We have one lovely day in Istanbul to do Everything. We are up with the early morning traffic, which isn’t loud, because we have a pedestrian street outside, but there is stirring in the city and it’s too exciting to lie still. We are up and trying out our winsey shower space and we do ok – at least we are clean! And breakfast is yummy, a mix of olives and yogurt and turkish bread and pie and egg and salad and cake… a very turkish start. But really the most important call of the day at this stage no matter what the owner of this hotel says, is to go to the grand bazaar to buy a new bag for our rugs. He says – don’t worry – you’ll come across a bag shop somewhere, just get going and see all the wonderful things there are to see, the cistern, the Ayasofya, the Bospherous. Uh uh we say – its the grand bazaar first. Well, he says nodding wisely, there’s lots of good things to buy in there and you will surely buy your bag. We laugh, we are not buying one other thing.
The Grand Bazaar is amazing. What a building. It is really out of the nights of Arabia, tall vaulted ceilings, painted and patterned, the old marble floors, every shop in an archway, modernized now but a lot of it with still the same produce from forever. Everywhere we go a carpet man comes out and invites us into his shop, and we spread our arms and say, we have just bought THREE rugs and we are looking for a bag to take them in and we and the shop keeper nod at each other, knowing the process we have just undergone, and he will grin sheepishly and slink back inside his shop – everywhere we go. Otherwise there is always someone who happily asks us where we are from and then very politely, how can I take your money today sir? Hahaha it’s fun really. And finally our mission is accomplished when we find a man who sells cheap bags on wheels specifically for rugs! We reluctantly leave the market, filled with all its glorious colour, bags, scarves, beautiful glass lampshades, antiquities… and we arrive back at the hotel and fill our new bag with our beautiful old rugs.
The Basilica Cistern. It is one of the most amazing places I have ever been to. We descend stairs into a dark vaulted space, so beautiful and mystical, it could be a great cathedral, with hundreds of elegant columns rising 9 metres high, most of them with ionic and corinthian capitals and some plain in the doric tradition. It’s majestic. And all of them are reflected a hundred times over in the water, golden in the soft low light, carp swimming eagerly around the spots that tourists stop by, waiting to be fed. Somehow, its darkness and its mystery feels spiritual and we feel deeply respectful. We come across one column that is carved all over in tear shapes and is called the peacock eyes but apparently represents the tears of all the slaves that died building the cistern. In another spot we come to two Roman Medusa heads upside down and sidewise in the water holding up the columns; pagan myths dismissed to the dungeons to drown forever, not to be seen again for centuries. It would have been wondrous to be inspecting the cistern in the old days in a boat in this subterranean world, no tourists just you and a torch, gliding through the dark water between the stone trunks. And to think that such beauty was down here in a cistern, a water storage area for this part of the city, where no one could see it, just the slaves and the workers, but the engineering, so practically beautiful and the rulers so pragmatic that they just took the pillars from other areas of its conquered kingdom to re use again irrespective of its inherent loveliness, an organic and useful evolution.