Cold Hands, a Mosque, and a Carpet

Woke this morning to a dreary rainy cold day.  yuck, but Oh well, we’re here. Walked to the train station to see about our tickets to Bulgaria friday only to be told they book the day prior or day of.  OK, will do. We then figured out the tram token system and took it a measly 2 stops, but up over a BIG hill and out of the drizzle to the Blue Mosque, or the Sultanahmet Mosque.  It’s huge!  The rain let up while we walked throught the old hippodrome toward the mosque.  Stopped at a street stand for a winners breakfast of hotdogs and cheese sandwhiches, which to our surprise, they plopped into a griller and made delicous! 

Saw a giant obelisk that is from ancient Egypt just outside the mosque entrance, and it is simpy amazing to me that people lived so long ago.  At the gate to the mosque were some guys selling umbrella’s.  I promised Zoe we’d get her a pink one if someone had one, and sure enough, there was a clear pink one dollar umbrella.  Sold!  We got more than we bargained for, though, and in a good way….a friend of the umbrella salesman helped us with the strollers over to the mosque entrance and told us to hustle since it will close in 20 minutes for prayer.  Well we rounded the corner for the non-muslim entrance to find a HUGE line.  Umbrella-friend man told us to follow him he was sure we could go a different way.  So he helped Bethany carry the stroller up a big flight of stairs to the primary entrance, got us our shoe-bags, and talked to the Turkish security gaurds who said it was cool that we use the Muslim / Turkish entrance since we had the kids and it had started to pour rain.  Umbrella-friend then, of course, let us know we should stop into his rug store if we got the chance.  well, maybe, I thought.  Anyway, the Mosque was gorgeous!!! 

We parked the stroller by the security guards, and took off our shoes to carry around in little plastic bags before going inside.  The interior is completely carpeted which is unbelieveable with the foot-traffic.  Must be a high quality Turkish rug.  The Blue Mosque is famous for it’s architectural style outside with numerous domes and minarets, and for the amazing blue tile work on the inside.  It definitely impressed and is huge.  When we left the rain had turned into a torrential downpour, so we ran around to the entrance to get our stroller and found umbrella-friend again.  (of course)   We took some more pictures and then he offered to help us out and show us his store.  I said sure…and it turned out great.

If you are open to a fun experience, then negotiating for purchases in another country is the most fun game you’ll have.  I figured we’d check out the rugs, get warm, and go, though I did want to price a bit out just to get a ballpark idea.  I kind of wanted to ~maybe~ get a rug.  I’d read about Turkish sales traditions, but also read they were not typically dishonest. We ended up at the rug shop for over an hour, but had a lot of fun.  First there were drinks – coffee or apple tea.  Bethany and Zoe opted for the tea, but I tried a Turkish coffee and it is the kind you chew at the end.  whew, strong coffee.  Then he told us all about Turkish rugs – the different kinds, the weave, the weft, the sizes.  All the while, his assistant is very flurrilously rolling out samples.  The salesman, not umbrella-friend who had left to snag more customers, was very fond of Avi too.  He kept rolling out rugs just in front of where Avi was crawling so he could touch and feel them.  Avi thought the whole thing hysterical.  Zoe had fun too, “working” at the shop and rolling out the rugs.  It was great.  At one point, though he actually rolled out one that was amazing.  We talked about the types of rug we liked and this and that, and I just couldn’t get my eyes off the one.  It was blue-ish with lots of intricate florals and patterns with a gorgeous sheen to it. 

So, the time came when he asked if any were especially appealling.  This is when we could get out, but I had to say, “that one”, because I loved it.  Of course, it’s the pricey one.  I say, “how pricey” and he tells me all about how it’s hand double-knotted, what it’s made of, it took 8 months to make, blah blah, and I knew it would be way too much.  So he points to another one and says it’s a few hundred.  I said I don’t like that one.  How much is the pretty one.  Well, it’s too much to say outloud so he types it on the calculator.  GAG.  Thousands.  GAG. again.  after that is negotiating and ‘your the first customer’ stuff and joking and he does drop the price a good bit, but I finally just have to say no.  He says, OK and the pressure is off.  Then he asks – and clarifies the deal is over – how much I truly am able to spend.  He wants to know for the future and because he really needs the cash to pay rent.  I tell him my measly amount and he is like, ugghh.  Anyway, no more pressure.  We get packed up to got and ‘Uncle’ comes down to see what’s up and there is discussion in Turkish.  Then salesman says I can have it – that it’s way under cost – that they’ll lose money, but need to get income today. and, the cincher, Uncle said it was OK.  WOW.  ok.  I amazingly negotiated you down from thousands to hundreds of dollars.  sold.  I kid you not, this was a nice, reputable, indoor permanent store.  Not the type of place I expect that you negotiate beyond 1/2 off.  Bethany and I agree we don’t feel the uncle bit was a charade, either. 

They packed up my rug and we were on our way, except that Avi needed to nurse.  So they led me upstairs into their home and let me nurse.  The lady who brought our tea and coffee hung out with me. Bethany and Zoe went out to get ‘evil eyes’ for her, doggy, and Avi.  They are blue ceramic eyes that are supposed to protect you from evil.  It was neat. They then wanted pics of Avi on the rugs and stuff, so I’ll email those.  It was such a great, fun, experience and I love my rug!!! Finally, we had to move on.  It was enjoyable to take that time to get warm and dry too.

We walked up the hill and around toward Topkapi Palace – the famous home of the Ottoman Sultans!  But first, we needed lunch and popped into a small kebab house for a delicous meal.  The highlight was the giant puffed up bread that came out first.  Zoe thought it was hysterical she could put the silverware INTO the bread.  As we left lunch, the call the prayer started.  Its incredible to hear the announcement echoing all across the city.  The afternoon was getting chillier and the drizzle was on and off, but we still went to Topkapi palace as it’s closed tomororw.  It’s amazing. 

Topkapi Palace is a huge palace complex with throne rooms, and jewelry and open squares and marble walkways.  Both kids fell asleep, so we had Avi in the big new stroller and Zoe in the little crappy umbrella stroller from Luftansa.  It made it nice for Bethany and I to actually listen to the audio guide and read signs, but also difficult because there are lots of steps and many rooms the strollers can’t go into.  Topkapi is definitely not stroller friendly  We just switched going into different rooms with watching the kids outside.  The hightlight, though, was visiting the harem because here you get to go into the place where people actually lived. 

So, the harem was where the sultan had all his concubines, wives and kids, and also just where his personal life took place.  It’s super neat to see.  The concubines and wives had a pecking order made apparent by the room they were alloted.  Then, the one with the son chosen for next sultan became head of the household and wife numero uno.  The sultan’s private rooms were the most interesting.  When you think of sultans hanging out on a big platform with cushions and a ornate decorations with food and women, then this is where you are.  It existed.  It was so ornate – beautiful tiles, gilt gold edging, intricate windows, domed ceilings, the whole bit.  Avi woke up for this, so he got to see it and seemed exited enough to chirp and hear his echo in a lot of the rooms.  It was funny.  I told him not to get any ideas about lifestyle. 

When we exited there it was downright cold and rainy.  Zoe woke and was hungry, so we hit up the cafe for some hot drinks and a piece of cake.  It was nice to warm up.  We finished out the palace grounds at the north end which is newest and still a few hundred years old.  There is a great view across the Bosporus and a beautiful ornate building.  Zoe had fun running around the gardens and up and down stairs…got some energy out.  Bethany and I were beat from walking around all day.  We walked out of the palace and headed back to the hotel, which is really close to the side entrance of the palace grounds.  Some of the area is a city park, and that is what we are near. 

After getting to the hotel we realized how late it was and went across the street for dinner.  The guy who runs the restaurant across the street is always hanging out over here and saying hi to us and stuff, so we patronized his place.  The food was similar to our lunch, but it was fun to have the attention of the staff.  Specifically Isa – the guy who hangs out front.  He is bald, and LOVED Avi – kept calling him, “my bald brother”.  They doted on Zoe too, and gave her meal for free.  She requested red fish, and they delivered..a small, whole fish, with red skin, though she noted that the part she ate was white. So nice to avoid a fish stick or fried crap on kids menus back in the states.  She ate the whole fish – well, not the bones and gills and fins and stuff. She then got to go see the kitchen since she kept nosing around the corner to see it.  It was a small cave of a place half in the basement.  cosy. She thought it was great that they had potatoes on the counter. Avi ate alot of his baby food and then Isa carried him around while we finished.  He showed Avi the mirror, the heater, the other waiters.  It was nice.  The best part of the evening though was returning to a warm hotel room.  We all went and got a hot shower together in the big shower room, and then snuggled in to watch a show…now off to bed for another big day tomorrow!

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