Istanbul! Magic carpets, Aladdin’s lamp, minarets, domes, turbans, spices. Yes. It is all here. How wonderful to be here. I have dreamt of this magical place forever and now here we are. On our last trip back from Hong Kong, we stopped over at the airport on our way to Venice. As we wandered around the airport, the food, the turkish delight, the glass lamps, the spices and pepper grinders, the tiles and ceramics…. we bought it all, and we said we were coming back…
Here we are in Hotel Han, a little 3 star pink and yellow and marrone and red and purple hotel with restaurant right in the middle of the old quarter, metres from the old Roman cistern and the Ayasofya Museum, barely a walk from the Grand Bazaar and not far from the spice market and the Bospherous. The people are lovely here. We climb the steep stairs to our little room with the tiniest bathroom you ever saw – you wouldn’t want to be a pound bigger than me! – and delight in the wild colour on the walls and floor and the lovely contemporary suzani bedspread on a bed that is quite comfortable. We pile ourselves back down the stairs to discover the city. We have half of the day left and then one full day tomorrow.
Mike’s brother said two things. Whatever you do, go to the spice market and go for a walk on the bridge over the Bospherous. So Spice market it is first. We amble out onto the cobbled street and walk down into the town, startled at first by trams and buses that come right up to the pedestrian path, no slipping off the pathway here. Along the way a young man pops out of a carpet shop and within his conversation asks Mike to come in and have a cup of tea. I shake my head at Mike and he regretfully responds that maybe later, on the way back home. The spice market is wonderful. Just the sheer colour of all the spices and the wonderful market building and the smells that are absolutely delicious, and all the different turkish delights, some made with sugar, some with honey, some with both and some with nothing but the sweetness of the fruit within, how could we resist tasting them all and buying a little bit of everything. And outside the market building there are greater specials to be had as we queue up with the locals and order a kilo of turkish delight for 5 turkish lira. mmm emmm!
Slowly we wind our way back up the road towards our hotel, pondering what culinary tasting we would partake of next, when out springs our young man to banter with Mike again and to insist we have that cup of tea he promised us a couple of hours ago. Delighted that we had been remembered, Mike agrees while I hang back doubtfully. Nevertheless, in we go, into the lion’s den, albeit beautifully hung with rugs. Hahaha you can imagine what happens next! The lovely young man asks us, what we would prefer, apple tea or turkish tea. We agree on turkish tea as he explains the apple tea is for tourists (and anyway, we had already had some back at the hotel). Then the older brother comes in and the young man stands back and says not another word…..out come the carpets one after a glorious other, and all the while we have no intention of buying and feel sorry that they are going to such effort. But it is extraordinary, the brother asks which one do we like, which one don’t we like and reluctantly we tell him, and slowly he sifts and sorts, finding our taste, mesmerising us with quiet words and information about each one, constantly going back to a large one hanging on the wall that we had instantly liked but wouldn’t dream of owning. Finally we end up with fifteen rugs before us and he says, you know, I can give you a really good price for these. We laugh delightedly and sorrowfully, but no, we cannot afford or even place such lovely things. Hmmm, he asks us which ones don’t we like, seriously, which ones. Oh ok, then perhaps that one we are not interested in, and maybe that one too and that one, until w arrived at seven really beautiful rugs, including the big one on the wall. Now it is time to offer another excellent price if we are to take so many. But no. It is not to be. He starts taking rugs away again and finally after a lot of prolonged explanations of why we are not going to buy these rugs, we are at three lovely pieces, two old kilims, one threadbare but beautiful, and the delicious red and blue old rug on the wall. Then, all of a sudden, we know we are buying them. Suddenly I concentrate and go through all my memories of rugs and kilims and the prices I had been interested in and figure on a price I would consider a bargain if I had got them in Italy. No point wondering if we could get them a lot cheaper elsewhere at this point because we are gone. Amazing. So all of a sudden we are negotiating and all of a sudden we are at the price I thought would be a bargain in Italy. How could we not be happy. These pieces are beautiful. They are handcrafted from a time when people had time and made these things over months. They are not machined. Some village person had embroidered over these kilims and their painstaking work is evident on the back where the needle has looped and re-looped creating the distinctive patterns on the front. They feel beautiful especially compared to the Chinese copies in the same shop. It is a lost art and we are lucky. Just a surprise. We walk out of the shop with our bulky heavy parcels and we wonder at ourselves, but Mike turns to me with a sparkle in his eyes and says, I’ve always wanted to do that. I have always wanted to be courted by a carpet man in Turkey, wow, what a wonderful experience and what a wonderful lesson in sales!!