I arrive at the airport at 2am. The arrival hall is swamped with older men yelling, smoking and holding up signs. The information desk helps me out by announcing my hostel via the loud speaker and one of the smoking yelling older man detaches from the crowd and approaches me.
‘I wait for you’, he says. Let’s rock’n’roll then. But he is picking up more people to drive around various hotels and hostels in the city, so I hang out with him there in the midst of the smoking yelling crowd.
The next morning, I wake up early and, without knowing where I am, just head for the biggest mosque around there and of course, turns out to be the one and only Blue Mosque. I take my shoes off at the entrance and go in.
A million tourists inside, the scaffolding across the dome – and I snap a few pictures and leave kind of indifferent. My camera’s memory card signals full and I head for the photo shop nearby to unload it.
While waiting for it to process I am offered a tea (stong, bitter!) and some raisins (sweet! chewy!) with the guys sitting there.
They seem kind of scary at first with those bushy mustaches and branching eyebrows, but turn out to be really sweet and helpful. They are impressed by my pictures, so I sit for another 15min while they flip through the collection.
In the end they charge me only for the burnt CD and stamps and the rest were presents and perks. I’m already loving Istanbul hospitality.
Another 10 lira for the Aya Sofia (ubiquitous – all sites in Istanbul cost 10 lira, all performances 25 lira….) to go in again among the same million souls that have shifted from the Blue Mosque.
I check that I have some cash and a good mood with me before I head to the grand the hassle – the queen of Istanbul sites – the Grand Bazaar.
Immediately I get swamped by the guys that scope out the entrances. I just smile and pretend I’m interested in everything they are selling. I bargain for the most rediculous things, for the most expensive and ugliest items, and in the end just cash out for some elaborate tea glasses that I ended up paying 3eur for a case of 6.
I go to the harbour and check out the three smaller mosques there (much more mystique and interesting!)
The Rustampasa mosque smelled of all the spices of the bazaar underneath and I was the only person there! I head below to the spice (Egyptian) bazaar and sample various lokums and snacks.
I hear from some sources that cabs are inexpensive in Istanbul and I catch a ride there with one. It’s not inexpensive, but the ride through all these winding streets upward to Taksim is head-spinning, complete with some Turkish music blasting and dust rising around the car (like a typical movie opening in some exotic middle-eastern country.. 007?) Taksim and the street Istikal Caddesi spanning from it remind me of Belgrade’s Knez Mihailova and Terazije – a crowded shopping street..
I am dying to see a performance of Whirling Dervishes at the Mevlevi Monastery, elated that I will witness it after having seen it in Baraka years before.
There are 6 men (in white tunics) and 6 women (in colourful tunics; all entered shrouded in black cloaks) and they spin in precise rhythm for 50min almost without stopping, except to rotate the circle.
The dervishes are mystical dancers, a spiritual offshoot of Islam and they pray by raising their arms during the dance and search for spirituality through movement and music, sucking energy from sky into their body through the raised arms.
After whirling, they feel like they are free of all sins and closer to the Sheikh. They try to achieve emptiness and shake off all stress and distracting thoughts and achieve trance when they conquer dizziness (whirling for 50min without getting dizzy!).
The circling dance represents planets in motion around the sun in balance with the energy and life – between material and cosmic worlds.
I spin fantasies.