Suitcase and World: Hustle, bustle, and tranquility.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hustle, bustle, and tranquility.

y second full day in Istanbul started out with a lot of hustle and bustle and ended with a smidgen of tranquility.

After breakfast, I made my way back to the Grand Bazaar following my instincts since the maps I had were pretty much useless. At the Bazaar, I did my souvenir shopping - fending off one shop keeper after another! I finally managed to get the gifts that I had wanted to bring home with me. One thing good about coming during off-season - the prices are far more reasonable and the sellers more desperate to seal the deal so even though you still have to haggle, it's a lot easier.

By late morning I was done with shopping and hunger pangs were beginning to strike. I had planned to have lunch at one of the fish stands by the Galata Bridge. So, again, following my instincts which where telling me to head down hill, I made my way towards the Spice Bazaar.

The neighborhood streets that separate the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar are filled with shops selling everything you can possibly imagine. When Lei and I walked the same streets back in May, we were squashed by throngs of people - mainly locals doing their daily shopping. This time around, the streets were still crowded but not as bad.

In the Spice Bazaar, it was more hustle and bustle. Cries of "kunichi-wa", where are you from and please, come inside my shop....rang out as I passed from one shop to another. I had heard the shop keepers' cries so many times that they had now become just background noise that I could easily tune out. Every now and again, I would be lured to walk inside a shop. For the most part, I walked out emty handed though I did purcase a couple small bags of spices.

Although I was famished and was surrounded by food that I knew would alleviate the hunger pangs, I was able to resist every bit of it - all I really, really wanted was that bilek ekmek (fish sandwich) that I knew was waiting for me at the fish stand by the Galata Bridge. Just had to get there. With visions of a freshly grilled piece of fish sitting on a roll of softbread to keep me focused, I left the Bazaar, walked pass Yeni Camii, headed to the underground walkway and made my way to the fish stand alongside the water. Above ground, the smell of salty water with a strong overtone of fish wafted through the air. I had arrived :-)

I made my way to a familiar fish stand. There they were - the grill masters. I plunked down my 4 lira and was handed a sandwich. A squirt of lemon juice from the bottle and a sprinkle of salt was all that was needed as garnish. I sat down on a plastic stool and sunk my teeth into the sandwich. Warm, grilled fish tangy from lemon juice, peppery bite from the onion, cool lettuce and tomato, and warm roll. Oh so, so good.

I grabbed a plastic stool, sat down and as I ate my sandwich, watched the scenery around me - fisherman casting out and reeling in their lines, ferry boats making their way up and down the Bosphorus.

It's that time of year when the chestnut (kestane - "kes-tah-nay") vendors are out and about so dessert was 100 grams (about 6) roasted chestnuts for 3 lira - not the cheapest of foods but who can resist the smell of chestnuts being roasted over charcoal?

After I noshed on the chestnuts, I headed back up hill towards Sultanahmet. Easiest thing to do is follow the tram line and you won't get lost. Along the way, I passed by a pink colored building that is Sirkeci Train Station where Lei and I went to watch a performance of the whirling dervishes. The station's claim to fame is as the eastern terminus of the famed Orient Express when it used to run from Paris to Istanbul.

A short walk up hill from the Sirkeci Train Station is Gülhane ("Gool-ha-nay") Park which is situated at the foothill of the Topkapı Palace. Gülhane which means "Rose Garden" in Turkish was once the garden of the Byzantine and Ottoman emperors. The garden was originally enclosed within Byzantine palace walls - remnants of the walls remain today. Outside the park, it was Istanbul hustle and bustle; inside the park, I found a tranquil refuge of giant plane trees and quiet, dusty paths. It was the perfect afternoon escape. I found a bench to plop down on to rest my feet, take a sip of water and watch the world go by. Perfect way to decompress.

It's winter time so there were no leaves on the trees or blooming flowers planted in the beds. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day - warm for winter and since it was a weekday afternoon so there were only a few people in the park. I felt like I was relaxing in my own back yard. After having spent 10 days in Cappadocia, I realized just how much I missed the greenery.

After a short rest, I decided to continue strolling through the park. At one point on my walk, I could get a glimpse the Galata Tower, which is located on the other side of the water, through the trees.

I headed back towards the entrance to the park and noticed that they had turned on the fountains. I couldn't resist the urge to sit down to enjoy the soothing and hypnotic sound of the water as it spouts upwards and falls back down into the pool.

Though I was relishing my time in Gülhane Park, it was my last afternoon in Istanbul so I did not linger long to enjoy the fountains. I reluctantly got up from the bench and soon found myself back in the hustle and bustle of the streets of Istanbul.