Waking up to the call of azaan for fajr, (last count put Istanbul being home to 3,000 mosques, approximately) the realisation dawned that I was starting to lose my voice – the lump in the throat on the flight couldn’t be diagnosed as misplaced nerves anymore. Turkish Kreps and their fantastic version of paneer in my tummy, we went in search of a doctor using Google Translate to explain to the security guard that Google Maps was telling me there was a doctor inside. Five attempts later, he understood what we were trying to tell him, only to be turned away by the lady doctor because ‘foreign nationals’! Lesson 1 learnt!
Downing the throat soothers a pharmacist provided me, (cuz antibiotics require prescription, damn Turkey, OTCs are real here!) we set foot into the Grand Bazaar – via the local tram network, my fascination for which I’ll explain in future posts – the overwhelming desire to just sit and stare at people bustling, trying to sell their wares, the sea of beauty gushing about in waves, myriad nationalities under one roof created over 550 years ago, still serving the purpose of drawing awe and helping trade. Ceramicware with handpainted patterns, stunning pieces of silver, mirrors of all kinds and for all walls, the ostentatious display of Turkish delights and teas were spread around all over, with the narrow less bustling lanes ending into storerooms and open spaces for the shopkeepers to unwind and sip on Turkish tea! The shopkeepers correctly recognise Indians as hard bargainers, but walk around with a few packets in hand and a lovely smile – you might land discounts and even a couple of phone numbers.
Lunch was followed by a long walk on a group tour (two Americans, one Brit, a couple from Phillipines, Chile and four Spaniards!) around the Sultanahmet area, the tombs, Hagia Sophia, Sultanahmet (also, Blue) mosque and the Topkapi Palace – I was glad for the sports shoes I had on, because any other choice of footwear would have been disastrous. Evening came and so did the fancy clothes and high heels because we were going to cruise on the Bosphorus, Europe on one side, Asia on the other, the jewels of Istanbul lit up, the bridges shining bright red and the biting cold wind, which couldn’t tame the squeals of delight or the snapping of mobile phone cameras! The three-hour cruise was worth the money with folk dances, belly dancing, 25 nationalities and sharing the table with a shy but lovely couple from Kazakhastan. I wonder if they felt the same about me, considering I was mostly grunting responses to my family, or silently trying to gulp down parts of the four-course dinner that had been laid out for us.
Oh yes, the throat was now worse.