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May 2015 // Istanbul

May and June this year is a bit of a[n exciting] switch up… Instead of my usual life and the usual monthly posts, I travelled through Europe and spent my time spent exploring Istanbul, Greece, and France.

The beginning was Istanbul; seriously one of the most wonderful cities in the world. This is a place that architecture, food, and textiles reign supreme – in effect, it is exactly my kind of place!

Monday

We arrived at about 7am to a chaotic Istanbul airport. In fact we sat on the plane for over an hour (so awful after a 23 hour flight…) before being able to disembark because of some sort of theft on the plane. Once off though, we stood on the tarmac and felt the crisp, spring air on our skin and watched the bright blue sky go by (…whilst waiting to get into the terminal from the little bus we took from the plane). This was Istanbul; the airport surrounded by the big modernist apartment blocks that surround the periphery of so many big, wonderful cities in order to accommodate the real population.

We found our driver and wound our way along the coastline of the misty, busy Sea of Marmara before entering the walls of the old city, our driver constantly screeching around corners, slamming on the breaks to avoid head on collisions with other vehicles, and quickly reversing to take some other of the smallest streets (the sort of streets clearly incapable of managing two way traffic) to get to our hotel. We made it, were Welcomed in a huge way by Yusuf (who would come to be so generously helpful to us over the week), wheeled our suitcases into our room, and slumped onto our beds.

That afternoon was lovely. We spent it in the ground of Topkapi Palace; one of the most wonderful places in the entire universe (I’m sure of it). We dedicated most of our time to the Harem, an obscenely stunning structure filled with light, water, ceramic glaze, and wonder. It really was a wonderful introduction to the city and a very dreamy way to spend an afternoon.


Tuesday

We spent our second day with a wonderful guide who took us through oft-unvisited mosques, onto the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar, into wonderfully chic carpet stores on the Istanbul equivalent of 5th Avenue, across the Bosphorus and into the Istanbul of the Asian continent, to lunch with the locals, down beautiful tree-lined boulevardes of quiet neighbourhoods, and for cups of Turkish tea at plastic park tables in a verdant park on the river, completely evocative of family summers. This was a wonderful way to explore a vast, deeply layered city such as Istanbul and gave us a great sense of the city – from the back streets to the boulevards.


Wednesday

Day three began as a tour of the city by the river. The morning was grey and drizzly. We were heading for ‘one of the most beautiful mosques in the city’ located by the spice market. On the map, Rüstem Pasha Mosque is easy to place. In person, it’s not. In fact, I lie, we located it quite easily, it was visible above us from many corners of the spice market and quite easily identifiable from the steps of the New Mosque just across the square. The thing with this building was in actually finding the entry. This wasn’t a grand, central marble staircase type of affair. Indeed, what was so lovely about it was this elusive approach.

We walked several laps of the markets in the rain, descended back to the square, tried poking around the corners of tiny streets lined with men outside stores drinking tea until we finally had to take a guess that the entry might actually be within one of the small dark, covered hallways to the side of a stall that we initally thought was some sort of entry to their back room. Well, we found it! We wound up narrow marble staircases, followed light streaming through little archways, passed by tiny windows glimpsing the markets below us and landed in a beautiful raised courtyard surrounded by the tops of city trees and filled with pots of red geraniums that was the forecourt of the mosque. The rest, as they say is history – we swam in the richly historic air of that empty mosque and soaked up all of the beauty that was its wonderful blue green tiled walls, all the while hearing the movement of the spice market just below. It was quite lovely.

Eventually, we left the serene bliss of Rüstem Pasha and began to familarise ourselves with the spice market before crossing the Galatta bridge and making the climb to the top of its well reknown tower, which gave us a fantastic vantage point of this great, sprawling city. From here we saw not only the old town of Istanbul but the layers of suburbia that encircle it. It really was a scale-giving view – reminding us of all of the people that are a part of this city despite the relatively calm and quiet streets of the historic centre.

Later that evening we took a seat on a rooftop terrace overlooking the city from yet another angle and drank white wine watching the sunset over the Blue Mosque and the Bosphorus. It could not have gotten any better.


 Thursday

Thursday was rug day. In fact, this rug day end up extending into the evening and morning that that followed – as it happens, rug buying is a lengthy, exhausting [and ultimately rewarding, sure!] process. We had been advised by our hotelier of the complexities of our endeavours and that his best advise to us before asking any further questions was to head out and window shop.

So, we wandered down one of many Istanbul streets littered with rug stores and openly succumbed to the offerings of tea and beautiful Turkish wares of one tall,  lean, shop owner. Here we went through all of the motions (and all of his carpets…), explaining to him that we wanted to browse before buying the following day. Eventually we became closer to getting a clear (sort of…) idea of the sort of thing that we wanted and began to pick pieces out. But this was only the beginning – we then wandered with him to his special store room just ‘around the corner’, where the perfect rug for us would surely be. Again, we went through the process of flipping through rug after rug, each time vaguely pretending to like the ones we did like, and then switching to some other before gradually ‘settling’ on one that we might want to take home. Then we bargained with him, to the point of incensed arguing – back and fourth between he and his ‘brother’ – and arrived at a price that was half of his original estimate. He then swiftly carted us and our preferred selections back to his propoer shop and asked us to sign the paperwork for payment, to which we replied that we’d be back in the morning as arranged when we arrived in his store. He rose, started flicking fingers, grunting about having to persuade his brother of the unfair price we had wrangled him in to, and then we left him, standing in the doorway prophetically disgruntled at our lack of intent to buy.

That afternoon, we returned to our hotel and told Yusuf of our travels, who was firstly surprised at our appetite for argument, and secondly (at having heard this) now very open to helping us find a rug. We showed him photographs of our taste and he promptly made a phone call to the correct person who arrived at our hotel a few hours later with more than half a dozen versions of the rug that we had decided on slung over his shoulders – what service! In the end, we bought from this very hard working man who spoke no English but negotiated with us via Yusuf and gave us a great smile of appreciation at the end of the process. Four days later our rugs arrived home via DHL arranged by Yusuf, who’s old boss owns rugs stores (of course!).

P.S The below photo is not of the rug man in our story, but of another, very genuine seller (Troy Rug Store) near the Blue Mosque who I would certainly have bought from had we not bought from our hotel lobby :)


And that, was that. We left Turkey the very next morning after a whirl-wind tour. And I must say, I don’t think it will be too long before we head back.

Poppy

About the Author:

Our principle designer Poppy is a Masters of Architecture graduate from the University of Newcastle, Australia. She graduated in 2013 with First Class Honours, received the Dean's Medal and was awarded the Australian Institute of Architects NSW Chapter Masters of Architecture Graduate of the Year prize. In 2010, Poppy received the Eric Parker Travelling Scholarship encouraging the research and drawing of architecture.

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