every corner in the world posted outside this 300 years old bath house. Advised as 'One of the 1000 things to see before you die', I walked into the empty reception area and was a bit shocked by the skyhigh prices on the service list. A complete service with scrubbing and massage costs $50 and pay ahead! Another tourist trap. How can a local possibly afford this?
I reluctantly paid, went into the lady's section and undressed myself in my very own room with locks. Then an old lady brought me into the famous but old steamy room with ottoman-styled faucets and sinks around a giant marble slab in the middle. After splashing water on myself for 20 minute, admiring the interior and imagining the old days where public can enjoy this beautiful bath, the old lady came back and asked me to lay down on the marble for the scrub and massage. Although she was very professional, the entire procedure took only 30 minute and I couldn't help but think that I could have had a equally enjoyable experience in a less expensive price somewhere else. I paid for the location and location is what's sell, to tourists, at least nowaday in Istanbul and in all modern cities.