Istanbul: "Turkish Coffee Moments"

July 20, 2002

Istanbul, Turkey

Dear Family and Friends,

Turkey. What a wonderful country!  Beautiful rivers and mountains and valleys.  Excellent sites.

Istanbul.  What a wonderful city!  Elegant mosques and palaces.  Hospitable and enthusiastic people.

In Istanbul, the most pleasurable moment of the day was to stop for a while, take a coffee and just watch and listen.

Breakfast coffee at the Hotel Hali* was served on a terrace overlooking the rooftops of the city.  The massive dome of the Blue Mosque was close by, its six minarets reaching for the heavens.

Another cool moment was a cup of coffee at an underground café in the Sunken Cistern, an enormous water storage tank built in 532 AD and used as the water supply during lengthy sieges.  Three hundred thirty-six marble columns support the roof.

Yet another cup was beside the Aya Sofya, a massive 1500-year-old church, and now mosque.  The tables of the café้ are capitals of ancient Greek and Roman columns.

Another cup was on the wharf of Anadolu Kavagi, the final stop heading north on the Bosphorus excursion ferry route.

On the ferry I met a Boy Scout troop that was visiting from Turkish Cyprus.  I offered to trade caps with one of the Scouts but he was reluctant.  Quietly, one of the leaders just gave me her yellow cap.

“Perched above the village are the ruins of Anadolu Kavagi Kalesi, a medieval castle with eight massive towers in its walls.  First built by the Byzantines, it was restored and reinforced by the Genoese in 1350, and later by the Ottomans.  As the strait is narrow here, it was a good choice for a defensive site to control traffic.”

In the hot, hot mid-day sun, I trudged up the road to the castle ruins.  In a breathless and thirsty hour I reached the top.  The views of The Black Sea are spectacular.  The ruins themselves are impressive.  In the past, they must have seemed quite threatening and impregnable.

On the way down the hill I met the Cypriot scouts coming up.  The boys screeched with shock and incomprehension when they saw me wearing my (their) cute yellow cap.  We gathered around for some photos.  I left that cheerful group thinking that Cyprus is now on my “To See” list.

Just on impulse, inspired by colorful travel posters and the recommendation of other travelers, I flew east from Istanbul to Cappadocia, an astonishing region in central Turkey.

Cappadocia must be a geologist’s paradise and an archeologist’s lifetime’s work:  extraordinary rock formations called “fairy chimneys;” narrow river valleys with steep hills hiding grottos and ancient churches; underground cities carved from soft volcanic rock – ancient sanctuaries of the early Christians finding safety from the invading Arabs.  And everywhere, unending vistas of farmlands interspersed with indescribable hills and mountains.

Yes, I was a tourist: I crawled through the tunnels, hiked along the river valley, climbed a tower, threw a clay bowl, and rode a camel.

Back in Istanbul, I wandered through some out-of-the-way neighborhoods.  One in particular, Balat, was quite charming.  I strolled the narrow hilly streets, found some palace ruins, took some photos overlooking the Golden Horn and ended up in the colorful and noisy local market place.  I stopped for a haircut since I was anticipating my visit to London and I wanted to look proper and presentable.

The barber spoke no English and my Turkish is not as it should be.  I thought I told him to take a little Off and instead he left only a little On.  In fact it was the best haircut I have had in months.

On my last night in Istanbul I attended a sound and light show at the Blue Mosque.  I thought it would be a typical superficial tourist type event.  Actually it was stimulating, informative and moving.  The architect, Mehmet Aga spent many sleepless nights wondering if the mighty dome would fall in and if his head would fall off.  The dome, completed in 1616, still towers above this “triumph of harmony, proportion and elegance.”

Late dinner at a “fast food” café a short walk from the Mosque.

In Turkey, “fast food” consists of dishes like eggplant stuffed with rice and lamb, roast chicken with spinach and yogurt, spicy kebob and rice and a large bottle of Ephes, the local brew.

Picture me sitting at a sidewalk café, enjoying a delicious meal, chatting with fellow tourists, (in my case, two sweet girls from Taiwan), and then at 10:00 pm, from loudspeakers atop the Mosque, the mournful, minor-key melodic cry of the muezzin imploring the faithful to evening prayer.  And, of course, a final cup of Turkish coffee.

* www.halihotel.com

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