Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Istanbul Again - Part Seven

Rüstem Pasha mosque

Peter and I begin this, our last day by visiting the beautiful Rüstem Pasha mosque again.  Jon and Dayeong are off, doing their own sightseeing.  They want to see Topkapi Palace and take the boat ride down the Bosphorus, things we've both done before.  

We arrive at the mosque just before noon.  At noon we have to leave, as the mosque workers prepare for the Friday noonday prayer.  We sit in the courtyard  as the first call to prayer is called.  I love these calls.  I sit silently and focus just on the idea of God and whatever I need at that moment of God.  Usually it is the God of love and compassion.  I am in such need of compassion, first of all for myself, and secondly for my husband, whose outlook on life, although Christian, is so different from my own.  I pray then for more understanding and compassion, and thank God for being infinitely compassionate.  I sit there, aware of being in God’s presence, acknowledging that this presence is one of complete love.  I notice the smell around me.  Today it is the pungent smell of köfte being grilled.   

I let Peter guide us by taking us on the ferry from Eminönü to Üsküdar.  He chooses Usküdar, thinking that I had said that Moda, my goal for the day, is in Üsküdar.  I dimly remembered reading that it was in Kadiköy, but I have a hard time keeping all these names straight.  The ferry trip is around a half hour and only costs us a swipe of our Instanbul card.  Arriving in Üsküdar, we find ourselves in a very poor, conservative Muslim town or village, dominated by a mosque and lots of snack bars selling döner or köfte and fried foods around the bus and ferry stations.  We sit down on a bench.  I read the article on Moda that I had torn out of my flight magazine - aloud, so Peter can learn about Moda too.  We both quickly realize we are in the wrong place – we need to be in Kadiköy, which Moda belongs to.  Trying to learn how to get to Kadiköy, we also find that here in Üsküdar no one speaks English.  This is truly a Turkish area.  We are in the middle of an adventure!  How to get to Moda with no language skills and no map?  But Peter asks strangers, “Moda – bus?” and always gets help.  One man says, “Bus – Kadiköy, tram – Moda,” pointing in the direction we should go.  Another man next to us even takes us a hundred meters or so to the right bus.   

We climb onto a Turkish bus, place the card under the reader - and discover that the Istanbul card has run out of money.  Here, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, there seems to be no machine to charge it up with.  A passenger on the bus lets us use her card, but she has only enough for one ride.  We give her 2 lira for that, and the driver seems satisfied that we have at least tried to pay.  He doesn’t kick us off the bus, even though one of us is riding for free.  Is this mercy, or what?  Compassion?  This is what I prayed for!

I feel awful, sitting comfortably in my seat as younger women get up to give older women their seats.  I do notice, however, that none of the men give up their seats for a woman.  I justify my sitting there by telling myself that I am probably older than any of the women being given seats.  

We ride past bazaars and cheap shops for about a half hour until we near Kadiköy, where we suddenly see mansions and lots of big, tall trees.  We round a corner, and there, right before us, is the Haydarpasha train station, right next to the Kadiköy bus station!  Peter has wanted to go into the train station so badly, but we've been thinking it is out of the way.  When we find ourselves practically at the entrance, I talk him into  doing this first.  Surely, since it's lunch time, we'll find food for lunch in the train station.   
Haydarpasha train station
Inside the Haydarpasha train station

Restaurant of the Haydarpasha train station
The train station still has much of that early twentieth century grandeur, with stained glass windows and huge spaces.  Peter tells me it was built in the German style and paid for by the German Kaiser Wilhelm in the early twentieth century.  The restaurant is delightful, lined with blue Turkish tiles and pink trim on the ceiling.  We eat meze.  One of our dishes is grape leaves - stuffed with cherries!  I love the tangy, sour flavor, mixed with the sweetish rice.

Peter's rib is doing much better, and that helps the general mood.  Buoyed after our delicious lunch, we easily walk about a half mile around the harbor to the ferry station and then look for a tram.  Again in Kadiköy, although the area is beautifully landscaped and buildings look more prosperous, we have to use one-word questions.  This way works, and before long we have loaded up our cards again and have entered the tram.  The tram ride is a lot of fun.  It is interesting to observe how different Kadiköy is from Üsküdar.  Kadiköy seems to be as wealthy as Üsküdar is poor, and the shops keep getting posher, the higher up we climb.  We don't know when to get off the tram, though, and we miss our stop.  At this point, Peter's patience and good spirits come to an end. 

“I’m not climbing that hill on foot,” he says in a loud, stubborn voice.  “You’ll have to do it without me.”  

I think quickly.  Moda was MY destination for the day, and I wanted to see this with Peter!  I find a solution in about two seconds.  “We can just stay on the tram again – it’s only another fifteen or twenty minutes more,” I say, and Peter agrees to that. 

We feel at home in Moda right away.  It is a stylish, very Western, European place with enormous homes or modern apartment buildings overlooking the Marmara Sea on one side, and Old Istanbul with the Sultanahmed mosque, the Aya Sophia and Topkapi Palace on the other.    The only foreign thing about this place is the fact that there are practically no tourists here.  We seem to be the only ones, surrounded by well-dressed, western-looking locals.  We pass one trendy shop or coffee bar after another.  We spot a fruit and vegetable shop.  "I need quince for a dish I want to make when we get back to Germany," Peter says.  I've already been looking for quince in the local German markets.  There's none to be found this time of year, I keep hearing.  At this stand in the outskirts of Istanbul, we find not only quince, but ripe pomegranates as well.  The shopkeeper is thrilled to learn that we live in Germany.  "I lived in Germany too!" he exclaims in German.  "Nuremberg!"  He throws in an extra quince and more and more pomegranates until we yell, "Stop!  We have to get this onto the plane!"  He is simply thrilled to find people from Germany who are interested in Turkey and his neighborhood, Moda.

With a bit of difficulty and repeatedly saying the word, "Dondurmaci", we eventually find the ice cream restaurant that the airline magazine raves about - the "Dondurmaci", run by Ali Usta .  I eat a cone.  It's pretty good, especially with the chocolate sauce they add.
Moda with a view of the Marmara Sea

Across the street there's a Lavazza café.  I drink cappuccino as I lovingly lick my ice cream cone.  Peter has a waffle he bought at a waffle place across another street.  His is the most incredible waffle I have ever seen, loaded down in strawberries, banana and chocolate syrup.  "This is only a fraction of the toppings you can put on it," he says.  We sit and enjoy watching self-confident, European-looking Turks walk along the street chatting and greeting people eating in our café.  There's a lady pushing a baby in a stroller, perhaps her grandchild.  She stops to chat with some women in the café.  

The following day, back in Frankfort, Germany, we stand in line to go through Immigration.  A friendly man whose appearance could be German, but whose accent isn't quite right, is chatting with people to help the time pass.  I notice his name tag.  He's Turkish!  I exclaim, "We were just in Istanbul."

"I live in Istanbul as well as here," the man says.  "I live in a part the tourists don't usually go to, in Kadiköy."

"Kadiköy?!" we exclaim.  We were there yesterday!"

Now it is his turn to be surprised.  "Really?!  But I come from a place outside of Kadiköy, called Moda."

"We were there yesterday!" we continue, thrilled to have been in the very village this man lives in.

"Did you try the ice cream?" he asks, and is visibly pleased to see that we have.

"That Ali Usta is quite the guy.  He's a farmer, and he brings his own milk to the ice cream café."  This is a first for me, to have eaten ice cream from the owner's own cows.

What a place Istanbul is.  Not everything about this trip has been easy.  I have been stretched and challenged, first of all by my own personal situation, and also by this city and country.  I am charmed again, despite myself.  In my heart, I want to go back to Egypt, where life is much harder, but where faith is more visibly present.  But, precisely on this point, there's something about Turkey that intrigues me.  I believe there is more here than meets the eye.  In Istanbul there is a lot of crass materialism, but there is also a less obvious, but possibly more deeply lived, more personally tailored kind of approach to spirituality than the obvious piety I saw in Egypt.  I am drawn to this.  I want to learn more.  I hope I can go back to Istanbul, but perhaps to another part of Turkey one day.  If I get there, you'll hear about it.   

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