Yes, I’m in Istanbul. The city where East meets West. But there doesn’t seem to be much Western influence in today’s Istanbul.
The reason why I’m here is because of James Bond. The iconic movie ‘From Russia With Love’ was filmed on location here in 1963. I’ve always loved it and I had a thought. Why don’t I use the settings of the movie and write a short story featuring Nikki Sinclair?
I arrived on Monday afternoon exhausted from my whistle stop trip around Bulgaria. More about this in my next blog! I admit I hadn’t done my homework on Turkey and I presumed it was in the EU. Queuing for over an hour I finally reached passport control.
“You have no visa.”
“But I’m a British citizen.”
“It doesn’t matter here. Go and buy one.”
With a wave of his hand he dismissed me, trudging over to the visa counter I bought one for 25 Euro. I explained to the visa officer I couldn’t stand for another hour at my age! Thankfully he fast tracked me through the Turkish passport section and I had arrived. The airport is huge and chaotic and I had arranged a taxi to meet me. Eventually I found my driver and we arrived surprisingly quickly at the Aren Suite Hotel. I paid an extra $100 for a seaview and I expected a peep of the sea. No. I have amazing unrestricted views from three windows over the Bosphorus. As I’m writing this a container ship is sailing past with its lights on. Sometimes it’s worth paying and upgrading, and a big plus, my room is large, comfortable and warm.
I’m trying to avoid eating eggs, cheese and bread, as I think my cholesterol is probably through the roof after Bulgaria. It was difficult finding any fresh fruit there.
Yesterday I ordered a vegetarian Testi. The waiter came to my table and broke open an earthenware pot. Hot steaming vegetables poured onto the plate. It tasted good, until half way through I thought I had broken a tooth. I extracted a piece of what looked like bone from my mouth. I called the waiter over. He said it was a piece of the pot. The jury is still out on that one.
I can’t recall travelling to a country where women are third class citizens. If I had known this, I probably wouldn’t have come but I thought the Turks were more enlightened. Unfortunately, not. I think about 85 out of a 100 women are wearing some kind of head covering.
This is today’s antidote of how women are treated. I’m eating breakfast and a woman wearing a niqab, (I could only see her eyes) followed her obese, old husband. He sat down while she served him. He begins to eat and gives her a nod. She goes and gets some food. To eat she had to lift her face covering. This displeased him, as he barked at her. She didn’t eat again, and sat with her eyes cast down.
Young, attractive women probably in their late teens or early twenties and covered up are married to gross, revolting older men.
From what I’ve observed so farIstanbul seems to be a hub and meeting place for Moslems from the Middle and Far East and Europe. I’ve heard Manchester accents from under niqabs and watched women from Indonesia and Malaysia trailing behind men or in groups of women.
On my first afternoon I was harassed EIGHT times by men. Yesterday after spending two hours in the Topkapi Museum, which in my opinionis overcrowded and overpriced.I decided to get something to eat. I’m walking by the Blue Mosque and this guy follows me, asking me four times if I want his services as a guide.
“Lady you pay me for tour but you have to wear a headscarf and a skirt.”
“No, I don’t want one.”
“Lady, this way.”
He touches me.
“Get your hand off me. Did I ask you to talk to me? You’re harassing me. Leave me alone.”
“Come with me.”
By now I’m furious and screamed.
“Would you like it if your mother was harassed like this? Where’s your respect for women?”
Pedestrians swivel around and look in our direction. The guy slinks off. Interestingly and unsurprisingly men never approach Muslim women. Women who don’t cover their heads are fair game whatever age they are. Rant over!
Fans of James Bond will remember the scene where Karim Bey rows a boat under the Soviet embassy. This scene was shot in the Basilica Cistern and it dates to the Byzantine Emperor Justinian who built it in 527 to conserve the city’s water. It’s an incredible feat of engineering, with 336 columns, over 9 metres in height and it’s the size of two football pitches. The lighting is subdued and it has an eerie feeling despite numerous coach parties being whisked through it. The water level was low, perhaps because it hadn’t rained, but for 20 lira it gave me the setting for my book.
When I walked into the Hagia Museum, which also featured in ‘From Russia With Love’ half of it was under renovation and cordoned off. The building is the centre piece of Istanbul, and situated across a square from the Blue Mosque. It was originally built as a church by Constantine in 325, and re-constructed three times over the centuries. In 1453 it was converted into a mosque.
I found the red column where Bond spots the Bulgarian hiding next to the marble urn. Then I looked upwards I saw the dome and a blue angel painted on the ceiling. I spotted a balcony, but because I hadn’t done my homework I didn’t realise the highlights were above me. There are few signposts in the museum, but I found a ramp, no stairs thank goodness and began the trek upwards. After 10 or 12 twists and turns I arrived in the gallery. Here there were less tourists, and half way around the balcony I found the treasures of the museum.
There are three magnificent mosaics on the walls dating from the 10th, 11th and 12th century. Two of them depict Emperors and the Empresses giving alms to Christ. They are in gold and the colours haven’t faded over the centuries. The last one which I stood at looked at for half an hour was of Christ, Virgin Mary and John the Baptist.
Last week I viewed mosaics which were used to control and subdue the population. What a contrast to this week, where mosaics were used to uplift and inspire people.
More next time from Berlin!