One of my bucket list places. I was so excited when I found a return ticket of €100 from Helsinki to Ataturk Airport on the fabulous Turkish Airlines that it took a quick phone call to my son whose body guarding services I would require. Even more excited when we heard that Kerem would fly from the other side of Turkey to meet us.
First impressions began in the departure hall when the Turkish gentleman walked up to us and announced that he knew me. Yes, of course, we had been on the same pub quiz team some time ago. Handsome, smiling and genuine. Then we were seated next to another Turkish gentleman whose manners were impeccable. Handsome, thoughtful and so helpful, over and above the call.
K and my son have been close friends for years and distance has not changed their relationship. There were a lot of warm hugs exchanged when we met K at the Galata Bridge, Eminonü. He has become a devout Muslim, lucky for us since now we got to know and understand a lot more about Islam. Speaking the Turkish language, we were treated to a lot more than we would have managed on our own. We learnt about Sinan the architect who was responsible for the beauty of so many of the mosques, his innovative idea of using ostrich eggs in the centre of the chandeliers hanging from the dome, odourless to humans but the smell of which drives scorpions and spiders away. Hence no webs in these holy places. Also, his use of candle smoke directed and harvested in a certain spot to be turned into ink. His careful design creating acoustics so that everyone, wherever you may be standing, can hear the Imam.
But to get back to K – you were almost afraid to say that you would like to try this or that because he would pull out his wallet and pay for it. First it was coffee, then it was roasted chestnuts, then it was entrance to the Hagia Sophia, then the beautiful tea glasses with little hats standing on trays. We were his guests and he was not going to let us forget it.
Coming out from the magnificent Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) we were chatted up, literally chatted up, by a vendor who wanted to show us his wares. A glass of delicious tea later and I had a ‘handmade?’ salad bowl and some cloth purses in hand. We were assured of the low rent of his stand compared with the high rent of the Grand Bazaar. Here the real bargain were to be found! Good marketing. Then we were escorted to the Kilim shop where we were taken to the back and seated on some comfy sofas with cushions. Tea again was brought out while the owner was pontificating from his ‘throne’, a chair I felt only used by him. No surprise that he was trying to sell me a carpet. One after the other were brought out but I managed to circumvent his efforts and left him with a weak promise of ‘Maybe next time’.
Just up the road we found the same cloth purses at a third of the price! Even the so-called ‘handmade’ bowl were twenty to the dozen and probably for less! Rip off number one.
We watched K drop a coin into the hat of the begging woman holding a baby. Zakat, one of the 5 pillars of Islam, giving to the needy.
Munching on the stickiest, juiciest pastry known to man called Baklava, the beauty of the Grand Bazaar becomes evident not only in the myriad goods that are sold there but also the architecture with its arches and colours. Business is booming or so it seems and I find myself inside a booth choosing spices and Turkish Delight and after vacuum sealing all my goodies, a bill of €30! Far too much. I would have paid half in Helsinki! Rip off number two. Lost my appetite for shopping, there and then.
Hot tip: Never buy a lot from one stand. Buy one thing, bargain for it and get it at an amount you can live with. When it’s all lumped together, it’s hard to drive the price down. Spread your hard-earned pennies.
Walking back to the tram stop, we come across two shoe shiners who drop a brush from their little carrying case. A few moments later the three of us are given a ‘free’ shoe shine only to be asked for 18 lires for the privilege! Children are in hospital, times are tough, money is needed and we know there is no such thing as a free lunch! Rip off number three.
Praying five times a day doesn’t seem to alter that age-old value honesty much. Devout they may be, but business is after all business and if you can grab from Peter to make up for what you lose from Paul, it surely can’t be called cheating? I don’t like it but I do get it and next time I’ll know a lot better!
A caveat here: our dear friend K, couldn’t have been more generous, more heart-felt, more warm and even he with his perfect Turkish, was taken in by the shoe shiners!