Sunday, 16 August 2009

Istanbul Sprints

Our joy at being finished at our first farm caused us to be extremely eager to leave Italy and Friday and meant that we were ready to board our 22:00 flight to Istanbul at 14:00. The hope that there will be a restaurant with wireless Internet in Rome also didn't pay off so we had to pass eight hours without Internet. We did manage however and eventually did board our plane.

However, not knowing the personal affairs of all planes and airlines over the world meant that we were smart enough to fly with Alitalia. The unfriendly check-in lady didn't check Marike and me into seats next to each other so we had to shout to each other across the aisle. What was even worse was that the lovely people from Alitalia were waiting for some passengers and their luggage to arrive for an hour. After that we had to wait for some maintenance person to fix something in the food cupboards. After an hour and a half waiting on the runway we took off to Istanbul at last. I was extremely grumpy because they were eating into the few hours we had in Istanbul, I was tired and hungry and at that moment I was irritated with everything remotely resembling anything Italian. Marike was giggling away, especially when I just grunted at the air hostess when we could finally disembark in Istanbul... We didn't even get a sandwich for a three hour flight, just some dry crackers and gross wine.

Customs in Turkey was a breeze and we were even called on the public information system as the poor driver from our hotel were probably waiting for almost two hours for us to arrive. In Istanbul at last and it was nothing like what we expected. In my imagination I was imagining something like Lawrence of Arabia with a little bit of Durban. What we found, at 3:00 in the morning, were wide highways, with clean and green gardens. It felt like arriving in a Sandton on steroids.

In the hotel we couldn't resist looking at Facebook and our e-mails to fix our craving for the Internet, but soon enough out batteries were completely empty and we fell deeply asleep.

We only had a day and a half in this amazing city so we were up very early to have breakfast and look around. Being girls we went straight to the Grand Bazaar to do some shopping. We controlled ours urges until we got to the middle of the bazaar when we just couldn't resist all the temptation any more. The salespeople are all so charming and persistent that we eventually walked out of there with gifts for all our family, despite not having any spare weight available in our suitcases. This, of course, meant we also had to buy another back pack to carry another piece of hand luggage on the plane. It's one big vicious circle.

I think our biggest joy was the sight of a MacDonald’s in the distance when we were walking down the main road. I stopped dead in my tracks and clutched Marike's arm and she immediately knew what I was looking at and gave a little squeal of joy. We're not usually addicted to trashy fast food, but since we both flew to Italy on a hangover three weeks ago we have had an incredible craving for it. We have also realised in the mean time that no airport or small country town in Italy has a MacDonald’s so the sight of that big M was a sight for sore eyes. All my previous good intentions of eating the local food flew straight out of the window and we immediately sat down for a lunch of Big Macs, fries and Coke. The shopping continued after lunch until we couldn't stand on our two feet anymore and retired to the hotel for a siesta - damn Italians.

Saw a show of Sufi music and dancing last night but realised soon enough that we're either very shallow and don't understand all their traditions or we were just some more innocent tourist victims of the Istanbul charm. The dancing just entails three men spinning and spinning and spinning on some prayer music for about half an hour. I must have found peace during it though because I almost fell asleep a couple of times.

The last adventure of the day was the biggest. We took off to have our very first Turkish bath. On arrival we weren't exactly sure what to do and were just shoved into a little booth with some towels and shower shoes and told to undress. When we came out we were led to the bath area by two Turkish ladies in black bikinis, a big sauna type room with a granite slab in the middle filled with more naked ladies.

The two of us were completely shocked at the sight of all the boobies and we were split up and told to lie down on the slab. At some stage I received a panty and was told to put it on by the Big Momma washing me. After lying on my back for a while, while wearing nothing but a panty, the Momma returned and started scrubbing me. Every now and again she would ask: "Good?" and I would say "Yes", although she almost winded me a few times. She washed very thoroughly and everywhere and was finished very soon. Then I was led to another tap where she washed my hair while I sat between her legs and told me to take a shower in another room where there were no showers. I just tried to rinse of the soap and went to a room with an ice cold pool to wait for Marike's arrival. I could only relax once I knew where Marike was because I was a little afraid that she got scared and ran away but I did see her just before my wash started so I could enjoy the scrubbing and bubbles eventually.

She eventually turned up and we sat giggling in the pool for a long time recounting our experiences. I will leave out all the gory details but she had more or less the same experience than I did, except that the thin lady washing her didn't bother putting on the top of her bikini until halfway through the bath, making her even more uncomfortable.

Up until then we felt like we were in Durban or the Oriental Plaza, but that made us realise at last that we were firmly in Turkey and in a completely different culture than anything we had ever experienced. Amazing how something can be so normal for one person and so uncomfortable for another.

We once again fell straight asleep after getting over the shock of being violated by two naked ladies and woke up this morning to do the usual sightseeing. Went to the Blue Mosque, dressed up in sheets to go inside, saw the Hagia Sophia Mosque, walked past the Topkapi Palace, had some terrible ice cream look-a-like and bought some spices at the Spice Bazaar.

Had a blast of a time and feel revitalised for the next four weeks of working. The original reason we came to Istanbul was because we could only stay in the Schengen area for 30 days at a time because of our visas but we are both very happy we did. Not only did we get to experience all of this we are also looking forward to eating some more Italian food and meeting some new people.

Will probably post a big blog again in four weeks. Check out the pics of the weekend on Facebook.

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