Saturday, November 30, 2013
Underground, And Taken For a Ride
Yesterday, Dave and I went to see the vast underground water storage cistern that Constantine built beneath old Istanbul in the fourth century after Christ. He used columns recycled from Greek ruins, including the giant heads of two Medusa statues. These days it's an immense underground goldfish pond, and quite impressive.
We took our second bus tour, this time up and around the natural harbor called the Golden Horn. I saw a few things that I hope to go back and photograph today.
We had lunch at the wharf near the Galata Bridge, where you can buy fresh frish grilled on the spot and served on a roll for about $3. A cup of pickled cabbage and cucumbers in beet juice (we think?) is available as accompaniment. It was a bustling spot with lots and lots of Turks -- particularly groups of loud, chatty women in head scarves.
A few girls approached us with a video camera and lists of questions, in English -- things like, "When did you come to Turkey?" and "What was your favorite sight?" They wanted to record their interviews with us. We said sure, even though their English was somewhat impenetrable. We think it was for a class assignment. In any case the questions were harmless and they did not pick our pockets.
We walked back into town through the Grand Bazaar, where we bought nothing.
Finally, we toured the grand Blue Mosque in the afternoon. It's a vast, carpeted space covered with tile, purpose-built as a mosque in the 1600s. It may be the first time I've been inside a mosque, despite my years spent living in Morocco -- there, non-muslims are prohibited from entering. I also recorded part of the call to prayer, in case you'd like to hear it.
Last night, Dave and I went to a popular seafood restaurant and had our first definitively negative experience in Istanbul. We tried to walk to the restaurant, only to find that the Google map on its web site is completely wrong -- it shows the location of a different restaurant with a similar name. (Better get that fixed, guys!) We walked around a bit, knowing we were close, but finally hopped into a taxi in front of the Ayasofya -- completely forgetting the line in our guidebook that says, "under no circumstances should you hire a taxi off the street in front of the Ayasofya." Turns out those taxi drivers are master conmen, and we wound up paying about $43 to go roughly three blocks, through both an unnecessarily circuitous route and a quick-change scheme whereby the driver took my 50 TL note and insisted I'd given him a 5 TL note.
I was so angry at myself for getting into this situation, but what could we do? I just got out of the cab and drank enough wine at dinner to ease the pain.