Thursday, July 5, 2012

Istanbul: Back and Forth and the Basilica Cistern

Istanbul, Basilica Cistern, Upside-Down Medusa

Basilica Cistern. I'm a terrible tourist, maybe. There are Very Important Historical Sites here and I think perhaps I don't have the proper appreciation.

The Basilica Cistern, for instance.

Istanbul, Basilica Cistern

Maybe I want to be like Madonna - when she came to Istanbul recently, reportedly she went to the historic sites, alone (well, with her entourage), sans unwashed masses, after hours. That would be nice. You can do this by going on a virtual tour here.

Istanbul, Basilica Cistern, Upside-Down Medusa

But instead I mingled with clutches of other tourists intent on taking photos of each other in the almost-dark. Mood music emanated from somewhere back by the Medusas to enhance our experiences. There was a cafe at one corner. There was an area (for 5 euro) to get your photos taken in authentic-like Ottoman garb. Kind of like those sepia saloon photos you can get at Silver Dollar City and the like.

Istanbul, Basilica Cistern, Sideways Medusa

Obviously, I'm an elitist at heart. I want to go by myself, without the mood music, with it all so quiet, you can hear the fish open their gills. Yes, there are fish.

Back and forth. Alican had kindy offered to show me where and how to get a transportation card and we'd agreed to meet in front of his family business at 5:00 p.m.

I thought I'd planned my day for my usual getting-out-late routine to have lunch, then the Basilica Cistern, and then a short people-watching sojourn in the nearby park before meeting Alican.

First, I had yet another misfire of a lunch with only myself to blame, and second, I had miscalculated how long it would take to accomplish this and my Cistern visit. Consequently, I cooled my heels for over an hour in the park. But some good things came out of that: 
  1. It was shady and cool. Pleasant. 
  2. I discovered a fantastic ice cream bar - far superior to the so-called handmade whatever that I'd tried - it was chocolatey to the extreme. 
  3. I came up with a good response to future touts who decide to sit next to me on a park bench while I'm minding my own business, asking me stupid-ass questions, with the penultimate one being, "are you married"? My new response: "I don't answer such questions." I'm thinking of reviving the word "impertinent."
Eventually, Alican and I met up and he escorted me to a kiosk where I was able to purchase a ticket good on the trams, buses, and funiculars.

Alican returned to work and I set out on my plan to take the Bagcilar-Kabatas (T1) tram from Point E to Point A and then Point Z and then Point C, closest to my base. Or something like that.

So here's a video of part of my ride. You can feel how close the tram is to the sidewalks and pedestrians:

First I went over the Galata Bridge to the last stop at Kabatas. I got out of the tram and walked down the stairs into an underground mall similar (but less gritty) than those in Tbilisi.

On my return trip, after re-passing the historic stuff, we headed out to the burbs. Lots of apartment blocks - like New Rustavi, really, except prettier.


And then, just as I was getting really hungry for dinner, we approached an outlet mall with signage for several familiar eateries. Surely, the fare had to be better, at a more reasonable cost, than the pseudo-Turkish stuff in Sultanahmet.

And so it was. There was a food court that one could drop in any suburban area in the world. Yes, the comfort of middle-class anonymity. No hustlers, no one wanting to know my name, no one pushing a menu toward me. Nope, just good ol' friendly customer service.  And all in quiet, four-tiered, air-conditioned splendor. 

The land of bland. I embraced it. As one of my TLG colleagues used to say, "Don't judge me."

So if you're in Istanbul during the summer and looking for an escape from the heat, the hustlers, the hype, take the T1 tram toward Bagcilar and get off at this station:

 for this outlet mall:

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