Friday, March 21, 2008

A Couple of Slugs?

You may be tempted to call us slugs, but honestly, the chanting from the various mosques woke Ron more than once last night, followed by the people next door coming in late, and finally by the cleaning people at 6:00 am. By some miracle I slept through most of it or just rolled over and went back to sleep, a definite role reversal. My slumber produced some strange dreams including people I have not seen for years in bizarre situations, making me wonder why when I awoke.

We still were at breakfast by 9:00 and out the door to Topkapi by 9:45. We beat the rush of tour buses, but not those individuals who had the same idea we did. The line was long again, but moving quicker than yesterday; we had our tickets in fifteen minutes. Tickets are 10 Turkish Lira, a bargain. They have security to go through just like the airports, but being organized made this a quick process also. The palace was the focal point for the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th through the 19th centuries. Made up of three courtyards, each with its own collection of buildings, this is where sultans ruled and their concubines lived. Many of the buildings do not display any of the original artifacts, but are display rooms for other things. One room had jewels another robes and clothes of the sultans, and so on. Many rooms photos are not allowed, though the pictogram showing no cameras is small, the guard keeps busy chasing after people in each room who attempt to bring a camera close to their face. I was able to get one robe, before finding out I was a rule breaker. We spent three and a half hours here and did not go into the Harem building. They charge another ten Lira extra, which would have been fine, but the line was over a block in length and it was COLD again today. It was not worth the time or suffering to wait for tickets.

Fighting the cold winds and having to use umbrellas for most of the morning, the dampness dampened our spirits making us succumb to our need for a nap. On the way back to the hotel, we tried getting into the Blue Mosque again, but they were in prayer at 1:00 so the tourist line was quite long waiting for them to finish and let the infidels in to gawk. Too cold to wait, we thought we would try a third time some other time, the third is the charm.

We had no intention of napping for over two hours, but we did. A hot hamam steamed up our imaginations, but the one associated with our hotel requires you to get the full package of a bath, massage, and steam for 47 T Lira. Ron had a massage on our last trip and could not walk right for a couple of days afterward. After they scrubbed him, he was a few shades pinker too, working down to his subcutaneous skin layers. The desk said for just a steam, we would have to go to the one down the street. They have self-serve, semi-serve which is a wash, and full service is a wash and massage. We opted for the first one for 29 T Lira each. When you think about it 14.50 Euros is a lot of money for an hour of sweating and tossing water over yourself. There is no limit on how long you stay, but after all, how long can you sweat and splash yourself before it gets tiring. I much prefer the Hungarian ones where you submerge in water. I like being in water.

The hamam was loaded with Spanish men who looked like deer in the headlights. They came in with fear in their eyes and did not know what to do. They came into the little room I was in and sat down by the fountains. I was dumping water over myself, while they were flicking water onto their chest and legs like twinkies at the poolside fearing getting wet. When they were called for their scrubbing, I thought they were going to faint from panic. As entertaining as it was watching them, we opted to leave. There was barely room on the large circular marble to stretch out; there were so many being washed and others filling the middle space.

Filled with heat, the outdoors did not feel as cold as before, so we walked back to the bazaar thinking we would get dinner there. The bazaar has over 3,000 shops in it making it easy to get lost. 2,000 of those shop owners or employees are trying to sweet talk, trick, cajole, or lie to get you into their shop. Ron observed that not as many have asked us to have tea with them. It must not have worked well, so they dropped the practice. We guessed that why they were having tea with people who were not going to buy a thing, real customers may have been passing by un-harassed. When we found the food booths, it was ten to seven and the bazaar closes at seven. We were out of luck.

Trying to decide where to eat, there was one restaurant that has caught our attention by having all of the dishes in the window. Similar to the Turkish buffet in Budapest, you point at what you want and then a waiter takes you to the table. It was mobbed, because their prices are good and so it the food we found out. I had chicken in a pancake, which was more like a burrito, stuffed tomatoes, bulgur wheat, and stuffed eggplant with a beer. Ron had an equal number of selections, but the bill was only 47 T Lira.

After that feast, I felt like a bear packing it on for the winter’s hibernation and this cold does not dismiss that thought easily. We had to walk to get the digestive juices churning. Of course this means passing by other restaurants and carpet shops where you are told they have the best, the choicest, the most desirable (fill in the blank). There are so many Spanish speaking tourists here that all of the shops and restaurants have fluent Spanish speakers. Their Spanish is better than their English. You cannot walk five feet without hearing Spanish being spoken. This must be an easy travel destination for them.

I did stop at a ceramics store and picked up some cute little hand painted bowls for people to put their teabags in. They were only 3 T Lira each and the guy at the store was so non-pushy, I had to call him in to collect the money. He was busy speaking Japanese to some other tourists.

On the way back, Ron had to stop for his dessert, but I just could not indulge. I feel like I am giving the Pilsbury Dough Boy some hefty competition. We stopped at various cafés that advertise free WiFi to ask about it, but most said it was not working. We have only seen three WiFi signs in cafés and only one Internet place, unlike Budapest where they are everywhere. When we came back to the hotel, I asked if they by chance had WiFi and indeed they do, but only in the lobby.

I went to get the laptop while Ron went up to the rooftop café to order our nightly tea. I wanted to set up the WiFi connection while there was someone there who could help with the password. Ron came down and asked why the rooftop café was closed. The guy who ran it quit last night, so it is closed indefinitely. Well that was disappointing, but being only 9:45, we had to go out and get our tea. We went to Coffee’Me before they closed at 11:00. We found that the music we are hearing all day is coming from a souvenir store directly below our hotel. We wanted to check to see what their hours are so we knew when the music would end. But the mosque chanter does have a great voice, so he can continue to wake us.

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