Another mind-blowing day. Ellen took one look at the gathering clouds and said, “we should take our rain jackets”. “Nah, I said. It looks just like yesterday. The clouds will burn off by noon.”
We first walked down music alley to find the electric Lute I had seen. The past two days the shop was closed. Not today. I stepped in and asked to play an instrument. There were three guys in the very small shop; the owner, a sales guy, and a friend. The sales guy pulled down a standard Lute and I suggested he get the electric lute down. He plugged the Lute into an amp, checked the tuning, and handed it to me. Now I know my way around a guitar. This was a fretless Lute. It was beautiful to look at; that’s what drew me to the instrument. I tried to make sense of the tuning and did not have a clue. I could not make music on the thing! Sounds came out of the amplifier, sure, but I cannot even call them notes. It was more like a goat or sheep braying. The sales guy took the lute and showed me how to make it sing and handed it back to me. Well there was no magic transferred between us, I still sounded very very sadly lame. To rescue my ego, I asked to play a guitar. A nice gut stringed guitar was plugged into the amp and I was in business. Now I could at least rescue some of my mortally wounded self. The Rolling Stones rocked the little store for a few tunes. I asked the price of the Lute; I would really like to learn a fretless instrument and that one was beautiful.
Off we went to Taksim Square, famous for something Taksim Square is one stop “up” from Sishane. Before heading out this time we noted points of the compass from the Taksim metro station and knew how to get to Faros, a five star restaurant just off the square. What we found at Taksim square should not have surprised me. We stepped out into commercial anywhere big city. Yes, the statues were Turkish and there were lots of Turks walking about, but the feel was U.S.A. all the way. Hilton, Intercontinental, and other big name hotels were very much present. We walked into the Intercontinental to check it out, went through security, and were amazed at the opulence. While we loitered, a Sheik in a white robe walked over to his party in the lobby. Ellen photoed the fellow, but not face on. We left and found the Faros restaurant right where we thought it would be, but what a disappointment. The menu was posted outside and it was a vast array of typical American food. I’m sure each entry was excellent, but we did not visit Istanbul to eat as if we were in Palo Alto. I was tempted to find a good cappuccino as I’m sure one could be found there. Instead we chose to take the metro to the old city and see Topkapi Palace and the Roman Cistern.
As we were heading to the metro, my phone rang. Friends and family know not to call unless there’s an emergency. I did not recognize the number, thought it was international. I let the phone ring. The phone rang a second time and this time I picked up out of curiosity. A voice, “Who is this?” Me, thinking you called ME, you should know, “I’m Ron, who is this?” The voice, “You have to move immediately. Someone is coming in now!” Me, thinking what this can’t be happening,”No, we have paid for tonight. Paid for 4 days through the 4th.” The voice, “OK, let me check our records.”, and “the voice” rang off. There is no way we could check out from Taksim square “now” if we wanted to. We had not reached the stairs down to the metro when “the voice” called back, ” I am very sorry, it was our mistake. Very sorry. We confused you with someone else. We are extremely sorry. Thank you very much, we were wrong. You can stay tonight. We are very sorry.” This was the most extreme and gracious apology I have ever received. I had not panicked at the first call because I carry documentation showing that we are paid through June 4th. Still it was unsettling.
By now the clouds should have burned off, but had not. We scrambled down the metro trying to find the yellow line which connects the green line (Sishane to Taksim) with the blue line which goes to Sultanahmet and the blue mosque etc. We wandered up and down excavators and could not find the yellow line. We had to buy tickets anyway so we approached the ticket kiosks. There was a gaggle of Muslim women in full burkas trying to figure out the 3-pass kiosk (the only one I knew how to use). We moved over to the single pass machines and there we overheard a woman asking a metro cop how to get to the blue mosque. Eureka! Even better she did not know how to use the single pass machines either. The metro cop showed us both. By the time we got our tokens, the woman was gone. Ok, no problem. We went through the turn style then saw signs saying exit! That’s not right, we thought so we turned back and went through the turn style in the “free” direction. Realizing that’s not right we turned back to go through the free direction the wrong way. We looked like turn style jumpers to a local shop owner who set upon us with a hue and cry as if we were murdering someone. The metro cop joined in the fray. The more I explained (in English) what we were doing the more agitated the cop and the show owner became. I had visions of rotting in a Turkish jail for not paying for a 4 Lira ticket ($1.30). Eventually the copy relented (he probably recognized us) and with the cop gone, the shop owner lost interest. We went out the “exit” to find ourselves at the blue line metro entrance. The train was sitting there about to leave when the doors opened for a a couple ahead of us. We were not sure which side of the station “our” train stopped and in that moment of hesitation the doors closed. With authority, we approached the doors thinking that we had a 50/50 chance of getting it right. The doors opened and we had it right.
We were many stops from Sultanahmet and people came and went on either side of us. Seating fills fast on the metro; you have to move fast to get a seat. We stood most times shifting from side to side of the train ahead of the doors opening to disgorge or engorge another phalanx of humanity. This train was so full we could hardly breath; no moving from side to side. There was a Muslim family father, mother in birka, son, and two cute girls. Ellen interacted with the girls, but the father was not impressed. On another train ride a Muslim mother, not in a birka, enjoyed seeing her son play with Ellen between stops. Well not this family.
When we reached sultanahmet station the weather had turned a bit. There was a very slight intermittent rain falling. Right off the platform we encountered a fellow selling umbrellas. Fellow (in Turkish), “need an umbrella”. Me, “no, we don’t need one. well how much?” Fellow,” 30 TL.” Me, “too much”, and walked a few steps. Fellow,”OK, 20Tl”. Me, “10Tl”. Fellow,”no.” and HE walked away!
No problem. I had seen a “green corner” marker and a restaurant on a bluff overlooking the main street. It looked like a great place for a brief lunch before seeing Topkapi Palace. We found our way to the restaurant quite easily. Seeing the menu it was apparent that we had escaped Taksim square only to find the U.S. of A. firmly embodied in the menu. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating ethnic US foods: Greek, Italian, Russian, Korean. It’s all good. What I don’t particularly like is traveling thousands of miles to order food I could get at home. Worse still, the manna-be US food does not come close to the real thing. No. Give me great local food every time. Still we were here and hungry. We made due.
While we were sitting the heavens opened up. The rain started slowly and built. At first people were running by to avoid getting very wet. As the rain grew, the runners grew fewer. The rain was so hard for so long that the street above us flowed through the front door and across the floor. The kitchen was outside and runners getting food to the table had to purchase umbrellas to keep dry. The rain continued to build and now thunder, big low booms of rolling thunder punctuated the cacophony of the rain drops. The patio the food runners traversed began to flood with water coming in through the patio doors. The canvas overhead began to sag over the food prep/ordering area and lightening now preceded the boom of the thunder. Still the rains came on. To keep the roof overhead from collapsing, servers used a stool and brooms to force the roof up and drain the collected water. The down spouts were gushing and the lightening and thunder were closing together. That 20 Tm umbrella looked pretty good to me right about now. There was no way we could leave the restaurant without getting soaked through and getting very very cold. Still the rains came and the kitchen shut down. Or order had come, been consumed, and gone by now. We ordered apple tea to justify our staying seated though practically no one was coming or going. I could feel drips of water coming through the roof, the floor was wet, and the patio awash. Ellen and I were laughing about not wanting spend 20TL ($7.00) on an umbrella and now paying the price. The street vendor was probably laughing at our frugality. At the time I wanted to see how low the vendor would go. I guess 10Tl was too low.
The rains continued. They abated now and then with the promise of clearing only to darken and get worse moments later. We had spend an hour and a half now, most of that nursing apple tea. During one lul I headed to the men’s room and coming out there was a guy coming in holding two umbrellas! Great, I asked him if they were for sale. “How many you want” I said two which he interpreted as needing two more than he had. He said, “OK” and scurried away, not heading to the men’s room. The next fellow in line gave me a thumbs up and said, “Thanks” with a big grin. When the vendor returned I bought two umbrellas for 20Tl each. But by that time the rain was clearing and the umbrellas were unnecessary.
I spend the last of my Turkish money on the umbrellas. I had given Ellen 100Tl earlier and that was consumed by the check for lunch. We left the restaurant with a bunch of credit cards and maybe 14Tl.
On the way back to the Topkapi Palace we saw a sign for the Byzantine Cistern and headed that way. We saw and joined a relatively short line to enter the cistern. I said, “I hope there isn’t an admission fee. We’re almost out of Turkish Lira.” Well, there was and after going through the line, we had to step back out of line and find a change machine or other service. What a bummer. We headed off to find one and a Turkish fellow stopped us and asked if we were looking for a money machine or an exchange service. Clearly he had watched us exit the line and perhaps had been watching us longer. I said, “Yes we are, but you are not going to sell us a carpet!” I said this because we had encountered carpet salesmen at the blue mosque the day before. I was being funny. We talked a bit. The fellow’s name was Rham or Rhamad. Rham directed us to a money machine and said he would be waiting when we exited the cistern. Armed with a cash infusion, we had no problem waiting in the now longer entrance line and paying the $40TL admission price each. ($80 TL = ~$27.00).
The cistern dates from the 3rd or 4th century BC and was extended or modified over time. It is 30 feet high and arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each and is 9,800 square meters in area. It can hold 2,800,000 cubic feet of water and, with a filtration system, was the source of water for the Great Palace of Constantinople. The Romans are among the worlds most successful engineers. The cistern is amazing to behold. It is entirely intact. We will have to pour through our photos to cull the best of the best. We were so enchanted, we could not stop oooh and ahhh, nor taking photos.
When we exited the cistern, there was Raman waiting for us. Ellen thought he would show up and he did. Raman assured us he was not going to sell us a carpet, but did explain that his family is in the rug, jewelry, and leather business. He wanted to show us his family’s shops and their plans for expansion. Also on the top floor there was an exceptional view of the Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque for photography would we like to go up? Sure why not. He was such a friendly guy. And he did show us several building that housed carpets his family had acquired over the years. Through all this Raman did not show us any carpets. He showed us a new shop under construction, a seating area for BBQ style food, and we took an elevator to the top of the building. The view of Topkapi Palace was great. We had some trouble with the sliding door into an office on the Blue Mosque side. It refused to open more than 16 or 18 inches. We wormed our way through. Clearly our diet agreed with me; I barely squeezed through. The view of the Blue Mosque was obstructed by a building in the near foreground. We had our photographs and lots of information about his business. For instance, to ship a carpet would be $150.00 US, but for him with a deal worked out through DHL his fee was $20.00. Ram was very eager to use his English. He did say that if we were to purchase a carpet there was no need to carry one with us and no worries about the cost of shipping. Great, but we do not want to purchase a carpet. I’m worried about getting home dry.
We took the elevator down to street level and were headed out the door when Ellen asked, “Do you have a WC?” Raman, “Of Course!” and we turned into a room stacked to shoulder level with carpets, a couch with stuffed side chairs, and a stairway down to the basement and Ellen’s WC. We had walked past many rooms full of carpets in a number of building owned by this family. The room we walked into was no different than any other, except for the couch and that this room had the most gorgeous small carpet mounted on the wall.
Ellen and I have very particular tastes. We can easily walk through tens or hundreds of shops and not care a bit for anything. This carpet stopped both of us short. It was gorgeous. We asked Raman about this carpet and he explained that this particular carpet was made of silk, from their own design, and that it took 1.5 to two years to compete. It has a knot density of 100 knots per cm2. Again he was very proud of this design and his family’s trade in the carpet business. While Ellen went downstairs, Raman and I continued to discuss his business.
I asked Raman what a carpet like the one on the wall would cost and he became very coy. We both knew I was not interested in purchasing a carpet and Raman said if this were to sell in the US it would cost X,, here in Turkey the price would be very much lower. When Ellen came back upstairs I asked her what she thought of the wall hanging. She said she had never seen anything as beautiful in a carpet. Raman’s smile grew wide and he said, “If you like that carpet, I have something to show you!” He pulled two 8×10 carpets of the same material from a stack and threw the first one on the floor, rotating the carpet as it fell. The carpet went from a dark blue hue to a very light blue hue. “See the magic carpet? It is two carpets in one!”, said Raman. It was true seen from different angles the carpet actually changed color and very dramatically. He threw the second carpet down with the same effect. Both were stunning carpets. We asked Raman what his price on the wall hanging would be. Then the negotiation began and we arrived at a price. But I said we are not in the market for a carpet. We shocked Raman (and ourselves) by agreeing to purchase that carpet at his stated price if it was acceptable to him. We shook hands and the deal was done.
The Turkish celebrate a business deal by treating their customer as family. Three cups of apple tea appeared and we drank with Raman discussing this and that. While we were reveling in our mutual good fortune, Raman’s uncle appeared. We had a very pleasant conversion, the four of us, until something was said that brought color to Raman’s face and Raman took off like a shot. Raman was gone. The uncle then took us on a tour of his carpets from the comfort of our couch. He had people bring exquisite carpets of undeniable quality and compared them with similar mass produced carpets and carpets with rayon sewn into the weave. He showed us original carpets that must have been 60-100 years old with very tight knotting. “Because I like you, I will show you something I do not show to most customers. I will show you a special thing, don’t worry!” He showed us small wall hangings that are antiques and some of the most beautiful tapestry work I’ve seen. The uncle said he would give us very good price on any of the carpets we’ve seen and sweeten the deal if we included returning the wall hanging in the purchase. We declined. The uncle tried four different tactics with different pricing, different deliveries, different payment plans, but we declined each time.
Finally the uncle said, “I like you, you are like family. Let me offer to you a sample of Turkish food from our restaurant. Don’t worry, this is very good. Don’t worry, it is not a problem for us. What would you like lamb or chicken; mild or spicy. Don’t worry.” Sometime later two rather large plates of lamb kabob with an onion based salad, saffron rice, and bread arrived along with Fanta orange for me and bottled water for Ellen. The conversation turned to family. The uncle showed us photos of his family, his son and daughters. (to be continued…)