My Turkish bath experience, in a 520 year old bath house in Kumkapï, has been the best 'touristy' thing that I have done in Istanbul: getting scrubbed down by a big bare nearly naked lady as I lay on a massive marble block so that dirt I never knew I had rolled off me, followed by an equally vigorous soaping, massage and shampooing, followed once clean by a sauna. Followed by dinner.

That for me beat seeing the amazing mosaics and soaring dome of the 6th century Byzantine church of Aya Sofya, or Church of Holy Wisdom (sorry Mike). Not that Aya Sofya wasn't good too. I've spent a week in Istanbul and am beginning to feel like I know my way round - not least on account of having done most things on foot - sometimes rather pig-headedly! I still manage to get lost for about 15 minutes every evening as darkness falls, but those of you familiar with my poor sense of direction and general map-reliant tendencies will not be surprised at that. Famous sites like the Hippodrome, Topkapï Palace, the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya are right by the hotel that I've been staying in, so seeing them on the first couple of days only involved getting past the very keen and eager carpet sellers that litter this part of Istanbul (Sultanahmet). At first they bothered me a bit, and I don't think they liked me much ('lady you are too serious for us!') - like dogs they smell fear -, but as the week has gone past their calls have become more jocular as I have learnt to smile at them ('lady can you please hold your horse for just one second?') - not least because I've got over the flu and cold that beset me two days before I left the UK as well as relaxed as I've become more familiar with Turkish ways.

So I walked on Sunday (the first day that I saw the sun, albeit briefly - up till then it had been cloudy, cool and even drizzling and windy) first up the hill to Taksim, crossing the Golden Horn (Istanbul's harbour, effectively) using the Galata Bridge (where you see fishermen all day and into the evening, fishmongers and more fishermen cooking meals on the spot in their boats at the shoreline) then on from there down to the Bosphorus shore to the glitzy and chintzy 19th century palace of the Ottoman Sultans, called Dolmabahçe. The 90 minute tour of state rooms and harem showed me 'another stately home', but maybe more so than most! Groovy tiling in the bathroom, a nice turn-of-the-century telephone. Pianoforte donated by Napoleon. From there, yawning from the chandeliers and imitation marble, after a 20 minute respite looking out at the Bosphorus from the palace gardens and getting away from a stray kitten that was making me itchy, I walked on along the shore for a mile or so to yet another palace, now a hotel, which I glanced into for a few, and then back onto the road northward with a ton of ?Istanbullians? to a suburb/village called Ortaköy. Ortaköy is a nice place to hang out on Sunday afternoons as there is a bric-a-brac and craft market, lots of students (there is a university close by), cafes and lots of women running stalls making gözleme, which is a cross between a stuffed crepe and a pastry parcel. By making animal noises I managed to ascertain that the cheese to go in mine for a late lunch was sheep or perhaps goat but definitely not cow. Good for my ongoing detox of sorts - I'm staying off alcohol and still generally avoiding caffeine as much as I can (getting harder as I hang out with more Turks - see below). By then I was tired - I had walked several miles - but I was told I could not get a ferry back to Eminönü as it would take too long but that I should take a bus instead. I decided to walk (why???), so by the time I got back to Sultanahmet 3 hours later I! was exhausted! My boots have been a great investment though.

And the food? Well the gözleme was tasty and fun to watch being prepared. I couldn't resist earlier that day trying the Turkish sweety milky dessert that is made with CHICKEN. I would not recommend it for breakfast (what mine was that day). In fact I am not sure I would recommend it at all but I am not a pudding person as you know. Apart from that I have been eating at a local köfteçi (meatball restaurant) - meatballs, green chillies, carrot and onion salad and once lentil soup - for dinner, as well as chicken and spicy lamb kebabs in another great local restaurant that unfortunately I'm not sure I should return to - Simon the waiter has started giving me flowers stolen from the tables (carnations smell much more in Turkey than they do in England) and asking me out. When not off to try strange desserts, my hotel has provided a healthy (-portioned) brekker every morning of egg, cheese, olives, very red tomatoes, cucumber, honey and bread (I've been sleeping a LOT - on the first night apparently I slept through some aftershock quaking!) so for lunch I've been testing out the various things sold on stalls throughout the city - corn on the cob is tasty and cheap, tangerines, chestnuts, NYC pretzel-like bread rings, Tatlï (syrup-drenched batter). All pretty tasty stuff. Since Sarah T especially requested, bowel health: TOP MARKS so far.

On my way to write this just now I had my best experience yet! I was wandering around by the big post office having just picked up a letter from Dad, looking for somewhere to buy an envelope. An old (60 something) man came up and asked me what I wanted (in French). I told him, and he invited me back to his office where he was to give me one. I went, as he certainly seemed to be kind and not dangerous, and not slimey like some of the younger leather shop owners are. As we were getting there, he told me that he is in the import business - CHAINSAWS!!!! I was slightly alarmed by the pictures of chainsaws above the entrance to his office, but I then spent a most enjoyable 45 minutes. He wanted me to translate a letter from a machine parts manufacturer in California from English into French, so that he could be sure that he understood it. Luckily my rusty A-level French was just about good enough to manage phrases like 'as you know quotes will vary according to the accessories and tools supplied', provided that I twisted them around a bit. He has had the same office for 35 years and I felt most at home there - those familiar with my desk and tidiness will understand why!! My compensation for the translation was a doner for lunch (got by his 'lazy' ('tembel') assistant, an apple and a pomegranite to take on the bus with me to Sinop this evening as well as some hazelnuts (which he cracked open with his teeth for me after I refused to) and a couple of cups of tea. I promised to stop by his office to say hello when I get back to Istanbul in a couple of weeks time. I've got to come back to get my visa for Iran, provided that it is authorised. Monday was the first day I could go to the Consulate here, and I went all bescarfed and submitted 3 photos of me like that, as well as two forms. I think they like the fact that I've already got a Pakistan visa in my passport, even though now I am tempted to not bother going to Pakistan and to go straight into China from Kazakhstan.

I also had a lovely time yesterday afternoon for an hour or so drinking tea with the guardian of a Byzantine Church turned Mosque turned Museum and his wife, children and brother in law. Turkish people really are very friendly.

So tonight I'm leaving now sunny istanbul, off to the Black Sea coast in the north of Turkey, heading east from Sinop to Ordu and Trabzon, south a bit to Erzerum in Eastern Anatolia, and depending on weather and how I gauge safety I may go as far east as Dogubayazit near the Iranian and Armenian border, near Mount Ararat before heading west again through central Anatolia (Cappadocia) before returning to istanbul. I'll send an update again then.

Thanks for all the site visits people!


The tiles on this page are from inside the harem of Istanbul's Topkapï Palace. |Click here to view the original photo|