Monday 20 April 2015

Feeling welcome

I forget sometimes, in this job, that travel isn’t all about learning and recording. It should also be fun, and it certainly was that today. Mostly, that was all down to the Turks we encountered, in the Grand Bazaar, on the streets and on public transport. They’re so nice! Courteous, friendly, laid-back, amusing. Also good-looking: swarthy young men who are sometimes blue-eyed, neatly dressed old men with grey beards and little caps, women in elegant long coats and stylish scarves – they could have trackies on underneath, who would know?

After changing hotels ahead of our Insight Vacations coach tour starting tomorrow, and finding ourselves at the new place miles from the Old Town, we triumphed with public transport – topping up the travel card, managing buses and the tram, none of it in English – and returned to Sultanahmet to tackle the Grand Bazaar. Lunch came first though and, thanks to a friendly encounter on the street with Tem, who wanted nothing more from us than a chat and to encourage us to come to his gig at a club tomorrow, we ate delicious mixed kebabs with apple tea at a side-street café he took us to. (And if his lentil soup was free as a result? Only fair.)
That was the prelude to a series of encounters with charming Turks, all of course wanting us to buy their stuff in the bazaar, but none of them hard-sell and desperate, as in India for example. Some were set off into their spiel like automatons as we walked past, but most had individually-tailored opening gambits (it helped with the charm and enthusiasm, naturally, that I was accompanied by the Firstborn). They know to guess first at Aussie, and secondly at Kiwi, and that’s a welcome novelty, too.

So there was pleasant dithering over lots of pretty things, none of which we bought, exploring the maze of alleyways inside the bazaar and outside, photographing stuff, watching people, spotting cats, avoiding tripping over, enjoying the sunshine, listening to the call to prayer from neighbouring mosques perform a duet.

There was more food: deliciously sweet baklava, one chocolate-coated, with more apple tea, and a splendid view of the Blue Mosque from the roof-top terrace. Later there were actual purchases, conducted entirely in international shopping-speak, both sides understanding perfectly. And finally there was the first meeting back at the hotel with our tour guide for the next 10 days, Bargin, and our fellow travellers, whose stories we’ll learn as we go.

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