Part 2 – Istanbul
Of course we’ll always remember Istanbul – the second largest city in the world, outsized only by Shanghai. Who could not be in awe of the palaces, mosques, museums of this ancient city once called Constantinople. But we’ll probably always associate Istanbul with carpets and a friendly young man. Our “friend” speedily escorted us past the long line of tourists waiting to buy their tickets to tour Hagia Sophia. Within seconds we were whisked to the head of the line, like visiting royalty, with Turkish lire in hand to pay our entry fee. Upon exiting this magnificent church, turned mosque, turned museum; our “friend” was there to escort us to see his carpet shop. Sipping our Turkish tea as he spread out carpets before us, we heard the plight of the Kurdish people, the history of the Ottoman Empire… and viewed more carpets. Refusing his invitation to dine with his family we realized “our Friend” had departed (most likely to return to Hagia Sophia for his next victim) and we were now in the clutches of his uncle, Mr. Hard Sell! We executed an escape plan and found our way back to the crowded square.
We had ridden the Hop On bus throughout both sides of the Bosporus, the meeting of two continents Asia and Europe… traveling between the continents a few times, we worked up an appetite for kofte (meatballs) and shish kabobs. Next stop… the Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s largest covered markets.
Now I like bargains better than anyone I know and to be dazzled by every conceivable item that glittered and beckoned with the added thrill of haggling over price, I was in overload. Our suitcases were already jammed past RyanAir’s stringent allowance but I contemplated taking out all my clothing and bargaining it away. You wonder how over 4,000 shops within 61 covered streets can survive selling similar silver and gold jewelry, gorgeous ceramics, clothing, scarves, leather goods and trinkets galore … but they do, most aggressively!
Clutching a bag of purchases no larger than 2” square, we carried our treasures back to the hotel right down the street. This was truly “temptation” at its finest! Another morning stroll thru the Grand Bazaar and the throng of shoppers was great prep for the taxi ride awaiting us. It must be understood that traffic is a horrendous problem, so our hotel advised leaving at noon for our 4:30 pm departure to Izmir but he obviously had never met our driver. We wound thru narrow streets, took a ferry to avoid the bridge and sped along at 160 kph on the shoulder of the freeway behind two ambulances and then zig zagged along making the 2+ hour trip to the airport in less than an hour including the leisurely ferry ride.
Flew from Istanbul to Izmir and using our minimal language skills, we managed to find the local bus to Kusadasi traveling thru Ephesus on the way… finally found our hotel on the beautiful shores of the Aegean Sea. Truly spectacular! Tomorrow we meet our tour group and leave our leisurely mornings behind for a more regimented lifestyle.