Paulie Baba and the Taxi Thieves

Trip Start Feb 10, 2006
Trip End Mar 07, 2006

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Taksim square is a little far from the center of the historic district so we decided to catch a taxi. It was so simple. Three of us rode in each cab. It was Jeremiah, Cory and I and then then Christina, Paulie and Heather rode in the other cab. I have been practicing my Turkish so I got in the cab and said Merhaba, Benim Adim Laura. I think that the best thing that you can learn before a trip is the courtesy words in the language of the country that you are traveling to. I chose to learn "hello, my name is laura" It seemed to go over very well, the taxi driver smiled and we started up a conversation. We were dropped off near the center of the area near Topaki Palace.

It was instantaneous that we started being barraged by the salesmen trying to sell anything from books on the palace and turkey to carpets and lamps. No thank you didn't seem to work, I am not interested didn't seem to work. They were so friendly and had great senses of humor but I didn't quite know what to do to make it a stress free site seeing. We were not wanting to shop just yet. We wanted to check out the sites.

It was evident immediately that everyone on the trip with us was very uncomfortable. They almost immediately resorted to rude behavior either totally ignoring the salesmen or angrily telling them to leave us alone. I didn't feel comfortable doing that. We are the guests in this country and I felt that we had to find a polite way to handle the touts. For a while even the people that were traveling with us saw me as the villain. They said that I was being too nice and was inviting the attention of the touts. Even my husband who has traveled to Thailand with me, had a problem with me talking to the Turkish people. 

Our first stop was Topaki Palace. It was beautiful. It was a palace for the sultans of Turkey for centuries. There was a harem full of women and the eunics that cared for the them.

Like in China the palace is more of a complex of buildings covering acres of land. What I find most fascinating is the amount of detail in the tiles of the walls, the patterns of the fabrics. It is so colorful but in a different way than Thailand was colorful. It is the same types of colors, blues, greens and golds but the patterns and the way that the textures flow is totally different. The Arabic writing is also as artistic as that of the Thai written language. I guess it is the fluidity of the lines that I appreciate so much. The language is incorporated into the artwork and architecture. 

There was a tree in the courtyard that must have been there for hundreds of years. It was huge. It was so big that Heather, Paulie and I were all able to fit inside it. I imagine that it must have been planted by one of the concubines of the harem of the sultan. That is the beauty of a vivid imagination. It is so easy to slip into a dream world where you are living in the Palace.

Everywhere that we have gone our limited Turkey has been appreciated, like when we bought our tickets. Just a simple hello of Merhaba and a thank you of Tesekkür ederim triggers a smile.

So I am having serious doubt about one of our group. When she saw videos of our Thailand and China trips her comments were that it looked awfully 3rd world and that she wouldn't want to go there. Immediately I explained to her that Turkey may not be someplace she would feel comfortable. She seemed really afraid of the notion that she might have to face a squat toilet... At the Topaki palace I was faced with the American shame. I went into the restroom and my friend stood outside whining at the top of her lungs, "Is that an American toilet" At that moment, if I could have, I would have flushed myself. I am hoping that she will get more comfortable. I really feel that part of the traveling experience is not only accepting but loving a country for its differences. If I had wanted a country with all of the American "comforts" I would have gone to Epcot.

I want to be challenged to eat food I wouldn't normally eat, speak in a language I am not familiar with, and deal with personal space changes that I have never dealt with. I like that you open a bathroom door and encounter something that you wouldn't in the states. I like being the minority and being a curiosity. I like figuring out how to fit in when you obviously don't. 

Our next stop was Hagia Sophia. In Art History courses Hagia Sophia is a really big deal! Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture. It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until the completion of the Medieval Seville Cathedral in 1520.

The current building was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. There is something breathtaking about the immense space as you walk into the building. The effect was heightened by the sound of the call to prayer all over the city as we entered. The Muslim faith, the prominent  religion of Istanbul, requires that its followers pray 5 times a day. The prayer times are called out over speakers throughout the city. To me it sounds more like song and I though I don't understand the words, the sound is so beautiful. 

I have to say that I love traveling with Jeremiah and Paulie. Jeremiah is my creative counterpart. He and I could stand in a garden with our eyes closed just taking in the area with our other senses, the smells, the way that it sounds, the way that it feels. Paulie is like having a wondrous child with you. Whatever comes to his mind he says and everyone loves him. They are both trying to learn a few Turkish words. I am so proud of them. 

Hagia Sophia is the one site of the entire trip that I was looking forward to seeing. I am not disappointed. We took the stairs to the second level for a better view of the floor below and the dome above. This is when we are reminded of the age of the building. Earthquakes over the years have taken their toll. The floor is buckled and some of the columns are leaning at a 45% angle. How is it possible that the building is still standing?

The Blue Mosque is just a short walk from Hagia Sophia. Really just across the street. We navigated the gauntlet of salesmen on the way into the courtyard outside the mosque. We sat down to enjoy the view when Christina pulled out her Roaming Gnome to take a picture. He had been the conversation piece this entire trip. A man cam over and started talking to her and Heather. He had all kinds of advice about the mosque, where to enter, taking your shoes off, and then volunteered to wait for us when we came out. You could see it coming he was a tout and we were one sentence away from him inviting us to his shop.

Inside I was confronted by my husband and friends. They blamed me for the touts. They blamed me for not being rude, for talking to the locals of Turkey. Though I felt completely attacked by the people whom I had planned this entire trip for, I understood their discomfort. I too felt the discomfort but I wasn't prepared to be rude to the hosts to this country. I would find a way to handle this in a diplomatic way. We had been to other places that the touts were aggressive and found ways to handle it. This would just take me a little time. 

 The blue mosque is named for tiles inside the dome. You can't really see them too well even from the inside. The Blue mosque can be seen from all over the city. It has 6 minarets instead of 4 so it is easy to spot. It is a working Mosque so there were those that were paying respect inside. We quietly studied this beautiful religious monument.

As he promised our new found friend was waiting outside. He came up and asked us to come to his shop for tea. I politely thanked him but said that we weren't interested in shopping. He replied "oh no I just want to extend  my friendship and share some tea and conversation with you." Again I thanked him but said that we didn't have a lot of time and wanted to see a few more of the beautiful sites of Turkey. Second strike, He said his shop was very close and it would only take a short while. I finally decided to use the truth. I smiled sweetly and said "You aren't just being nice to me to try to sell me something are you?" The shock on his face was priceless but not that of someone offended, "No no" he said.

 "Then you will understand if we aren't able to stop by your shop?" He smiled like a man that had been discovered. He then turned to my husband and said "She is a tough one, would you like to come to the shop." Cory responded "Your right she's a tough one that is why I have to listen to her." I hadn't quite found the solution yet but I had a new insight into the mind of the Turkish Tout.

We had a few more things that we wanted to see today. The Hippodrome inspired visuals of racetracks like the Kentucky Derby. You can imagine our disappointment as we walked right past it without ever knowing that we were right there. We had to double back. The city of Istanbul had built up around the hippodrome and it was now just a park surrounded by asphalt streets. The only thing of interest in this area was the two Obelisks in the this oasis of green in Istanbul.

We have a little extra time so we decided to see the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art that is right by the Hippodrome. I was impressed most by the beautiful hand woven tapestries and beautiful tiles. 

Our last stop was the Yerebatan Sarnici, or underground cistern. These were ancient cisterns that had been made from a hodge podge of columns taken from Roman architecture. The water still drips from the ceiling and blind fish swim in the water of the cistern. There are a few columns of interest, one that is covered in carved tears and a  couple that seem to have the head of Medusa carved into them.

Medusa's blue eyes, if stared into, could turn a man to stone. All over Turkey you find the blue evil eye on lapels and necklaces. It is a bad karma for bad karma thing. Say if you wish evil on someone that is wearing an evil eye that evil will be visited upon you instead. I don't know if it is based on the blue eyes of Medusa or not but we did find evil eyes in our rooms for us to put on our lapels.

I thought that the evil eye would be a perfect symbol of Turkey to put on my charm bracelet. As we climbed the steps leaving the cistern there was a small jewelry shop. I greeted the salesman in Turkish and then proceeded to have a conversation in English with him. He was in University and was very curious about us. As we talked I mentioned that I wanted an evil eye for my charm bracelet. I pointed to some bracelets that he had hanging on the wall that were made of about 30 evil eyes. I said something like one of those. Before I could stop him he had taken the bracelet down, clipped off one of the eyes and handed it to me. He refused to take payment for it. The only way that we could courteously repay this man was to purchase a pair of ear rings. Of course the ones that caught my eye were silver. They suggest that you buy gold in Turkey, it is cheaper. I liked the silver ones and didn't regret my purchase at all.

We decided to go back to the hotel. We went back to the area in front of the Hagia Sophia. I put Paul, Christina and Heather into a cab and then took the second one for Cory Jeremiah and I. We introduced ourselves to the driver. He didn't seem as chatty as the guy that brought us from the hotel. We talked all the way back to Taksim square. We talked about how much we loved Istanbul and all of the wonderful people we met.  I was careful not to say anything negative because thought someone might not speak a language fluently they might be able to understand perfectly.

When we got back to Taksim Square we got out of the cab, read the meter and gave the cab driver the amount plus the change for the fare. We had no problems what so ever. We were met by 3 hoppin' mad tourists. It seems that Christina, Heather and Paulie had been taken for about $50. They didn't get out of the cab to pay. They were trying to figure out the amount in the car. The driver grabbed their wallet pulled out some money as if he was helping them with their understanding of foreign currency and handed the wallet back. They got out of the cab and went to look in the wallet and found that he had taken much more than the cab fare.

We grabbed a bite to eat and Jeremiah,  Cory and I decided to hit the pool. Problem was that I hadn't realized that there was an indoor pool so I hadn't brought a swim suit. We decided to go out shopping. We had no idea where to find a swimming suit. We ended up buying boxer briefs that said Angry Shark right across the crotch. Scary eh????? That and a tank top ended up being my suit. The boxers weren't as scary as three really white folks under blue lights. I am sure that the blue lights looked fabulous on the olive skin of the Turkish locals but the three of us looked like we needed to be on a mortuary slab. It was relaxing to hit the pool and the sauna at the end of the night... Anyway I am dead....tired that is.

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starlagurl on

Beautiful photos
Also, I like your attitude toward traveling. Keep up the detailed posts, I love reading them.

Louise Brown
TravelPod Community Manager

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