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Better late than never . . .
Dispatch #13

Been a long time gone, Constantinople

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The next day was lower-key, but still very full.  We went back to Taksim to do some shopping, and met some friends for lunch.  T. and I went to get our hair done at a salon that was staffed mostly by good-looking young men whose primary job appeared to be standing around the chairs of the well-dressed older women came to get their hair styled.  Then it was back to the older quarter of town for more shopping in the Spice Bazaar.  T. began to discover that she had a real talent for bargaining.  Then we went to watch the sun set from Galata Tower, which offers a beautiful view of the city skyline.  We watched the sky change color slowly behind the minarets of the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. 

Goaded by exhaustion and hunger, we stayed at the restaurant built at the top of the tower and paid far too much money to have an adequate but mediocre dinner, watch a floor show that featured some really cheesy belly-dancing numbers and few folk dance routines, followed by a nightclub act performed by a portly and extremely energetic older man who looked like he was having the time of his life pulling out a song for every nationality represented-- except the Chinese and Japanese, but his repertoire was impressive, nonetheless.  I was trying to behave myself, but I finally lost it when he did a one-man kickline during a drawn-out version of "New York, New York."  It was just a little too bizarre. 

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Our third day was, I think, my favorite.  We took a ferry up the Bosphorus, which divides Turkey (and Istanbul itself) between Europe and Asia.  It was three hours from the southern end of the strait, at the Marmara Sea, to the northern end, where it opens into the Black Sea.  The last stop on the line is a village that features several seafood restaurants, some souvenir shops, and, on the hill overlooking the town, the ruins of a Genovese fort dating from around the 13th or 14th century.  It was a steep climb from the wharf to the fort, but the view from the top of the hill was superb.  We spent the afternoon climbing the fortress walls and lounging comfortably in the sun, chatting and reading and relaxing until it was time to catch the ferry back.

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The trip along the Bosphorus was wonderful.  The boat was crowded on the trip up, and we huddled outside, shivering in the stiff breeze, but enjoying the scenery.  The Asian side of the Bosphorus features huge, elaborate vacation homes, and the European side is dominated by several palaces.  Further from the city, smaller towns line the shores, where the waterside buildings are less impressive, but colorful and charming.  We all enjoyed the trip, despite the chill, and the periodic trips of the tea and coffee vendors squeezing past our knees in the narrow gap between the outside bench and the boat's railing. 

We were all weary after the trip, but agreed to meet up later to go the Blue Mosque for the evening call to prayer, because a friend had told T. that that had been one of her favorite experiences in Istanbul.  We got a late start, though, and we were still several blocks away from the mosque when we heard the call to prayer begin.  We were hurrying through the quiet and darkening streets when the first muezzin sang his first notes.  Then, from another direction, another call began.  Another joined in, then another one atop the other, until it was impossible to follow any one voice in the chorus.  Then they faded away, leaving behind only the usual noises of a city at night. 

There was a souvenir store near the Blue Mosque, of course, and T. was drawn into it, responding, it seemed, to a previously unrecognized weakness for rugs.  I. and I poked around, drifting in and out of her lengthy bargaining session with a salesman.  When the deal was finally concluded, we headed back to the hotel, fully intending to go straight to bed.  But then there was this jewelry store that was still open, and well, we found that we had the energy to keep shopping after all.  Thankfully, this wasn't a store where bargaining was expected, but the owner was more than happy to pull out piece after piece for our examination, and to point out the finer details of his personal creations.  We were there for a really long time, picking out rings and trying out various necklaces and earrings.  We all ended up buying several things.  Because he had locked up his credit card machine for the night, and we were stopping by the next day to pick up the rings we'd bought that had to be sized, he let me take the pair of earrings that I wanted, without paying for them, or even leaving a deposit.  He insisted that I take them.  I was surprised, but I guess he'd had plenty of opportunity to assess our characters, considering the length of time that we spent in his store. 

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