One of the great constants in every hotel I stayed in in Turkey is the breakfast, a sort of Turkish smorgasbord. And in Nuruziya Suites, one of the best friendly hotels in Pera ( see below) there was always a great selection of cheeses, non-pork salami, salads, fruits, breads and yoghurts and honey. There is a pleasant courtyard with divans and cushions so that one could pretend to be a sultan having breakfast. Anything you needed or wanted to plan for the day Esin was always there to help.
Over the road from the hotel was the French consulate, the old French Embassy, and further down was the Italian Consulate and in fact within a stone’s throw one could find the Russian, Swedish, German and a little further the British Consulates, all previously the embassies.
Pera therefore was always the centre of intrigue and spies. During the Second World War and the Cold War after, Istanbul, mainly due to it’s location and also because of it’s previous alliances was a nest of spies.
They all knew each other and drank in the same bars. One being the famous Snakepit. In 1947 Kim Philby was appointed head of British intelligence for Turkey and it was here that apparently he gave Le Carre’s name to the Russians.
One American agent wrote a song ‘Boo Boo baby, I am a spy’ and apparently when the head of the American intelligence would walk into the ballroom of the Park Hotel, Pera, the band would strike up this song. The centre of Istanbul has changed little since then and one can imagine the ghosts of these spies round any corner.
Todays spies are interested in other things with the civil war in Syria exerting pressure on Turkey it is weapons and people trafficking.
The remote hills and dusty back roads of Turkey have long been a playground for smugglers and spies, and if you know the right people, and come with cash, there is nothing you can’t find.
“You can buy anything — nukes, drugs, arms, scientists, viruses,” said Mustafa Kibaroglu, an assistant professor of nuclear engineering at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. “Anything goes.”
Walking down from Pera to the tram line to Kabatas, past Peymane, the best restaurant in town, one arrives at Istanbul Modern. It is Istanbul’s main modern art gallery and privately owned. Where the state doesn’t provide one of the thirty-five or so billionaires steps up to provide galleries, foundations, and even universities. One of the drawbacks is no photographs inside the gallery. Well they have to make a little extra out of the postcard sales.
Istanbul Modern has one of the best located restaurants in town , but the wharf in front is the parking spot for the hideous cruise liners that are nearly permanently here. One Monday I noticed I noticed no ships, as Topkapi etc were closed , so I popped down for lunch, but of course it was closed on Monday as well.
It is, however , one of the great spots of the city. From here one can see up the Bosphoros to the famous Bosphoros Bridge, across to Asia and the other side to Topkapi and Aya Sophia.
Jan Morris while writing about Istanbul says “Cairo, Calcutta and Istanbul-these are the great cities of the world where you may observe the prophecies of the doomwatch specialists apparently coming true”. Calcutta I don’t know, after visiting Cairo some time ago and it’s with current problems I can agree with, but Istanbul will not satisfy the doommongers,not with this huge body of water right in its centre that act as not only a enormous set of lungs but a sort of psychological safety valve. It creates a lot of mini cities.
Gulhane Park, once the grounds of Topkapi palace is now a mini people’s park. Here families are out walking, children enjoying dondurma, ice cream, women lifting their veils to eat misir, corn on the cob, couples having wedding photographs taken and of course as ever in turkey groups of men sitting and chewing the fat.
As ever in parks all over turkey is the statue of Atarturk, and as ever in contrast to the other contemporary dictator, cuddly smiling uncle Joe Stalin, Kemal Ataturk is shown as a stern, unsmiling figure. Ataturk was a remarkable politician and will return later to him.
Next to it are most of the cities museums, like a South Kensington of Istanbul. The neoclassical Archeology museum is one of the great buildings of the late Ottoman period, and alongside are the Mosaic Museum, Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum and the Islamic Science and Tecnology museum. Istanbul even has a UFO Museumin Beyoglu.
On the way to the Bazaar district is the Istanbul Lisesi or high school, not only the most pestigious but also pne of the great pieces of architecture from the late Ottoman period, it is a pity that weren’t more buildings like this. Over from Beyoglu it stands out on the horizon as virtually the only interesting building apart from the mosques.
The Bazaar is certainly impressive. All the statistics are worth mentioning, 61 covered streets and 3000 shops all under a roof constructed mainly in 1458, with between 250,000 and 400,000 vistors a day. Even today the market has streets with just jewellers, others with just carpets but it is not as defined as it once was.
The market is mainly carpets, textiles, jewellry, shoes (under Ottoman rule Turks wore yellow shoes, Greeks Blue, Jews black etc) and leather goods but there is a sort of commando trading with little stands set up on corners and even between the more established shops selling football shirts and tourist trinkets.
As in Turkey there is always a little controversy and some say that the origins of the bazaar were byzantine.
About half a mile to the north is the Egyptian or Spice bazaar. It was originally called the Misir Bazaar and misir in turkish is the word for both corn and Egypt. Debate goes on today whether it was the corn exchange or a copy of the bazaar in Egypt. Inside it is full of bright electric lights and the mainly red spices gives the whole place an ochre look. There is everything from Turkish delight, teas that are labelled turkish viagra and even caviar.
It must smell wonderful , but having lost my sense of smell I just tried to imagine how fantastic it must be.
In between the two bazaars is a most vibrant clothing shopping area with thousands of shops selling traditional conservative clothing for muslim women, which currently seemed to mean light green raincoats, to jeans, fake designer wear, wedding gowns and shop upon shop of shoes.
On the edge of this area are the large textile export businesses. The streets are packed with buyers, boys running around with cartons relenishing stock and older men with trollies organising the shipping especially for the clientele from Arabia and subcontinent.
Back to Peymane for delicious Kebabs