"This time we are going to museums," says Egbert the Enigma as he looks up from his iPad.
"That will be the death of me," I don't say. I hate museums. You should know this by now.
"They will be fun," he says.
"No they won't. Museums are the opposite of fun."
"Tedium is the opposite of fun."
Here's the thing: we have so much fun. We do end up going to a couple museums--Istanbul Modern is worth a visit--but we mostly hang out in bars and just enjoy the city the way the locals do. I'm sure there are lots of locals who do not hang out in bars, but there are quite a few who do. If you're a musician in Istanbul and can't find work, I don't know what you're doing wrong. Every bar has live music, and it's good. OK, it's mostly good.
Istanbul is a busy city bursting with people. There is always--ALWAYS--someone behind you and in front of you. You always have to pay attention to where you're going. There is always the potential of falling on your face. The sidewalks are full of traps. Yet even with all these obstacles and annoyances, people don't really push. The city has a rhythm, and once you find it, you're OK. It's fast and syncopated.
The city has such a lively outdoor presence. People swarm and buzz and congregate. The fisherpeople--mostly men but also a few women--on the Galata Bridge have grill parties with their catch. If ever there were a city that screamed COMMUNITY, this one does. Or communities. It's as if--no, it's the fact--that people here live for one another. They interact. They share. They LIVE together. And they're really sweet to tourists. I like that. Ah, except that one guy who yelled at me for stepping on his fishing line on the Galata Bridge. I didn't understand him, so I'll remember/translate the exchange this way:
"Hey! Hey! Hey!" the fisherman yells at the approaching adorable tourist, who is blissfully--one could even say adorably--oblivious that the fisherman's entreaty is meant for said adorable tourist. Adorable tourist trips all over fishing line.
Shouted quite loudly: "You are such a sweet, adorable person that it doesn't matter you were not watching where you were going. Peace be with you and your family!!!!!!!" I'm fairly sure this is what he said.
"We're going to the Basilica Cistern," Egbert the Enigma says the second we drop our bags on the floor of our nearly adequate hotel room.
"The Sistene Chapel is in the Vatican."
"They have one here too."
"Cool. Improbable, but cool!"
I pack my camera, and we head out the door. The Basilica Cistern is near the Blue Mosque (tourist central in Istanbul) and just up the street from our hotel--again, Egbert the Enigma has booked our hotel near the places we want to see. Miracles all around us.
"Ah," I say as I enter sightseeing attracting numero tre in Istanbul, numero uno being the Blue Mosque of course, the Hagia Sophia being numero due. All of these places are worth a visit. "It's a Cistern."
The Basilica Cistern is beautiful, except for the screaming packs of schoolchildren and obnoxious packs of Spanish twenty-something tourists. I don't know. I don't stand in front of photo-ops and gab with my friends. I move along. Spanish twenty-something tourists have too many friends and too much to say to those friends while adorable tourists are trying to take obligatory tourist photos. Get a room. Anyway, I finally got a photo of Medussa's head. Here it is. Sheesh.
We walk to Taksim Square every day from our hotel. It's a hike, but we love hiking. And it's an uphill hike at that. Taksim Square and the shopping streets around it are on a plateau. Getting there on foot can be quite steep at times. We also eat a salad every day at this restaurant, with two locations right on the main shopping street:
They offer a good and varied salad buffet for about 7 lira, which is incredibly reasonable. Eating out in Istanbul, if you go to a sit-down-with-a-nice-menu restaurant, can be very expensive. Drinking in Istanbul is expensive, but look for the very crowded bars in the back alleys. They're cheaper. Wine is almost NYC expensive. If you want to drink wine, it will be a lot cheaper to buy a bottle in a supermarket.
And here's a best-kept-secret tip. If you're trying to find a romantic corner, a special place in Istanbul, have a look at this place. It's a steep, curvy and quirky group of restaurants and bars just a few blocks away from the main shopping street near Taksim Square. At the metal sculpture below go down the hill and take the first left (about 200 meters). Then take the first right (street name: Cezayir) into the stairway of bars/restaurants.
The most romantic place to sit is too small for us burly men, and we realize once we sit down that we can't even see the rest of the alley-cum-staircase. If you can't see the romantic bits, what's the point, right? So we move. And then we move again--until Egbert the Enigma is happy and I'm thoroughly embarrassed. His ways are mysterious and embarrassing.
Next time I may even get around to writing about our Turkish Delight experience. Wow, is that stuff good.
I must be off,
Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Crack the Spine, Feathertale, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen.