Tea and taxis

Now that the bulk of the move is behind us, I can start focusing on getting to know this great city better. And the language.

Language lessons were to have started Monday. I am sure that my husband’s assistant – an absolute marvel – is as disappointed as I to have yet another teacher cancel lessons for some unknown reason (should I be paranoid?… I know Americans don’t have the greatest rep for learning languages, but this is getting pathetic).

I am sure that she was looking forward to not having her day interrupted 20 times by me calling and asking her to translate cooking instructions, to act as interpreter between me and the many technical professionals in and out of the house, to explain how to add money to my cell phone, to tell me how to say ‘sour cream’ in Turkish, or to guide me on how much to tip the grocery packers.

(Although she could not be nicer about it, even when I know she has enough work on her plate without being my personal crutch on top of it all.)

Still, while I am in between the moving and language gigs, it’s a great time to explore. Especially as I just picked up my used Toyota Corolla today, a cute shiny silver set of wheels, my first vehicle since I sold my not-sexy but much beloved Toyota Sienna 9 years ago before we moved to Russia.

In other words: it’s time to get lost.

I am debating what is to be my first official tourist outing in my new (for me) car. I have already visited a few of the main tourist attractions. Haga sophia. The Blue Mosque. The underground cistern. Taksam Square. The Grande Bazaar. But always with public transportation (aka the copout taxi method). Maybe my first independent outing should be really worthy, something like the Grande Bazaar.

Now the Grande Bazaar is a sprawling, mostly-covered market with stalls side-by-side that create a maze of alleys selling leather goods, scarves, shoes, clothing, bath and spa accessories, teas, sweets, bags, jewelry, etc. etc. As with many such markets you might encounter throughout the world, when you stroll and peruse the goods, invariably merchants call out to you and beg you to come have a look at their goods (and they do so in a variety of languages, the breadth of their language knowledge quite impressive…and once they realize they have discovered the right language, they intensify the verbal advertising of their wares, especially if you pause to look at something).

It is normal practice, although I am always tempted to tell them that I would be more inclined to stop and browse if they were less forthcoming. Luckily, the Turks are far less pushy than other merchants I have come across in certain parts of the world that I won’t name. Suffice it to say, in some places, sellers can aggressively pursue you for blocks if they think they can snag a sale. Here, however, the merchants call out in a friendly manner but, thankfully, leave out any stalking.

I have been to the Grande Bazaar twice, once in warm spring weather and once in winter. During my recent winter visit, my friends and I decided to stop for a hot drink, needing some respite from the cold. The bazaar is covered but not heated, and strolling does not exactly stir up one’s blood. We somehow ended up on a tiny, obscure row, at whose end was a carpet-covered nook that served as a café. We sat down in the heated alcove with a sigh and ordered ‘real Turkish tea.’ I stressed the ‘real’ because Turks, I have been told, serve an apple tea to foreigners – who love it – but it is something they would never drink themselves. Apple tea is just a powder mixed with hot water, not the proper strong Turkish tea using proper leaves and steeping technique. Anxious to start experiencing authentic Turkish things, I was looking forward to having a go at the strong tea I have heard so much about.

So we waited for our tea and soon it came, steaming hot. We took a sip: heaven! Warming. Refreshing. Perfect. There was almost a therapeutic menthol taste to it. The color was interesting, too. Hmm, more of a reddish cast vs. the brownish-black I had been expecting. And what else? Is that, could it be the taste of apple? So, it turned out our ‘authentic Turkish tea’ was, after all, the tourist apple powder. And, of course like all the other gullible foreigners, we absolutely loved it.

Which just goes to show that a less authentic route to enjoyment doesn’t necessarily mean a less good experience.  In fact, sometimes it can be even better. Which brings me back to deciding what my first solo car outing is going to be. Thinking in terms of authentically driving myself to the Bazaar and risking getting lost, pulled over, or even in a traffic accident my first time out – and with no Turkish to back me up, thanks to my disappearing teachers…hmmm, I am thinking the less authentic but destination-guaranteed copout taxi route doesn’t seem too bad.

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