Recently we were on a ten-day Ancient Mediterranean cruise that took us from Athens, Greece to Istanbul, Turkey. On the way, we stopped at the islands of Rhodes, and Troy. At each stop, the cruise company took us for an excursion to the local sites. For example, in Rhodes, we were taken to a drive through the town, where at one point the guide pointed to a cave at a distance and told us that it was the site of shooting the movie The Guns of Navarone starring famous actors like Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, David Niven, and Irene Papas. In Troy, we saw a replica of the Trojan Horse and then went on a tour of the excavated ruins of the ancient town. Istanbul was the last stop of our cruise. We were to spend one day there then go to Cappadocia to ride the hot air balloon and return to Istanbul on our way back to the United States.
Our guide in Istanbul was a short man with uncombed hair resembling the TV character Professor Corey. He spoke good English and recounted how he had to travel to different locations within Turkey because of the shortage of guides. The day before he had been in Troy. He emphasized the difficulty of driving in Istanbul due to heavy traffic. We learned that there is a European side of Istanbul and there is an Asian side. The European side has the most famous tourist attractions like the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosques, and the Top Kapi palace. The Asian side is more residential and quieter.
We drove through the European side, especially through Bagdad Street famous for bridal shops. I noticed that all the mannequins were dressed in western bridal dresses. It showed that the European side was posher and more westernized.
On the list of places, he was going to take us the second one was the famous spice market. Whatever they say I thought it was the regular practice of all tour guides to take you to tourist traps where you spend money. I am not sure whether the guides have a connection with certain store owners and whether they get a kickback for bringing in customers. When we reached the spice market our guide assured us that it was a safe place to buy and that the shopkeepers quote a reasonable price and shrink-wrap the merchandise for safe passage through customs. We were given only forty-five minutes to spend there and then move on to the next stop which was the neighboring Blue Mosque. This was not the famous Blue Mosque next to the Sophia.
The guide took us to a small shop in the market. I suspected he knew the shop owner. Our group huddled together in the small approximately twenty feet by fifteen feet space. The walls were filled with colorful cartons of tea and Baklavas and other sweets called the Turkish Delight. The shopkeeper started a lecture on his merchandise. He opened the small bins and showed various aromatic teas attesting to their many medicinal properties, then the equal varieties of baklavas and Turkish delights in various colors. Bharati and I decided to buy the sweets and tea here, because of the shortage of time. Others along with us were interested in buying. The storekeeper and his two assistants scrambled to process our orders. When we were done, we walked out with a bagful. We kept looking at our watch to see how much time we had left before we had to join our guide. He should have given us more time, we thought after bringing us to a place like this.
“Let’s look some more,” Bharati said.
“All the stores look the same to me,” I replied. “Besides we don’t have time.”
We went a little further anyway. Bharati wanted small packages of baklava for gifting. She found one store that had it. Not to waste time she picked up a stack from up front and went inside to pay. I waited outside. A young man who worked for the store was standing outside to invite people in. He thought I was Spanish and started talking with me in Spanish. I know enough Spanish to make small talk.
“Buenos días mi amigo,” the man said (Good morning my friend.)
“Buenos días,” I replied.
“¿Cómo estás?” (How are you?)
“Bien, todo bien.” (Great, everything is great.)
“¿De dόnde estas?” (Where are you from?)
“Estados Unidos.” (United States)
He looked at me as if he didn’t believe that a brown man was an original American.
“¿Estados Unidos? No. No. Originalmente.” (United States? No originally?)
“De India,” (From India) I replied.
His face changed as if he just remembered something. He turned his shoulders this way and that way.
“Ah! Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan.” He said energetically.
“Sí,” I said.
It amused me that he identified a country by relating it to two famous Bollywood actors. Apparently, he was an aficionado of Indian movies.
Bharati had come out after completing her transaction. I said “Adiós” to the young man as we rushed to join our group.