Sultan Ahmed Mosque, commonly known as The Blue Mosque, the source of my morning alarm, is regarded by many as the jewel in the crown of Islam, until recently it was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, apparently. A visit was essential, I’ve never been in a Mosque so it seemed canny to bust my cherry on what is regarded as the best one there is, hey, why settle for Spumanti when there is champagne on offer, right? Fuck yeah. First off, the place is enormous, really huge, it make St. Paul’s look like a privy.
Anyone can freely enter the grounds that surrounded the magnificent dome dressed in any way they ruddy well like. On entering the dome, however, guests are asked to keep arms and legs covered and one must remove ones shoes. American visitors thought it was okay to just cover their shoes with the plastic bags provided for carrying ones footwear which incensed me, not subscribing to religious doctrine is one thing but some fucking respect is another entirely. In fact I was so angry I accidentally dropped my shoes on the ‘no shoe zone’ which was a little counterproductive.
I wasn’t quite expecting the Mosque to be as awe inspiring as it was, it’s achingly beautiful (called the Blue Mosque because of the vast quantity of tiny blue tiles than line the interior) and the atmosphere quite humbling, emotive, even. Within there was a line that visitors were not permitted to cross and beyond lay the stained glass and electrifying script that glowed before a handful of devotees. When we walked back into the sunshine IC and I were both rather moved, I donated to money to the upkeep of the building and a man took my money with smiling gratitude and a little wink which was right nice. I was so chuffed I bought a fresh pack of tabs and on a whim, a lighter featuring stick people having oral sex.
The sunshine came as a welcome relief, on the second day it rained in short violent bursts forcing me to purchasing a vast umbrella for about £2. We didn’t mind much, it was still warm and anyway, we had stuff to see indoors.
The Basilica Cistern is one of the best things I’ve seen. Built by the Romans to supply water for the city (by 7,000 slaves, apparently) this huge subterranean water tank supports the city above on dozens of enormous columns (Ionic, Doric and Corinthian architect fans) semi-submerged into the crystal clear water below. Lately it’s been jazzed up, each column is lit up by eerie orange lights and a walkway meanders through the crepuscular cavern, ethereal music chimes in the background, it’s magical but in a not-so-funny sort of way, spooky too. The highlight is a pair of carved Medusa head’s chillingly positioned horizontally at the base of the columns at the far end of the well giving it even more of a haunted touch. I relished in the shudders.
We journeyed over the North bank to visit the fish market and were harassed by a bunch of local eateries that sit virtually on top of palettes of Bluefish, Bream and Bass, some still flicked their tails and gulped warm air in defiance of their fatal awakening. We chose a very rustic looking place on account of the menu and sat outside only yards from the river bank. Battered mussels and Bream were cooked to fucking perfection, no fuss or fancy, belt and braces top quality food that would’ve cost a bloody fortune at Sheeky’s or Bibendum, bill came to under a tenner.
Throughout our stay we regularly visited the Grand Bazaar and the slightly more gentile Spice Bazaar. Both are ostentatious riots of colour, heat and activity, particularly the latter which was much smaller though less intense, largely because real life business was being conducted there. As with the restaurants traders would leap out at you with theatrical grins and unsubtle one-liners, ‘Hey **** (a reference to a particular tattoo) let me talk to you, hey, I just wanna talk ,****..!’ I was referred to said tat so often on my trip I started to answer to it as if it was my god-given name. In a way I found it sort of endearing.
The markets are a place to lose yourselves for a few hours, in the case of the Grand Bazaar quite literally. On one occasion we took a wrong turn and found ourselves in someone’s ramshackle house after being ushered up by a less-than-comely youth under the misapprehension the market had another level, we found ourselves overlooking the top of the markets with a young Turk staring at IC with a nasty grin and a skewed twinkle in his eye, who, without breaking his malevolent gaze, began demanding money, we rapidly retreated pursued by a now less-than-friendly native.
Most of the stuff sold in the markets is much the same, trinkets, coloured pottery, shisha pipes, sweets, but prices vary widely, you can pay more than double for an item seen seconds before in an adjacent stall. The Spice Bazaar was my favourite and incredibly cheap for spices, obviously. You could buy Saffron for a much less than a tenth of the price in Supermarkets in London and Iranian Beluga Caviar was about £18 a pot. It was visually stunning too, mini mountains of multicoloured spice peaked precariously over their sacks without caution to the passing throngs, it says a lot for the Turkish this, there’re extraordinarily trusting in that part of town (allegedly it’s a different story on the North bank) and apart from the incident cited, at no point did I or IC feel threatened or any way unsafe day or night.
We lunched out every day and ate out every night; for the most part the food was sensational. I managed to eat loads of lamb koftis and kebab meat, the latter a bit disappointing in many respects as most of them mix lamb and beef and due in part to the lack of crap contained within they felt surprisingly listless to the spicy elephant legs you get over here. Having said that it was a different story on the streets, kebab stalls were everywhere and in a display of uncharacteristic tolerance I decided to have only one ‘dirty’ kebab, though it took me a short while to locate an ‘authentic’ one of just pure lamb. I did on the last day and by the love of god was it worth it, served in a sort of flatbread with salad and chilli sauce I almost wept tears of fucking joy as I ate it. No shit kids, I’d go all the way back there just to have another. I was so bloody happy I asked to guy to give me his trademark wrapper for posterity which the hero gently folded and presented to me as if the finest ermine in Christendom. It sits happily attached to my fridge with two pretty Islamic Fridge magnets and a rubber tit.
One of the nicest meals we had -outside of those described- was in a little place by the hotel. There was a small snag though, the owner was a lovely Muslim chap who wouldn’t sell us alcohol but agreed to let us bring our own wine in. I think he regretted his decision as soon as IC and I turned up pissed a couple of hours later waving a bottle of Turkey’s finest. Of course he didn’t have an opener (he breathed with a sigh of relief) so I went back to the shop to get this issue resolved and returned. He politely asked us if we wouldn’t mind keeping the wine on the floor of his restaurant throughout our meal. His lamb koftis were out of this world.
Bit more tomorrow. I’m still bloody crook but feeling able to face a day in the office, maybe. On more thrilling news, my new bike will be ready for collection this week. Sadly this fact is offset by the lack of anything from my fucking solicitors. Cunts.
A treat for Dead Kennedy fans right here…