I Found a Turkey in Turkey


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No, seriously. I did.

Photo by Adam Stevens
Photo by Adam Stevens

We in the West call them turkeys because Westerners first discovered them (or something resembling them) within the country called Turkey. Ironically, Turks call them “hindi” because they encountered the birds in India.

Today we have a fascinating time in historic Istanbul. First was a quick tour through the Blue Mosque, followed by a more thorough investigation of one of my dream destinations, the Hagia Sofia, an important place of worship built 1500-1600 years ago. You can read about the details on your own, but I’ve posted a couple of very brief Youtube clips from my visit today:

One of my favourite parts of the structure is the tomb of the Venetian Doge Henricus Dandolo, though his bones were likely scattered a long time ago. Dandolo was the wizened figure who engineered the sack of this great city as part of the fourth Crusade.

grave of Il Doge
grave of Il Doge

Then we experienced the Basilica Cistern, an underground repository of water transported from the Balkans and built by Emperor Justinian. It’s a magical and calm place that demands introspection. Dig the ambiance:

Fish swim in the eerie light of the cistern
Fish swim in the eerie light of the cistern

Then it was off to explore the Grand Bazaar, which was both beautiful and pleasant. Asian bazaars have a well earned reputation for being a tad dangerous (pick-pockets) and supremely annoying, with touts vying for tourists’ attention. But I have found Turkey to be eminently devoid of such unpleasant elements, and the Grand Bazaar was no exception. If anything, it’s the humour of the shopkeepers that is ubiquitous. One fellow kept calling to us in a fake Southern American accent. Another’s call was, “Hola, Pepsi Cola” which, of course, means nothing, as he well knew.

Here’s a pic of me enjoying traditional coffee inside the bazaar:

Photo by Adam Stevens
Photo by Adam Stevens

Next stop was a haircut, shave (my first with a straight razor) and head massage at a local barber. I’d been warned about the local practice of burning off the ear hairs, and was steeled against it. Still, it stung a bit. Here’s a pic of the flame:

Photo by Adam Stevens
Photo by Adam Stevens

And we topped off the night at an open air cafe, enjoying mezes, live music, performance by a whirling Dervish, a game of backgammon, and a few breaths from the fruit-flavoured shisha pipe:

Photo by Adam Stevens
Photo by Adam Stevens
Photo by Adam Stevens
Photo by Adam Stevens

Now I have a long night of grant writing to get to. But before I do, here’s a last observation. It’s about audio guides, those electronic recording devices that now accompany tourists in various destinations and tours. We’ve bee trying all manner and style of the bloody things.

First, on the Bosphorus tour, we used one keyed to GPS. This means that when the device detected that it was in the appropriate location, it would start its spiel. Unfortunately, its locating was so imprecise that it encouraged us to get off at the wrong stop, at Sariyer instead of Anadolu Kavagi.

At the Hagia Sofia tour, we used a manual device that required us to enter a station number into the device, and in return it provided the audio information for that station. The problem was that we often couldn’t find the appropriate number of the right location within the edifice.

Lastly, for the Basilica Cistern, we used an audio guide that was triggered by another device in proximity. So as we approached various points of interest, the device would be triggered to give us information. In theory and practice, this was the best option. But it only had four bits of information to offer, each of which could have been read off of a brochure!

Summary: back to the drawing board, ye designers of audio guides!

Till next time.