Arriving in Istanbul at night during Ramadan is an experience to say the least. Only armed with some vague directions from the hostel website and a map on my iPad I wandered around trying to find trams and street names to not much avail. All I could figure out was I was near the blue mosque and the hag Sofia and my hostel was some where behind that. After a while of no one helping me a Turkish man came to my rescue and took me to my hostel. I must admit I was quiet scared at this point; an unknown turkish man is telling me he knows where the street is and that is because its right near his shop. This is a sentence I was to here over and over in the next 24 hours. “its near my shop”, ” I have a shop near by” ” you come and have tea at my shop, we share tea we friends forever” it becomes very tiresome and intrusive. I was being extremely cautious in this situation but I had no other option at this point in time it was 10pm, I was tired, hungry and lost. This man however turned out to be a gentleman and was genuinely trying to help me, he wasn’t trying to sell me anything or ask me out, I thought this was what all Turkish men were like, well I was wrong about that. That evening I just stayed in at the hostel (Sultans Hostel, not bad for the price and the staff were helpful and polite) and watched the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in Turkish, I got the idea of what was going on but have no clue what it sounded like as the bar was blaring some classic nineties hits.
I woke to my first Turkish breakfast to discover it consists of tomato, cucumber and a white cheese that resembles feta not bad but I think my stomach has been finding this slightly confusing coming from cereals, bread and more bread and I must admit I have been struggling with the toilet system. I just feel wrong putting my used toilet paper in a bin, it just completely grosses me out, sitting there stinking in the summer heat
My morning was spent checking out the major ‘attractions’ Istanbul has to off the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque and the Spice Market. All were very interesting and amazing to look at but being a single white female traveler was hard work. I was constantly being tucked and hissed at by the locals as well as being approached by the men and asked if I need help, where was I form etc etc. the first time was flattering the 2nd time it was a bit scary as the man just kept walking next to me and insisted he show me the blue mosque, which I could see and was about 20 meters from where I was standing. he walked me to the front and stood in line with me. He was even offering to walk me through, I finally managed to shake him and stayed a little longer in the blue mosque than was properly required. It is a beautiful building though and even with all the people it had a tranquility and peaceful atmosphere, a stark contrast to the hassle and noise of the city. Upon leaving I discovered my suitor was waiting for me. I was now beginning to get a little worried, he kept insisting he didn’t want any money from me or for me to buy anything I was more concerned that he would try and lead me somewhere and try and force himself upon me. It is such a different culture to that of Australia, the men also think that all western woman are like those in movies and music videos; that we are all sluts and that we are constantly ready for sex with anyone. I have found this very much a struggle and I have tried to be respectful and cover up but it doesn’t seem to work. I try to ignore it but there are only so many times you can brush of the learning. It seems like they have a fascination with us and want to touch us but are also extremely disapproving at the same time. One thing that did strike me though was I didn’t see very many Turkish woman whilst in Istanbul, just men.
I loved the spice market all the food and smells and beautiful colors. It was here I ran into a girl from my hostel and I was very thankful for that as having two of us just made life so much simpler, yes we got heckled and yes there was more learning but they no longer walked beside you. We made our way eventually towards the grand bazaar for this I was prepared to shop shop shop and I didn’t. It was nothing like I expected, I guess I should have looked at some pictures. I thought it would be more of an open air style market with maybe animals running around your feet, people yelling out prices and clothing every where all extremely cheap. This wasn’t the case it was all in doors and all very clean and seemed to be as lot of jewelry, rugs (I did expect that), trinkets, souvenirs and traditional clothes as well as knock off hand bags. I had been planning on buying a dress for my friends wedding here, lucky I didn’t as other wise I could have been turning up in a fake pair of Versace jeans and a lime green shirt, not the look I think she wants on her big day.
The bazaar was the sight of my most horrifying experience, we were asking a man for directions to woman’s clothes as the bazaar in a maze and you have no idea where you are most of the time when he turned to me and asked. ” Are you pregnant?” I almost cried on the spot. I have already been struggling with my weight the last few months (read the break down) and this was not helping. Let me just point out, I am a size 10! Yes I carry my weight at the front on my belly but I don’t think I look like I am with child. Maybe it it was the dress I was wearing, maybe I have some creepy maternal glow ( I call it sweating form the sweltering heat) but I don’t think I look pregnant. I just walked away from the situation and then my shopping buddy and I managed to get lost for about 2 hours as we walked the wrong way when we came out of the bazaar and just went the wrong way and it wasn’t until we met an American couple that we were able to get solid directions back to the main area. The locals try to help you but they just point then say at a million miles an hour go right, then left then left then left then right and you will be there, these directions never work. By the time I finally made it back to my hostel I was exhausted, dehydrated and absolutely starving. Istanbul had defeated me and I needed a rest.