Wednesday 12th June
Waking up at 8am for breakfast farewells is nearly as hard as the goodbyes themselves. The last 11 days have been great and I’ve relished the opportunity not to make any decisions. Tomorrow the real travelling starts. I’m almost glad I’m still a bit drunk because it detracts from the gravity of the situation. I’ve booked me and another girl form our group in at the Sultan Hostel for tonight, not the one I stayed at when I first came, but one right next door. But first I set out on my own mission to post some stuff back home. It takes me nearly half an hour in the heat of the day just to find the place. I was expecting it to be well sign posted and maybe with red signage like our ones back home and with post boxes outside. I am not in a super touristy part of town and I assume that most locals don’t speak English. After faffing about for quite some time I eventually ask an old man and he points across the road at a huge grey stone building with no signage on it at all except for a very small “TPP”. Entering the building I was thinking I would see an array of post parcels, envelope options, maybe some stationary for sale. It is a huge space, with ceilings at least 40 metres high, and very quiet. Nothing much for sale, just some people behind wooden desks and glass facades. Am I in the ministry of magic?? There are some people waiting to be served in wooden pews. Not sure if I’m pushing in and unable to read the writing on each counter I approach one lady and ask for an A4 envelope. She said they don’t sell envelopes and she doesn’t oblige with any direction on where I can find one. I scoot back the way I’ve come from and quickly locate a stationary shop that sells me an A4 envelope for one lira. Probably a tourist rip off for sure but by this time I’m in a bit of a hurry. Back at the post office I ask the same lady how much it will cost me to send an A4 envelope to Australia. 65,00 lira apparently. Well! That’s another thing I should have mentioned before now. The commas and the dot placements in pricing. It takes me about five minutes to understand she is asking for 65 lira (about AU $40) not 6.50 or 16.50. Basically they have a comma where we would usually put a dot but I have been given many a heart attack at point of sale when I think the machine is asking for $7,700 instead of $77.00. Well I flat out refuse to pay that and, through jolted English, she explains that I am at the express counter and for cheaper rate to go to the counter behind me. After this we have smooth sailing. Back at the Golden Horn, me and Katarina strap on our packs for the 15 minute walk across the city to our hostel. Note to other travellers, should have had my pack fitted before I came. I’m pretty sure the lowest strap is meant to be around my waist not on my ass as it currently is. Packs dumped we set out on foot to try and find a cheap lunch. The first place we see is offering kebabs for 15 lira. Now that we know what is a good price and what is not we turn around and head to a place that Katarina recommends from her first day in Istanbul.
Maya’s Cafe is more of a hole in the wall but probably the best kebabs (yes that’s a plural because I ate two, and they’re only 7 lira) that I have had in Turkey. We are sitting first date style outside the blue and green exterior, raving about what awesome kebabs we’re having and making general chit chat when a man in his 50s sitting on the other side of the pavement having a cigarette and drinking tea joins in our conversation when he hears us talking about Western Australia. He is dressed in the loose Mediterranean style garb wearing a Turkish cap.
We quickly learn that this is a man that has seen a bit of the world and has many stories under his belt. He has been all over Australia and when he asks where I’m from and I say NZ, he says what part and I say the region above Wellington and quick as a flash he says Foxton? Well my jaw couldn’t have dropped any further. That is a tiny beach town, one town south of where my family has their holiday home. He offers us tea, on the house and with a click of his fingers it arrives. By this stage we have been here at least half an hour. One glass down and he insists we have another although it’s not allowed to be Tourist Tea, it has to be real tea. By this stage I’m starting to feel bad that we are spending time hogging seats and not paying for anything. After I’ve semi-pretended to enjoy the real tea, our host asks if we have any plans for the rest of the day. When we tell him we don’t he says “you must come up to my chill out area and have some wines”. Well! I’ve got Katarina with me and he is decidedly the furtherest thing from seedy I have ever seen so we kind of look at each other, shrug our shoulders and decide he is just too an intriguing a character to resist. We pop into his shop next door and it is probably the nicest one I have seen in Istanbul. It is filled with unique pieces of jewellery, beautiful textiles and remodelled furniture. He is an antique dealer by trade and his taste is impeccable. I would walk away with half of his stock if I had the cash. He starts telling us and some others in the shop about his wares and I start to realise why he’s befriended us; for the sell. To him, we are just another customer. But no, that’s not the case. As I’m taking my time admiring everything, he is almost standing there tapping his foot waiting for us to be finished. We are then shown up the stairs to his “chill out room” and wow, what a space.
The floors, the ceiling and the cabinetry are made from some old, super smooth wood. There are carpets piled all around the room but it doesn’t feel cluttered at all, just …. chilled out, as he said. We take a seat on a small sofa and are offered red wine. Still holding out that I might find some decent wine in this country we accept and I’m not disappointed; it’s the nicest wine I have tried in Turkey. My attention is immediately captivated by a very curious looking object on the table in front of us. It’s a metallic ball about 30cm in diameter, with very detailed tiny carvings all over it. Immediately intrigued, I pick it up and ask him about it. This piece was only purchased about three weeks ago and Mike (that’s his name, yes I was somewhat surprised at the everydayness of his name when nothing else about him appeared so, but perhaps that was the point as his Turkish name was just too hard to pronounce – “Necdet Akbayrak”) is still researching about it. What we do know is that it was made around the 18th century in India somewhere. It is an Islamic relic used for teaching astrology, among other things. He picked it up from under a table in a market, at a stall manned by an Afghan (just on the side, he’s completely monopolised the market for Afghan antiques, buying anything worth any value when immigrants bring them into the Turkey markets). Having dealt with metals most of his life he knew this was a rare piece. He bargained it down to about 300 lira then went home and fired off some emails. From what he has found out so far there are no pieces like this around. There are similar relics, one in the Louvre and one in the Victorian Albert Museum in London, but neither of them are as intricate or as detailed as this one. And one of them recently auctioned at London’s renowned Sotheby’s auctions for over $50,000 POUNDS. Mike’s plan is also to auction this piece at Sotheby’s, but there are only two or three Islamic auctions per year so he’s got a bit of time up his sleeve to find out more about it. Adding to the mystery of the piece is that, if it really does date back to the 18th century, then as far as Mike’s knowledge goes, it would defy what we currently know about metal work technology as it is just the one piece of metal (can’t for the life of my remember what it is made from), i.e. no seams. Katarina and I marvel at the piece for over an hour. We can see dragons, snakes, donkeys and different faces and bodies, many merged together, centaur style. What’s amazing is that, at one stage we are both looking at the same thing, but I am seeing a human and she is seeing a koala and neither of us can understand the others’ perspective.
We learn that Mike’s daughter owns the cafe downstairs. It is named after her daughter and I really can’t plug Maya’s Corner enough. Their website is not updated (it used to be a jewellery shop) but we can see a dated picture of the family at this link: http://www.mayascorneristanbul.com/p/about.html The more I talk to to him the more I like him. One of my favourite things is that he’s obviously seen a whole lot of the world, more than anyone I’ve ever met, but that only unfolds under my incessant questioning. He’s not all braggy braggy about the places he’s been and the people he’s met like so many young people today. Mike shares with us that at the moment there is a new site being constructed in the mountains for him and his antique museum. He’s building a huge house with heaps of bedrooms and at the end of the year he is hosting his 60th birthday there and inviting all of his international friends to stay. Awesome much. I’m picturing Arabian princes, Swedish dignitary and whoever’s left from the Bee Gees and the Beatles. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me. I mentally put this on my to-visit list in the future, although how I would find it I’ve got no idea. In Turkey, reading coffee cups is a thing. Like reading tea leaves. Now I’m not superstitious, just very curious. Our new hippy friend looks like he has skills in this area and I’m on the money. But I’m s bit slow and hadn’t put it together in my head that I have to DRINK the coffee first. I hate coffee. And Turkish coffee is in a whole different league to the milked up versions all my friends drink back home. I am brought a tiny coffee cup about 4cm high. I guess it was like a coffee shot? I don’t even pretend to enjoy it, but going sip for sip with a glass of water I manage to finish it in about 45 minutes. The coffee dregs take up about a third of third of the cup. He puts a saucer over the top and flips it upside down. Now we have to wait at least another half hour before the bottom of the coffee cup has cooled. During this time Mike detects restless energy coming from me and Katarina. He puts down his wine and his joint and feels my hands and lower arms, soaking up my energy. Poor guy looks like he is about to pass out (and this is me on holiday!!). He tells me there’s a lot of “shit in my head” and breathes very deeply. I really feel quite bad for him, he looks quite uncomfortable. Why am I not surprised when he tells us that people in New York used to pay him a lot of money to do this stuff? I am told to go downstairs into the bathroom and wash my face, hands and arms in cold water and just b r e a t h e. I do as he instructs and really try my best to find my zen place in a toilet under the stairs.
Back in the room Mike is admiring the drainage pattern the coffee has left on the inside of the cup. One side is quite congested where the coffee had a hard time escaping, on the other side it looks to have flowed out quite freely. From this he tells me that I am climbing climbing climbing (towards happiness?) and I’m nearly at the top but I am the only one holding me back. He basically tells me that, in life, I am my own worst enemy. Interesting. It’s been at least three hours now and Mike tells us that we all need some air. We follow him up the street and into some kind of hotel. It is obvious he comes here often, evident in the fact that the lobby boy can’t get to the elevator button quick enough. There is a restaurant on the rooftop where we are asked what we would like to drink. We both politely refuse at first but that doesn’t wash. We end up with two wines and a green tea between us. Once again I am treated to an incredible view (what is with these Turkish men taking me to hotel rooftops??) but taking photos feels like it would break the spell. Instead I live in the moment (trying really hard to work on this) breathing big and soaking up the sun, the view, the air. The serenity here really is a stark contrast to the humming city below. Mike has a few more pearls of wisdom for us (don’t fill your lives with fake people, better to have a few good friends than a billion crappy ones, don’t care what people think of you, life is short, appreciate everything) but for the best part we just sit in silence. We are invited to stay for dinner and I am almost reluctant to tell him we have made plans to catch up with what’s left of our tour group. After a short while he tells us he has to be somewhere and, almost abruptly, leaves. Not without paying the bill first, much to our protest. He departs with probably his best piece of advice so far: “Smile. Breathe. Be happy”.
At dinner I am still super relaxed. We try to recount our interesting afternoon to the others but it’s definitely a had-to-be-there scenario. Walking back to our hostel I am filled with gratitude for everything I have learned and everyone I have met in Turkey. I will not forget the colourful, vibrant metropolis of Istanbul any time soon. A love affair has ignited here.