Hospitality knows no limits when it comes to children, at least if you're in Istanbul, during an incredible weeklong vacation over Eid holiday. I suppose it helps if your toe-headed children look a bit different than most, and that your western-ness might represent that next carpet sale, or sold meal, or hawked trinket. Nevertheless, the friendliness and accessibility of the Turks was on display everywhere we went, and our boys were very often the ice breakers to conversations or at least pantomimed interactions that might have not occurred otherwise.
Logan had to suddenly go to the bathroom one day while we were walking around Sultanahmet, our hotel's locale while in Istanbul and also the location of the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque. Although WCs were around in some public areas, of course at this very moment I couldn't immediately see one, and so we quickly ran to a restaurant we'd patronized a few days earlier, hoping that the staff would remember us. It was as if we'd never left, and while I waited for Logan the manager told me that in Turkey old folks and little children are always accommodated
in similar situations.
The day before we'd walked through a section of town particularly packed with carpet showrooms, and at each storefront the owner of slowed us down, made conversation, patted our boys' heads, and promised them apple tea if only their parents would abide them a sales pitch. One wonders how much tea and accompanying sugar cubes the boys could have downed if only our ability to say "no thank you" had been up to the task, but there is perhaps no one so capable and determined as an Istanbul carpet salesman, so we largely admired the most resplendent and luxurious carpets hanging in the front windows from the relative safety of the street, being sure not to pause too long at any one.
Logan decided to abide his father's interest in going to a Turkish Bath, and so one afternoon we went to a bath designed by arguably the most famous Ottoman architect of all time, Sinan (who lived more than 90 years, long enough to serve three successive sultans and design more than 50 incredible buildings all over the empire), which also happened to be in our neighborhood. Logan decided to let his dad be the guinea pig, and so he carefully watched while the masseur rubbed and then soaped me down, Logan all the while sweating away in his towel robe, perhaps summoning the courage to got next. Well, there wasn't much of a choice, for just as soon as the masseur was through with me he splashed clean the beautiful marble surface, patted the space I'd just vacated, and motioned Logan summarily over. I then carefully yet discretely watched from an adjacent cool-off room while our masseur lovingly gave Logan his first Turkish bath experience. I could tell the masseur enjoyed working on a young boy who didn't complain or squirm and, while he did, I watched as a number of the other masseurs looked up from their work to smile at Logan. Later that day I knew the experience had been a success when Logan asked me when we could go back again!
On our second to last day in Istanbul we decided to take a boat trip to the Princes' Islands, a string of islands in the Marmara Sea just off the coast of the Anatolian, or Asian, side of this city of 15+ million inhabitants, and the only city to straddle two continents. At the end of a full day, we got off the boat and instead of catching the shuttle back to our hotel, opted to walk along the waterfront a bit in hopes of finding a good seafood place for dinner. We made it about 30 yards down the dock before attempting to pass by a group of grizzled fishermen, apparently not long off their boats after bringing back the day's catch. These guys were just beginning to share a piping hot dish of baked fresh sardines with onions, tomatoes and savory spices, all dripping with the trademark Turkish olive oil. They were breaking apart huge hunks of fresh bread, and spooning up generous portions of the baked fish dish when they spied the boys and, instantly, we realized that we could not pass by without trying their culinary delight, which they were eagerly offering us. We each tried some of this divine local fare, but it was when the boys took their first mouth-fulls that the guys all broke into huge smiles and insisted that we share more. No need for a huge appetizer that night!
And finally, there was our tour of the spice bazaar, which included spices and sweets, for the eyes and tongue. Each time we went by a sweet vendor, the boys were plied with a cube of homemade Turkish candy, or taste of honey, or some such, often surreptitiously by a smiling vendor who proffered the candy while patting the boys' heads. In the final analysis, Istanbul was one, long, delectable treat for us, a first glance at a proud and varied country we now hope to return to.
Thanks for reading, David