Shannon’s Super Sexy Blog. Music. Travel. Randomness. And a Lot of Wine.

Archive for November, 2011

Tales from Another Planet

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

It is 6:13 PM, and outside the call to prayer has just started.  It is loud.  I guess that instead of church bells, this is how the locals keep track of the time.  No bell, only this beautiful voice wafting through the air via who knows how many giant speakers.

No church bells here.  Only a voice.  Now that is something I never thought about before.

Anyway.  After my Orson Wellesian evening last night, I got out with the full-on intent of Getting My Bearings.  Before I left I also had a humorous encounter with the lady that cleans the rooms.  In the hall I told her I didn’t need her to worry about my room. She was very jolly, and not just because of the no-cleaning thing, I don’t think.  She asked where I was from (everybody seems to do that here) and then she told me she was from Sofia, Bulgaria and went on about how beautiful Sofia, and the Varna are and did lots of abbondanza finger kisses as she talked.  When I said goodbye she said “Goodbye! I love you!” OK lady, if you were looking for an end of stay tip, you just succeeded, and brilliantly.

I left my hotel which is very close to the southern waters edge and decided to walk around the bottom tip of the peninsula and then head back in to go to the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque.  While walking I passed a place with a bunch of tourist buses, and some guy started talking to me.  It was not a tourist attraction, but a place that sells leather jackets.  The questions… where are you from? Where is your boyfriend?  How long are you in town for?  Do you want to look at some jackets?  Can I give you my card?  You will come back, promise? Oh, by the way, there is a shortcut to the Hagia Sophia through my shop!

Finally I extracted myself and made my way to the Hagia Sophia, but I never actually made it into the main part. I visited the Sultan Tombs off to the side of the massive main structure – five small buildings with vibrantly colored ceramic tiles inside, and simple sarcophagus on the floor – sometimes a lot of them, sometimes very small. Like baby small. They are all what look like simple green tents with a little sultans hat sticking out.  All the ornamentation is on the walls.

Walking to the main entrance of Hagia Sophia I saw the hop-on hop off bus that takes you around and you can get on and off to see different places.  I was interested so I went over there.  Got the sales pitch from the guy in charge, but when he said it was 20 euros I said that is too much.  Which it is, really, since the buses are running on a winter schedule, and there are hardly any of them.  So he said OK 15 euros.  And I said yeah but it is 12:00 and there are only buses until 4:30.  OK I will make a special deal for you! He said.  2 days for 15 euros.  How much is that in lire?  I asked.  Cause I can only figure out what the dollar/lire ratio is, at this point in time. 40 Turkish lire, he said.  OK! I said.  I hope that was low enough, my trying-to-teach-me-to haggle friends.

I learned many things on the bus one of which was, last night I was not circling the Hagia Sophia for hours last night – I was circling a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT MOSQUE. LIKE A MILE AWAY.  No wonder everything was so whackadoodle.  Note to self, and others – a lit up extremely tall pointy thing is not a good landmark in Istanbul.  They are everywhere, and will mess you up.  On the bus, looking at the map, I saw in great detail where it all went wrong.  I went out of the bazaar to the north, not the south, and thought I was in my general neighborhood.  NOT.  I could have totally taken a cab and not been 30 feet away, as was my fear.  Oh well, more mind-expanding travel trials and tribulations to round out my resume.  It was beautiful outside and also, freezing as hell on top of that bus.  I got off at Taksim Square to eat something and get back to a normal body temperature in a trendy place with a small movie screen (showing a hot blonde news reporter on the Turkish MSNBC) obscuring the pizza oven.  I would rather see the pizza oven.  Wouldn’t everybody?  Anyway I didn’t hang too much in the Taksim area after that because I will be there for eight days next week.

Coming back on the bus, I saw many burned out buildings, old ladies smoking cigarettes and (I think) playing cards on the street, several hundred near-traffic-accidents, the old city walls (which are incredible – ancient, yet sort of just there – because they were there, and continue to be there. No fuss at all) and just outside the walls lots of cemeteries.  Oh and you fans of swarthy dudes – Istanbul, I think, may be the capital of the Swarthy Man.  More than Sicily even, and that is saying something.

Leaving the bus I got hit up by yet another guy asking where I am from then trying to sell me carpets, a tour, etc.  I have to learn to ignore these guys, but it is hard.  I was thinking I could just say, when they ask where I am from, that I can’t say because it is “classified” or “THEY won’t let me” or something Orson Wellesian (any ideas?) But now I have decided, I can just wear my headphones! As soon as I hear the telltale “hello! Where are you from!” I will just keep walking and bop my head around like I am listening to Daft Punk or something.  It is extreme I know but I am not going to buy any carpets, hence, it is only these salesmen that I am looking after, in the long run.  Of course, me being me, I allowed some sincere cafe owner wearing one of those old fashioned shriner/Turkish hats to corral me into his place to have a glass of wine (mostly because I wanted some wine.) He sat down and we talked for some time – he has lived in Malaga, and Sweden, and Finland, and some French people came in and he busted out in some perfect French and sold them wine, tea, and some giant iron kebab skewers to take home.  I was very impressed.  Try to get an American guy to stand on the street with a hat like that and try to talk to people about how fresh your food is.  Also, though I told him my name, he kept calling me Kelly, which is what I always tell people my name is when I really don’t want them to know.  Hmm.

I did not get too lost today.  But I think, in the future, I will put in this blog about Turkey, a la Bridget Jones:

Times I got asked where I am from by a guy who really did not give a shit: 5

Wrong turns: 15

Trying not to look too closely at Swarthy Guy: 20

Trying not to look to closely at all the other guys: 642

Looking at my phrasebook to see how to say “white wine” then chickening out: 3 (I will get over this, eventually)

And so on.

Blind, and In The Dark

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Oh this crazy life.  2 hours on a bus from Santa Barbara to LAX, 6 hours at LAX, 12 hours on a plane to Istanbul, 1 hour getting out of there, a wacky drive into Istanbul, and then, basically, the last five and a half hours IN Istanbul.  It is 11:30 PM.  I am exhausted beyond belief.  Yet, somehow not exhausted.  No, really, I am exhausted.  Anyway please excuse me if I make some spelling errors.  It is the exhaustion/not exhaustion.

For many years now I have wanted to visit Istanbul.  But when I finally made the plan to go, I didn’t really follow up with my normal obsessive/compulsive reading and planning.  Mostly because I was doing so much traveling I didn’t really have my normal year-plus to obsess.  I know something of Turkish history mostly because I know so much about Venetian history and they are very intertwined.  I know about Doner Kebabs.  But I don’t know how to say thank you.  Well I didn’t, anyway, until about an hour ago.

I actually did know to get a visa before going through passport control because of the fine folks who told me about this in advance.  Passport control was funny. Don’t mess around in the Non-Turkish line – let your eyes stray for one second from that official when he calls you and you will have all manner of nationalities yelling at you MADAM! LADY! GO! (This did not happen to me, but it did to several other jet lagged ladies.) It was pretty mellow getting out until I emerged from baggage and customs into the most insane waiting area I have ever experienced.  My hotel sent a guy in a car, who was to hold up a sign with my name on it.  Well you know when you get into a waiting area and there are usually five dudes with signs?  In Istanbul, there were hundreds of people cramming together to wait, and at least a hundred signs.  A hundred!  Somehow, I spotted my sign but as I started to wave (scream) the guy turned around and started walking away.  I caught up with him, and then he led me out, me pushing my cart through an insane obstacle course of people, carts, playing children, wheelchairs – and of course he was like eight feet tall, walking like a city person with no jet lag.  Whew.  That was a little nuts.  My driver took over the cart pushing when we got outside – he probably was sick of me lagging.

So then we were off and I watched the scenery instead of the traffic – boy, there sure are a lot of restaurants here!

Checking in, the manager of the Hotel Sarnic brought me a much needed glass of Turkish white wine (absolutely delicious!) and a plate of really good cheese cubes.  I kind of unpacked and then immediately went out for a walk.

This is where things got kind of haywire for awhile.  I seriously do not know what I was thinking when I set out on this journey.  I thought, well, I need to walk for an hour and check some stuff out, then go eat then get a good nights sleep yada yada yada.  I left the hotel and next door is a restaurant and a young man was smoking outside.  He said come in and eat, listen to some music.  I thought they were part of the hotel, so I said no I have to walk, maybe later.

And walk I did.  In boots with heels (you know how many times I have worn these on the first night on a trip and totally regretted it?  So many it is kind of hilarious) for many hours, on rough streets, the same streets, some dark, some lit, some with sketchy looking characters, some with cafes where the people inside were surely laughing because I had already walked by 45 times in the last two hours.

In a nutshell, I got insanely, horribly lost.

The cool thing is, tomorrow I will be like, oh, I know this place, and it is daylight!  But tonight it was very dark and the only map I had was the one the hotel gave me (stupid, stupid, STUPID girl for even thinking this was going to work).  I walked along a very cool street with many trams and shops and cafes but then somehow veered off into the Grand Bazaar.  Well, I am sure this behemoth of retail (4000 storefronts!) is all nice and cozy in the day, but tonight?  Me and about 200 dudes wrapping up the days work, also about 400 cats and a lot of garbage.  I did not see one woman there.  99% of the shops were closed for the day. And it is a MAZE.  I could not get out.  I was not worried about the dudes or the cats, I was just worried about actually finding my way OUT.  Eventually I did though, to the Hagia Sofia, which is this massive building.  OK cool.  Except for the next hour, I kept going in circles around it.  Kind of like the Colosseum in Rome.  It was always there.  Over and over.  I was getting worried. And, to be kind of honest, wishing there was a wine bar on every corner like there is in Venice or Paris. Have a glass of wine, use the empty glass to magnify the small print on the map, etc. That kind of thing generally saves the day for me.

I knew I needed to get to the Blue Mosque because the hotel was around there and I finally did but I must have made 70 concentric circles around that freeking thing (and it is BIG) trying to figure out where the hell I was.  Now you might wonder, why not hop into one of the 8000 cabs that passed by me in the night?  Excellent question.  I should have, except I was scared to.  Not only scared of getting overcharged but scared that the hotel would be 30 feet away.

I did ask a few people.  A policeman gave me the wrong directions.  A dude with a big cart full of fruits told me to walk to the tram and then take a left.  I did, but he must have meant for me to continue to ask directions.  The good thing was the tram stops had good maps.  I was scrutinizing one when a guy came up and asked me where I was going, if I lived here, etc.  I was nice but kind of said I can figure it out.  I saw him down the street and he followed me and offered to walk me, but I said no that is OK.  I think I would rather be lost.  He was from “the Black Sea” and he had a black eye.  He asked if I wanted a tea. But I kept going.

Thankfully the bus map was pretty good and I got almost to the hotel except for one wrong turn, and there was a guy in front of a carpet shop that asked if he could help.  I was very close and he was very nice – of course, I guess he was trying to sell me a carpet. He invited me in for tea and I said no I have to eat and this other, older guy said WE WILL BUY YOU DINNER. Sigh.  I really just want to get home.

I went around the corner and saw the young smoking guy that I had seen when I first ventured out at 6:30 this evening.  I was so happy to see him.  I swear, I have never been so happy to see a stranger in my life.  I may as well have had rockets on my heels I went into that restaurant so fast.  It was 9:30 – I had been searching for home for about 2 hours at that point. I was the only one in there, except for some of his family.  He brought me another glass of delicious white wine, and a little plate of different spreads for bread – yogurt with chunks of pickle, hummus, some tomato stuff.  Then I had lamb on eggplant puree.  He sat at the next table and talked with me the whole time.  I asked if it was bad manners to talk with one’s mouth full in Turkey, but he said no.  He is quite an amiable guy.  Really nice.  He comes from a town in the east where they have a lot of Hittite excavations.  He showed me some pictures on his computer – he is very proud of his town, and of his heritage.  His family business is also tours, and I think I will take one of the boat tours they do.  He invited me to go see Turkish folk music tomorrow.  I am not really sure I am ready to take on something like that – not on the second night.  Though, it could be totally awesome.  I just need to get my bearings a little better first.

In the daylight.