As of May 2021, I am migrating most of my travel journals to Daveno Travels where I am reissuing them as Director’s Cuts, with full text and previously unpublished photos. This is an excerpt from my first trip to Istanbul in 2011.
Baha invites me to Captain’s Table for breakfast, which he promptly covers with an extensive array of dishes. We are joined by an Australian woman who is also leaving today. Baha offers to take us to the bazaar to buy suzani (the embroidered bedspreads) and ceramics. I don’t think I can cram anything more into my suitcases but the offer is more than the Australian and I can resist.
At the Bazaar, Baha takes us to the vendor who sells the suzani for his hotel. We are offered tea and seats. We make our selections and are each gifted with a suzani pillow case. The embroidery on mine is incomplete, which makes me smile. Baha also notices and pantomimes with needle and thread, indicating that I could finish the embroidery on it myself. I am also gifted with a silk ikat headscarf.
I photograph a framed goldworked section of an Ottoman robe that is leaning against a wall behind a pile of other things. The Australian takes off to join her friends, and Baha takes me to Iznik Ceramic, managed by Tolga Neidim. I sort through stacks of handmade tiles, and select a few in traditional Turkish motifs. A blue and white Turkish cup rounds out my purchase there.
We stop for lunch at a sidewalk cafe: a kebab roll and a beverage called ayran which reminded me of kiefer. There are no circles on my map today, so I decide to keep my sightseeing to within a few blocks of the hotel.
I find the Ibrahim Pasa Palace, a building that dates back to the Ottoman period which houses the Islamic Art and Ethnology Museum. It’s a treasure trove that would make my friends Sunjan and Khalja want to move here. A nomads tent, called a kara cadir in Turkish, woven from black goat hair with center pole supports, much like a Bedouin tent. Home interiors and women’s clothing from the end of the Ottoman period. A lantern built around a Chinese dragon pattern blue and white porcelain drum. Wood and copper doors and 13th century stone reliefs. Sarcophagi in carved wood and stone. Kor’ans that I could not bring myself to photograph. Anatolian kilims that were woven in one piece, a rare find as they are traditionally woven in two or three sections and then stitched together.
It has grown chilly and overcast, just like my first day in Istanbul. Baha will catch up with me later for a final night out. I finish packing, settle up my bill and drop my suitcase off at the concierge desk.
We catch the tram across the Galata Bridge, then climb the stairs to the base of the Galata Tower in the Beyoglu district. I point out buildings with facades that look like the ones I saw in Genoa. Baha shows me his favorite church. After walking around looking at architecture, we end up at the Cicek Pasaji (Flower Passage) where we order drinks and listen to musicians as they roam from one table to the next, one of which is playing something that looks like a hammer dulcimer.
We hail a cab back to the Sultanahmet, just after midnight. My shuttle is due at 3:30 AM, and since I am the last guest in his hotel, we sit and talk in the dining room. We talk about my Facebook albums, and the route my plane would take on its return to Seattle, and if there are sharks in Puget Sound. Cars, and sports, and music. Whatever small talk our tired brains could manage.
The shuttle arrives. Baha loads my book-heavy luggage into the van. He gives me a warm European-style send-off and promise to keep in touch.
It has been a most remarkable trip, and I will never, ever forget this place…