Saturday, April 2, 2011

12 camels and the magic begins!

Day two in Istanbul is where I believe the magic began! My day started at 4:30 am when the call to prayer was sounded. Not being able to get back to sleep I got ready for an early day. By 7 am we were out and ready to see the sights! But not before a Starbucks run. The addiction was back in my blood that quickly! After having Carmel Macchiatos we headed to the Haggia Sofia. Along the way we stopped and bought beautiful scarves for about ten dollars each, which we thought was a steal until we later saw them for about five dollars! Eeeya.
As we walked we ran into all kinds of things we didn’t even expect to find. There was a beautiful green and gold dome that was just sitting in the middle of a construction site. I still don’t really know anything about it other than its inscription said it was the fountain of Wilhelm. As we continued along to the Haggia Sofia, I was surprised by the lack of people at the museum. We walked all around the building taking in the beauty of the exterior when we noticed the gates were locked. A Turkish man saw us in our confusion and came over to explain to us that the Ayasofya was closed on Mondays. A quick note: when the Sofia was commissioned by the Emperor Justinian it was named the Haggia Sofia, meaning Holy Wisdom. In the 15th century Sultan Mehmet laid siege on the church and took it over. He converted it into a mosque and renamed it Aya Sofia. I still choose to call it Haggia Sofia because that is the Christian name that it was given and also that is the name it bore when it was the most beautiful cathedral in the world.
So not able to see the Sofia we walked away and thought of new plans for the day. As we were standing on the sidewalk discussing our plans another Turkish man approaches us. Are you from Canada he asks us. We quickly tell him that no we are Americans, and he then asks Darren if he is a Mormon missionary. We laugh. He explains to us that he loves Americans and loves to practice his speaking skills with them. He asks us what our plans are and we tell him we are not sure. He then tells us to follow him and he will show us where the Basilica Cistern is. We agree and as we follow the man begins speaking about some shop he owns that is on the other side of the cistern. (This should have been a warning sign right?!) He tells us we must see the cistern and that when we are done we can meet him at his shop. We thank him for showing us the directions thinking we probably will never see him again.
As we walked underground to enter the Cistern our eyes have to adjust to the darkness. The Cistern was built in the 6th century for water filtration. It’s another one of Emperor Justinian’s beauties. When you enter you are amazed by the enormity of the columns and the cascading lights that give off an orange glow. I was so humbled to stand in a place that was built centuries before I was born. I am certain that it is the most ancient place I have ever been to.
As we excited the Basilica Cistern the Turkish man who had showed us where to go was waiting at the door for us. He explained that he didn’t want us to get lost on the way to his shop and he invited us to follow him for some Turkish tea. As we were following him Darren said something to me about this not being a good idea because he will try to sell us something. At the time I didn’t really see the harm in it because I had absolutely no interest in buying Turkish Carpets, or any carpet for that matter.
When we arrived at the shop we were seated at a coffee table and hot apple tea was brought to us. The tea was served in strange tiny tornado glasses, not tea cups. Usually I am not a fan of fruity tea but I have to say Turkish apple tea is fantastic!! One of my biggest regrets is that I did not buy any to take back to Armenia with me. While we drank tea we asked our new friend all of our questions about Turkey and its culture. To be honest it was actually really good conversation. I began to consider Amar our new friend. Then men began to bring carpets out, only for us to look at they said. So we looked and when asked for our opinions we told him the ones we liked. Then he would order more of the kinds we liked to be brought out. He left them to just stare at us as he ordered the traditional Turkish tea to be brought to us. He asked us questions about our life, what we do, where we live, why we are visiting, the normal questions you ask people when you meet. Soon the same tiny tornado class filled with traditional Turkish tea was brought out to us. As we sipped on our tea he asked the one question that always throws me off, even though by now I should be used to it. Are you single? Darren explains that he has a girlfriend and then he turns to look at me. I know looking back that the easiest thing to do is lie and say no, but for whatever reason I have never been able to lie on my feet like that. So instead I just laughed and told him I am single. Of course this means he immediately singles in on me. I don’t think I have ever heard more ridiculous lines than I heard in Turkey.
“Yeah I can feel that. That is why I am drawn to you. I like everything about you. The way you walk, your sweet voice and your hunting boots. Do you hunt?” All three of us erupt with laughter. “Do I hunt? No never” and we keep laughing. He continues on about how he likes American girls, the whole time smiling at me, super creepy! Then “How many camels would you sell your friend to me for?” Ashley without even missing a beat “Oh I don’t know, maybe 12” 12 CAMELS! My best friend in the world is willing to sell me for 12 camels!!! They make a deal and it is done, I am sold for a measly 12 camels!
As we finish our tea our friend begins to pitch his sales to us. He makes us come touch the carpets and tells us about how well they are made and what kind of discount he could give us. He tells us the carpets make for a great dowry and of course we all laugh hysterically! After about two hours of chatting with him we begin to feel bad that we have no money to buy a carpet. We begin to think of him as a friend who’s been so hospitable toward us. So when all is said and done we each bought a carpet and ash and I were also give two free pillow cases because I asked for them. Our new friend demanded that we stay for one more Turkish treat and Turkish coffee was brought out. We drank our coffee and made dinner plans with our new friend. He promised to take us to the best seafood restaurant in all of Istanbul.
After we said our goodbyes we headed back to the hostel to leave our bags. As we were walking we began to notice that all of a sudden we were targets for every sales man in all of Istanbul. “Excuse me, excuse me, yes we have carpets” they shouted at us from every shop we passed. All of a sudden it became obvious to us that they were targeting us because we were carrying carpet bags which means we are pretty much suckers! We quickly decide to go back to the hostel to drop the bags off but before we do Darren stops at a shop to buy water. The shop is like a target of Istanbul, it has everything in it and for cheap. It also has the carpets we just bought at a way cheaper price!! Albeit they were not the same exact carpets but they were very very similar. We were completely suckered!! Sufficed to say, we never made it back to that shop for our dinner date. We just weren’t up for being the biggest suckers in all of Istanbul.
Feeling a little bit angry and pretty stupid, we made our way to the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque is absolutely stunning from the outside.. It was exactly what we needed after the day we had. Ash and I covered our heads and we all took off our shoes and entered the visitors entrance. We then walked into the building and fell silent. Great beauty in the world has a way of making you speechless and pensive. We took a few pictures of the tiled and golden interior and then we just sat and let the peace of the place fall over us and calm our souls. I think we ended up staying for almost an hour, just sitting and watching silently.
After we left the Blue Mosque enchanted, we made our way to the Galata tower where we took an elevator up to the height of the tower which overlooked the city. Istanbul is truly a beautiful place, and we are truly blessed to have the experience that we had. I think we all went home that night with the same thought in our minds… Istanbul is magical.
I do have to say, even though we were ripped off, I wouldn’t take back a minute of my time at Amars shop. We had such a great cultural exchange and were introduced to such an important Turkish custom, tea time. All in all it was a great time, besides, how many people can say their best friend sold them for 12 camels?! Oh and there is the fact that I now have a lovely dowry!

1 comment:

  1. Amazingly funny Aly Jan! I suggest to read this story to your students as Armenians like funny stories like that, you can even make a short comedy drama from it with title 'Carpet Shopping'. When I was reading it instantly I remembered the famous Armenian Constantinople/Istanbul writer, Hagop Baronian, who more than a century ago wrote a comedy book entitled 'The Evils of Etiquette' (kaghagurtutian venesnere) which is full of stories like the one you just wrote and posted.
    How people and merchants of Istanbul have not changed a bit, they are still the same, and most likely worst than before as they were willing to buy you for or in exchange of live 12 camels if you have agreed to become part and a resident of their harem -of course the Turk was kidding but that shows how clumsy mind he has and how bad his sense of humor is. papik