Thursday, March 20, 2008

We Hear You Calling

I thought the call to prayers in the Muslim religion only happened six times a day, but there was music and chanting coming from the mosque through the night and early morning. I cannot say it was disturbing; it did wake me, but it was rather soothing, and I fell back to sleep again. Sleeping in is a rarity for me, even when I can, I can’t. This morning, I slept until 9:00 am, a miracle. It was cloudy out, but the sun was trying to peak through.

Breakfast was a nice buffet of cheeses, bread, cucumber, tomato, and olives. Enjoying the view, we ate leisurely and planned the day by not making plans. We did decide to find the area we stayed at the last time we were here. As we were heading in that direction, we stopped in the Sultan’s tomb. One sultan built it for his father, and then many others were moved there. Another form of the old boy’s club. None of their wives or harems were mentioned nor if they were buried together or as a group. Actually, I went back to our last bed and breakfast like a homing pigeon impressing Ron who thought it was in the opposite direction once I found the street.

From here we walked to Topkapi Palace. After entering the courtyard, which is free, the entrance was mobbed with the remnants of dozens of tour buses. Many obviously did not have the admission included in their tour as they were lined up at the concession stand waiting to purchase them, then following their respective guide. It was too overwhelming for us, so we plan to come back on off hours to miss the tour herds. This is the one place Ron went to the last time that I passed up. Now I don’t want to miss it again.

The funniest thing as we were walking down the hill to the side of the palace, the sounds of cats fighting filled the air. As we continued down the hill, there was a small crowd gathered staring at something. When we were closer, there were two cats staring at each other hissing up a storm. Neither had their back arched, nor were they particularly in any anger posture, but the bickering continued. Our watching and others approaching had no effect on their recriminations toward each other. They actually would quickly glance at the crowd every few minutes to see if we were still enjoying their show, before continuing on. They stayed with Act 1 for almost fifteen minutes until some spoiler tossed them some treats which immediately signaled break time.

There is no shortage of mosques here, so we duck into each one respectively as we pass. The exception was the Blue Mosque. It was closed to tourists when we passed due to pray time. I am not sure what the allure is for us to visit them, they are all large rooms with little decoration on the walls. The differences are the windows, the carpeting, and the designs on the ceiling. All of the women’s areas are closed off with lattice sheeting. If nothing else, it is something to do. What we don’t understand is why people are washing their feet outside before entering, in this cold. Yes, I know you have to do that before praying, but you would think there is inside place for inclement weather.

There are the same types of carpet guys who just want to show you something to get you into the store. We have told a number of lies and truths, but they are not deterred. There are not as many as last time, so that is less annoying. I have come to tell them that the last time we were here, we saw carpets and carpet stores, this time we came to see the sights. Some get it while others don’t.

We went to the Sultanhamet Mosque, not impressive inside. The property is huge, but the mosque is not. The signage talks about the beautiful stained glass, we could not see any. It spoke of this and that, but this and that was not in view either. It was rather disappointing.

We spent sufficient time in the bazaar getting lost, getting found by every desperate merchant, and then purposefully getting lost again. We only stayed longer because it was pouring rain by this time and we did not bring our umbrellas. Our bad! Or my bad x 2. Which is correct? When we left tired of being prey, it was still pouring, but we walked back toward the hotel, but stopped at Coffee’n Me. We passed Starbucks by, we stopped there yesterday. Istanbul has Starbucks, Bucharest has Hard Rock Café, what the hell is wrong with Budapest, who has neither.

A nap was in order after so many hours in the cold and wet. Besides by now it was after 5:00 pm. What is a vacation if you cannot indulge your whims? Just after falling asleep, the music started from the mosque. With so many of them, I don’t think there are many places insulated from the call to prayers. After the initial shock, it is appealing.

With umbrellas in hand, we went searching for a dinner place. We thought the old neighborhood may have some interesting places. There are a number of hostels in that area. Every restaurant had someone out in the cold and wet to tell us that was the best dining establishment in the city. I wonder how many of these guys get pneumonia. Some we thanked for the information, some we ignored, and others we pretended we did not speak English. When we hit a dead end, we turned around and tried to remember our immediate past. This is the one we ignored, this one we did not speak English, and so on. We made our decision based on the most crowded. The fella sitting outside, swearing he was not related to the owner or a paid public announcement, told us he eats there 2-3 times a week because it is so affordable. We risked it, but it was non-smoking, one demerit. The food was good; the service attentive, the price was ½ what we paid the night before. The guy was correct and was not lying.

My socks are soaked. Crocs with the holes around the edges are great walking shoes, but not great for the rain. On the way back to the hotel, this guy tricked us into his carpet store. He was a block away and we were nice, not thinking he was out on the prowl. As we walked, Ron said “Tell him I am not well.” The way I got out of there was by saying my socks were soaked due to my shoes and had to go get them off. This led into a ten minute discussion about my shoes, my choice of shoes, the weather, and once again into carpets. Finally, I said I had parquet floors and do not cover their beauty with carpets. With that I was released.

Wet feet did not stop us from going to the bakery again for desserts and then to the rooftop café for tea to eat them. Perhaps we will make it to the hamam tomorrow, but earlier in the day. They are open until midnight, but by 9 pm, it just does not sound like a bright idea to go get soaked and steam, then dry off to walk ten yards to the hotel.

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