After an early work day from 3 AM to 1 PM, I'm already feeling pretty beat. And the last day visiting a new place is always a bit manic for me. Will I ever be back here? What have I missed that I may never have the opportunity to see or do again? What things left a mark that I'd like to experience one last time? Finally, the sky has partially broken open. There's some middling mid-day light so I dash up to the Blue Mosque to snap some photos and hear the battling muzzein announce the afternoon's adhan -- call to prayer. Listen to a bad recording I made from my laptop; the echoes are from adjacent mosques). Next, a run across the street to the Basilica Cistern, a "not-to-be-missed" sight right on the Aya Sofya / Blue Mosque square. A bit pricey at 10 YTL for a simple walk through a cave, but it is artfully lit and inspires the imagination about Istanbul's storied history. The cistern had been discarded, turned into a dump and makeshift morgue until being rediscovered and reclaimed in modern times. Down the street to an Ishekender for lunch. More eggplant, mixed vegatables, a Turkish goulash of sorts, and of course -- not tea -- but a Fanta. I brave one last trip into the Grand Bazaar. I love shopping when I travel, but I rarely buy anything. I like to think I'm bringing back memories but as I get older, I'm starting to think I might need totemic reminders. I start up a chat with a shopkeeper about some rugs. All I want to do is learn about them. I have no place for a rug, I don't want to buy one. The shopkeeper's store is "busy" but they have another around the corner. I walk in to meet someone who might be the owner, Hasan. He's quite nice, we sit for some tea, and look at various rugs that are absurdly expensive. Hasan drops his prices quickly from the absurd to the merely unaffordable. I still haven't made any counter offers. That's when he starts in with affable witticisms like "The tea is best tasted when hot" and "Look in your heart. Why do you want to think about it? How much for you to buy this today?". He's good. He's *really* good, and I'm starting to think I want a rug, a really expensive wool/cashmere rug. It's then I realize that I'm powerless and I must escape before another cup of tea. I duck out with a vague promise to return after clearing my head. To do that, I hit the Cemberlitas hamami (Turkish bath), right around the corner from the Grand Bazaar. The steam room is beautiful and -- it's packed with both tourists and locals. I lay down on the giant marble slab in the center of the room until a masseur finishes up. This guy scrubbed and kneaded me into a pulp. Leaving the hamam, I no longer had any desire for carpets or the Grand Bazaar. Shit. It's perfect golden afternoon light. Of course, the last day. I run around like mad trying to get a few last photos. They all suck, and that's when I resign myself to the fact that this photo safari, this first venture into Turkey is offer. Might as well have some Raki and relax.
Tip: If you're doing the Sultanahmet cycle, I suggest starting with the Blue Mosque and working towards Topkapi. For one, the exit from the Blue Mosque is on the Aya Sofya side. You'll be swimming upstream if you try to get to the Blue Mosque entrance from Aya. If you insist, walk up the Hippodrome. But more importantly, you're going to be disappointed by the Blue Mosque if you see Aya first. The Blue Mosque is certainly more impressive outside, but the Aya Sofya is definitely a sight to behold inside. The Blue Mosque seems a bit downtrodden, a bit like a Muslim VFW but without the bowling lanes and subsidized beer. I suppose that is to be expected from a few million visitors a year. A soggy, rainy day. A good one to spend indoors.