Sunday, December 10, 2006

2 weeks in Istanbul

I still haven't stopped yakking about my trip at home but now that I sit down to write about the two weeks I don't know where to start! When we landed, it was freezing cold at 6 degree Celsius and it only got colder over the next days. Istanbul is very hilly and the icy cold temperatures gives it a hill station like feel however when you drive down the streets you see a mix of things oddly placed yet making perfect sense. High rising buildings, fast moving cars indicating a modern well developed city interspersed with remains of an ancient building,palaces and castles standing in its full glory, magnificent mosques with tall minarets and the Bosphorous. Bosphorous is a natural waterway or strait that connects the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea dividing Istanbul into two halves, one in Europe and another in Asia!! People talk very fondly about the Bosphorous, it is something that connects them to the city. I got the feeling that the Bosphorous was visible from anywhere in the city. I'd go sightseeing or shopping or just go out looking for restaurant and there it would be, a different view but looking just as beautiful specially during the night when the shores would light up. Most residential areas are in the European side of the city and offices and commercial buildings on the Asian side. I got a kick everytime I saw the 'welcome to Asia' and 'Welcome to Europe' signs on the bridge. The taxi drivers are very much like the auto drivers of Bangalore. Nobody wanted to cross the bridge, 'no! no! problem, traffic problem' they would say. That's when we found the new route taking the ferry boat instead of crossing the bridge and what fun it was! People speak little or no English, communicating was very difficult but people are soo nice! Most of them were very happy to see us. 'Hindistani?' they would ask and gleefully smile when we nodded. We had trouble converting our travellers cheques, people in banks would apologise profusely, make hundred calls finding where we could get it done and then come out of their seats and give us directions as to where to go. I cant imagine bankers in India doing that! When taxi drivers complained about traffic we never understood what the problem was, the few times we crossed the bridge traffic was normal, lesser than what we see in Bangalore. But then Pope came to visit and the city came to a standstill. All roads were blocked making it impossible to commute. Another reason why I loved the ferry so much!

Weekends I did touristy things. I went on city tour with unknown people but it was fun! I love places with history and Istanbul has many stories to tell of the Byzantine empire and the powerful Ottoman empire. 'Melancholy' is a word heavily used in Pamuk's book on Istanbul. He says that there is a gloom set over the city ever since the fall of the Ottomon empire. In seeing the Topkapi palace and the Dolmabahce palace the power that the Ottoman Empire once had is very evident. Dolmabache is easily my favorite. You have to see the pictures to know why. I now know what living life 'kings style' truly means! Other places we saw was the famous Blue mosque and the Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia once used to be a church which was later converted to a mosque. It now stands as a museum with both pictures of Mary and inscriptions in Arabic. When the pope arrived people wanted to know if he would pray there. Well,he didn't. My second favorite place is the Grand Bazaar in the old city with 4000 shops selling exquisite jewellery, carpets, handicrafts and more. Shopkeepers drag you into their shops with their smart talk. Two of them knew Hindi, one of them was convinced I had studied in England. I was pretty happy with my bargaining skills and bought quite a few things but somebody slipped in a fake 20 lira note. I was caught at Pizza hut when I tired to use it. Barring that incident, I enjoyed my stay. and I still believe the people there are very nice. Food is another story and will require another post.

For two weeks, I kept my passport and tickets safely, I kept all the bills, I took proper change, I never forgot a thing, I was on time. I come home, day one I forget to take my id card to office. Day two I leave my jacket in office. Its good to be back home :)


uknowho said...

start n end nice. middil din read.

Shradha said...

uknowwho, podi!

uknowhosback said...

podi ur self.

Someone said...

hey, u covered a lot of Istanbul considering u were there only 2 weeks and as u claim "had a lot of work". Sigh, u missed the F1 circuit though.
Good to have the careless Shradz back.
Couldnt check out the pics though. Picasa blocked in office.

HP said...

Good Read.

But would love to know more about the personal impressions of Istanbul, the politics that you were able to understand in the 2 weeks. If you visited during the Pope's tour, what was the general mood and all ?

Btw, totally agree to the last paragraph...That is the only thing that I really hate when I stay away from home..Taking care of oneself :-)


GuNs said...

How do you pronounce 'Bosphorous' ?

Shradha said...

Someone, I did have a lot of work! Didn't want to waste my time seeing a track!

Guns, Like in Phosphorous with a B.

Shradha said...

HP, Politics? Hmmm. Istanbul has 99% muslims but unlike other islamic countries it is very moderate and western maybe due to the rapid 'westernisation' that took place. The women dont wear the burkha or cover their heads and dress like in any other western country. There were few protests about the pope's visit but the people seemed to worry only about the traffic problem that his visit had created. Their news papers were in turkish so I read about his visit on google news! It is a democratic country, I found it but all men as a rule have to sevre the military for one and a half years. Most men to delay the military service take up higher studies and get doctrates also because the more the degrees you have the better the role you play in that one and a half years.So the people joked that this rule is helping their nation get more and more qualified people!

Another major issue is about Turkey joining the EU. They laugh about it. People I talked to said that the general belief among all the people is that by joining th EU there is nothing to gain for them. Greece when it was part of Eu got a lot of benefits and finacial support but apparently they dont do that anymore. He also mentioned about free flow of goods which comes with joining EU but that is already happening. Yet they (the country) is eagerly seeking to be a member. My colleague's husband remarked'we know it will not happen, they know it will not happen but we still want it'

Have you heard about the genocide that took place during the Ottomon rule? About a million Armenians were killed however the government refuses to acknoledge it. (EU wants Turkey to own up to its past). Talking about it, writing about it can get you into trouble! Orhan Pamuk, mentioned that their ancestors killed millions of Armenians. There was a lot of controversy surrounding it however he did not get imprisonment(Again because the government has softened because they want to be part of EU). People think he won a noble only because of the controversy.

That is all I could get in two weeks :)

HP said...

Hey..Thanks...That was a lot of ground you covered in 2 weeks :-)

Know abt Turkey's struggle/desperation to get into EU

btw, I have heard that secularism is pretty much enforced there..means they don't have public display of religious affiliations unlike India where though we claim secularism, the political honchos will hobnob with Godmen and their like..

Never knew abt the massacre during the Ottomon rule..Thanks for that..
Owning up to the past is pretty much difficult if the past shows a ugly picture..Guess, no one and no country including India wants to do it..


Swathi said...

yeah, 'am back n seem to have a lot of catching up to do in the blog world.
Istanbul and Pamuk are interlinked and reading 'My name is Red' gave me a wonderful insight of it.
(One of my close frends was there for 3 months on work and I had got some lovely jewellery when she came back ) hope u enjoed the shopping and yaa i wanna see more pictures of it.(do mail me pretty please)

Anonymous said...

For more information about Istanbul;
History and places of Istanbul