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January 28, 2009 - Istanbul, Turkey

Written by GingerBlossom Published in
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Istanbul is maybe one of my most favorite cities in the world. It's not 100% perfect, as I am usually back to the hotel by 8 or 9 pm to avoid unwanted attention from males, but it's still beautiful, clean, friendly.

I'm back at my usual hotel, the Padova, which is only minutes from the tram stop. On arriving at the airport, I was feeling most smug as I hopped on the train, thinking of all the money that I was saving by not taking a taxi. My smugness ended at the end of the line - I'd forgotten from the previous year that I had to make a line transfer to get to the hotel. I knew where I was, I knew where I wanted to go, but I still had to take a short taxi ride to get there. I sort of made up for the taxi ride by not getting coffee at the airport - it was a whopping $6, when just out at the train station you could get a nice cuppa tea for 35 cents. On the other hand, if I'd had the coffee, maybe I would have been awake enough to remember the line transfer.

The Padova is maybe not as small of a hotel as I thought - every time I stay I get a different room. This year was the jackpot - it has a heater in it. It also has cable TV, and the only English channel that it receives is the BBC news. What a surprise to see the headlines from home while in Turkey - "Blagoyevich gets sacked".

So far I've seen both Aykut and Ahmet. Aykut says that 2008 was his worst year in business in 15 years. The dollar is presently very strong against the Turkish lira, so I was able to help him out a little. I picked up a few nice carpets from Cappadoccia, several are at least 50 years old, and some way cool big Sivas travel bags that I can stuff for cushions. I also stocked up on the anti-evil eye pins, and wished that I'd had my camera in my purse when I bought the pins. There was a large orange tabby cat upside down and sound asleep on the table of anti-evil eyes. He'd been rolling around in them, and had little blue eyes in his fur.

So far the only photo that I've taken is of lunch on the floor with Ahmet and his brother Murat. You will not go hungry or thirsty while in Istanbul, the offer of food or tea is always there. (Aykut serves tea to about 7 homeless guys each day). As a special treat, Murat had brought a box of baklava stuffed with pistachio nuts. As soon as I had one finished, there'd be another on my plate. One summer we had a little skunk who had found the ripe mulberries on the ground. He'd eaten so many that his tummy was so full that he was almost as wide as he was long. I felt the same way after too many baklavas.
Turky is waging a vigorous anti-smoking campaign. Old movies that show people smoking are censoring the cigarettes. The hand with the offending smoke is just a blur. It's a $40 fine for smoking in public buildings, but I have yet to see it enforced. One Internet cafe that I went to was so blue with smoke that I had to leave after 30 minutes, my eyes were starting to tear.

I'm reading the memoire of Orhan Pamluk, one of Turkey's best known writers. He says that the defining word for Istanbul is melancholy. He dwells on the shadows of the lost Ottoman empire, but old Istanbul is also the sum of the Hitites, Greeks, Byzantines, the Crusades, and the Janissaries. Yes, I am probably guilty of romanticism on the order of Pierre Loti.

I'm Delhi-bound on the 30th. Cheapy tickets - ya gotta love 'em. It means backtracking to London before the long haul to India. The new terminal at Heathrow delayed or lost 30,000 bags in their first 6 months of operation - let's hope that I'm not joining that statistic.