My original travel journals were split across August Phoenix Hats and a few other websites. February 2021 marked the 12th anniversary of the beginning of my travels. To celebrate, I’m reissuing my journals as Director’s Cuts, with the complete text as well as larger and additional photos. My Crossroads Tour series details my travels to Florence, Genoa and Istanbul in May 2011.
Baha invites me to Captain’s Table for breakfast, which he promptly covers with an extensive meze. We are joined by an Australian woman who is also leaving today. Baha offers to take us to the bazaar to buy suzani (the embroidered bedspreads) and ceramics. I don’t think I can cram anything more into my suitcases but the offer is more than the Australian and I can resist.
The Australian finishes breakfast and heads upstairs to pack. Baha shows me YouTube clips of Turkish tulum, and a traditional Turkish men’s line dance called Horon. He then asks me if I know what this is called, as he pulls up another line dance. “Riverdance” I respond, and tell him it’s Irish clogging. (This cultural exchange would continue between us by email, Facebook, and phone for the rest of the summer.)
At the Grand Bazaar, Baha takes us to the vendor who sells the suzani for his hotel. We are offered tea and seats. We make our selections and are each gifted with a suzani pillow case. The embroidery on mine is incomplete, which makes me smile. Baha also notices and pantomimes “needle and thread,” indicating that I could finish the embroidery myself.
I photograph a framed goldworked section of an Ottoman robe that is leaning against a wall behind a pile of other things. The Australian takes off to join her friends, and Baha takes me to Iznik Ceramic, managed by Tolga Neidim. I sort through stacks of handmade tiles, and select a few in traditional Turkish motifs. A blue and white Turkish cup rounds out my purchase there.
We stop for lunch at a sidewalk cafe. A kebab roll, with a huge mound of pickled cucumbers, grilled peppers, and cilantro are served on a plastic placemat at a table that reminded me of a lunch counter at Woolworths. Baha introduces me to a fermented dairy drink called ayran which is like kiefer. There are no circles on my map today, and I have a mildly sprained ankle, so I keep my sightseeing “close to home.”
By the time I return to the hotel, it has grown chilly and overcast, just like my first day here. I try to play the “What’s for Dinner” game with Cihan, who turns to Baha and engages in a lengthy conversation before taking his order to the kitchen. Baha shares with me that there had been a death in his family. I had also lost several friends and family members in the recent past, so we talked a little about loss. “Only Allah knows when weddings and funerals will occur…”
Dinner arrives: potatoes, carrots, and lamb ribs in broth, with a side dish of rice. A simple comfort food that we share at the Captain’s Table without much further talking. Baha goes upstairs to rest and will catch up with me later this evening. I finish packing, settle up my bill and drop my suitcase off at the concierge desk.
Back on the sidewalk – oh look, there’s Cihan! It’s like he never leaves…
He is an articulate and intelligent young man, and our conversation over the next hour covers an incredible array of topics, interrupted periodically by customers that he seats at the sidewalk tables. Near 9 PM, he ducks into the Barbecue House, and emerges with a single plate, two pieces of baklava and two forks. These guys! There is no end to the hospitality here…
Baha arrives a short time later. We catch the tram across the Galata Bridge and climb a very steep winding alley of stairs to the base of the Galata Tower in the Beyoglu district. I point out buildings with Juliet balconies that look like the buildings I saw in Genoa. He shows me his favorite church, Sant’Antonio di Padova Church which stands behind a locked iron gate. It is the largest Roman Catholic Church in Istanbul, built by the Italian community in 1905 on the site of the original church which had been built in 1725, but later demolished.
We spend the evening walking around and looking at architecture. We thread through crowded streets to an alley and up to the Asmali Mescid, and later the Cicek Pasaji (Flower Passage). We grab a table, order drinks, and listen to musicians as they roam from one table to the next, one of whom is playing something that looks like a hammer dulcimer.
The Flower Passage building dates back to 1876 and was originally the site of the Naum Theater, a favorite of a couple of Turkish sultans during the 19th century. After the Russian Revolution, impoverished women sold flowers here, giving the building its current name.
We hail a cab back to the Sultanahmet just after midnight. I am the last guest in his hotel, and since he doesn’t have to work tomorrow, he sits with me in the dining room. We talk for the next three hours… about my Facebook albums (Which ones did you look at? “All of them!”) The route my plane would take over the North Pole on its return to Seattle. If there are sharks in Puget Sound. Cars and sports, and music, and whatever else we could think of that would keep us awake during these last few hours.
The airport shuttle arrives at 3 AM, and Baha loads my book-heavy luggage into the van. He gives me a warm European-style send-off and promise to keep in touch.
It has been a most remarkable trip, and I will never, ever forget this place…