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A leisurely first day

As I am here for just over a week, I can afford to take a day to recover.

First stop was the office to report the absence of tumbler in my room, the more disconcerting absence of water half-way through my shower, and to pay the ten euros I could not find at midnight.

I found this budget hotel TT Guest Rooms on and I will give it five stars. I’m paying 31 euros a night for a clean, spacious room, which turned out to be quiet after midnight and in the morning, 200 metres  from the main thoroughfare and tram stop, and from one of the Old Town landmarks: the column of Constantine.

Perhaps it’s biggest asset is its general manager, Yašar. He is genuinely a good support to passing travellers. He sorted out the missing tumblers, explained the water problem was works going on in the street, explained where to get an Istanbulkart, the equivalent of an Oyster public transport card and stressed that I should call his mobile any time I had a query.

I did just that at lunchtime, asking for advice about a local cheap lunch place serving Turkish food. He told me where to go and appeared a few minutes later to instruct the manager to give me a plate with a selection of dishes. Not the best Turkish food I have eaten, but close to the hotel and a fascinating experience. Yašar explained it was where all the locals went for a quick lunch. I was surrounded by men tucking into huge plates of food at the equivalent of Formica tables (no other women, but I am used to this from my Indian travels). Everyone was drinking Ayran, a cold yogurt drink which I also enjoyed. I shared the table with a friendly young man who asked “where are you from?” And then apologized because he knew no more English.

When I met  Ašar in the morning he ordered me some tea, and I, to make conversation, asked if the portrait on the wall was Atatürk. It was, and I replied what a great man he had been. This opened the floodgates. Ašar explained that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had basically created modern Turkey, introducing many new laws and practices, including the establishment of family, surnames. And he in turn was given the surname Atatürk, meaning “Father of the Turks”.

I asked Ašar how to say ‘Thank you’ in Turkish. When I struggled over the long ‘teşekkür ederim’  he added I could use the shorter Arabic ‘شكرا’ (which I remember from my brief attempt at learning the language.

Does that mean there are links between the two languages, or that lots of people also speak Arabic, I asked. No, said Ašar, it is that people have some knowledge of Arabic from reading the Koran.  He recalled how as a boy of about twelve he was sent away during the school holidays to a school whose aim was to teach the boys how to read and study the Koran.

i asked if there was ever a move to translate the Koran into Turkish.  Yes, this was apparently one of the proposals of Atatürk, but Muslim opposition led to this being dropped .

Time to get moving, so I made my way up the steep hill to one of the main roads through the Old City, Yeničeriler Caddesi, (you can see why I’m struggling to remember Turkish words). The road itself is a tramway and on either side there is a jumble of little shops and stalls

I stopped at one stage to admire the lovely mosque on the other side of the road.

An elderly shopkeeper, speaking good English, offered me a stool to sit on (I was walking with my stick) . I declined but added I was admiring the beauty of the mosque. The right thing to say: he turned out to be a devout Muslim and spoke eloquently of the purity of Muslim architecture and went on to explain how the whole of life needed to be focused on Allah, even in one’s dreams. I sought to neutralise the situation  I said I was personally not a believer but thought it important to listen and try to understand others, and to understand how we could all live in harmony  this seemed to please him, and I said good bye.

i wandered along the road to the Column of Constantine, erected in the 4th century AD (now a battered relic) to officially commemorate the city of Constantinople (formerly Byzantium) as the capital of the Roman Empire.

I was attracted by the sight of not just one mosque, but another in the distance  

As the day wore on I  became increasingly aware of just how many mosques there are  from my hotel bedroom I hear what seem to be three competing calls to prayer, their loudspeaker systems ensuring maximum coverage.

But just now I was walking towards one of the largest, the splendid, baroque Nuruosmaniye Camii Mosque next to the Grand Bazaar (which I am instructed not to visit before Jude and family arrive tomorrow).

I spent quite a while admiring its splendid harmony and in the afternoon – after buying a scarf (forgot to put one in my bag) went inside, where I would have loved to take photos too.

My other big activity of the day was people watching, at best when sitting in front of a baklava and strong cup of Turkish coffee – both very delicious. (This was my mid-morning breakfast).  I was struck by the tremendous variety of dress among the women:  Many were veiled, but others looking just as they would anywhere in the modern world. I got the impression of a people very much at ease with themselves. There were, as I would expect, many more men than women.

What contact I have had has been friendly and courteous  the man who sold me the tram ticket, for example, came out of his booth and showed me how to top up my Istanbulkart. Others from who I have asked directions have spoken no English but taken the trouble to point out where I should go – and greeted me like a friend later in the day.

Even the men trying to sell me tourist stuff have not persisted (maybe this will change in the bazaar)  there have been one or two huge Asian tourist groups, obediently following the leader with his flag. I asked one woman where her group came from: Korea. But I am struck by how few European tourists I have seen so far. They are mainly young couples  so far no children  that will change tomorrow, when my two grandchildren arrive!



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