Shane had dodged back to the hotel in Istanbul to put on jeans so he could avoid wearing a scrubs-blue skirt to get into the Blue Mosque. Roberta and I had dressed more appropriately. So, by the time Shane rocked up, we had spent an hour in the mosque, chatting about the nature of free will, looking at the granite columns, and reading the pamphlet on Islam.
When Shane got back, I told my companions I would meet them in the courtyard after they had seen the mosque. What with taking off shoes, seeing the mosque, and putting back on shoes, I figured I had ten minutes to wander.
Little did I know I would soon be lost and abandoned.
I returned after ten minutes to the courtyard and sat to wait for my friends. After a few minutes of sitting alone, three coeds came over to chat. They were part of a program to improve their English by offering information to tourists. Having nothing else to do, I sat around chatting with my new acquaintences, who also apparently had nothing better to do.
After a long conversation, with topics ranging from Korean pop culture to Taksim Square, I finally realized that Shane and Roberta probably were no longer in the mosque. Shane did not have an hour and a half attention span, I figured.
So, saying goodbye to the students, I forayed into Istanbul. Alone. Armed with a rough tourist map that we had procured that morning from the hotel.
I headed towards the grand bazaar, a veritable maze of streets and shops that puts every other market in the world to shame. I used the same navigation tactic that I used in London. That is, I randomly wandered, getting intractibly lost inside the vastness of the market.
The market was wonderful. Streets full of gold sellers and streets full of silver sellers. Shops with kitchy gifts and gaudy souveniers. Useful shops with tea and coffee supplies. Shops laden with piled of cinnamon from Turkey and saffron from Iran. And on each corner, someone trying to sell you something. Such was the influence of the salesmen that when I ran into another Mongol Rally team and shouted out, “Hey! Mongol Rally!” They thought I was trying to sell them something until I showed them my rally wristband.
This was a free market economy.
Only after procuring a Turkish coffee pot (a key provision for crossing Mongolia), was I able to set a solid bearing and escape the bazaar.
However, I escaped to the other side of the market than I entered. It led out to a series of streets full of shops even more confusing than the main market. Diagon Alley has nothing on Istanbul.
Eventually, navigating by the sun and the hills, walking towards the river, I disentangled myself from the crowded shops completely.
With nothing to do, I needed something with which to entertain myself. One thought popped onto my head: coffee at Taksim Square. What could add to the flavor of Turkish coffee better than a slight bit of teargas?
In fact, Taksim Square had returned to what I presume was relative normality. The rally team that visited the day before had experienced mild riots and the sweet smell of crowd dispersal tactics. But when I went, Taksim Square was full of chestnut salesmen, coffee shops, and people walking hand in hand.
It is amazing how quickly events pass and life can return to normal. It is harrowing, particularly considering the recent events. As if life shouldn’t return to normal that quickly. A small memorial has been set up, likely by fellow protestors, acknowledging and remembering the people and events at the square.
There was a strong juxtaposition between the cheerful crowds, the pensive mourners, and the stoic police presence that sat off to the side of the square, ready to roll in at a moment’s notice.
I wrote my mother that night, telling her that I had wandered to the Square. Her response, a common one: “that’s nice, dear. I hope you had a lovely time.” Thanks, mom.
On returning to the hotel, I found my lost teammates. Apparently, Shane had walked into Istambul’s most impressive mosque, looked up, looked down, said he had seen it, and left. Him and Roberta headed off into the fray of Istanbul before I had a chance to sit down in the courtyard, and our paths didn’t cross.