Read part one from yesterday, before reading on…!
Ducking into a side-street I quickly caught my breath. Being a computer geek, it probably comes as no surprise that my muscle tone isn’t fantastic. My fingers, well, they are finely-honed, agile implements capable of typing at 150 words per minute. But my legs and heart? Not so great. Back at university, when I was a little more active, it might’ve been a different story, but now I’m in some dark alley panting and wheezing.
It wasn’t until last year that I finally caught up with all of the Godfather/American Gangster films, so at the time I didn’t realise this, but the sun coming from behind me created a perfect silhouette. My persistent pursuer saw me clearly in the alley, smiled a little creepily and started to close the gap. It’s then that I did something I hadn’t done for about 10 years: I sprinted. With my legs wobbling beneath me, head pounding and my heart trying its best to leap out of my chest, I started to put some distance between us.
I should’ve figured at the time, by the way he was striding quickly but with delicious intent, that I wasn’t going to get away. He surely knew it; it’s just a shame I didn’t — I probably took a year or two off my life, running around Istanbul like a spastic, with hardly any sleep (and a meager Turkish Airlines breakfast).
Eventually, I found myself outside the Grand Bazaar. It wasn’t quite what I expected — I expected more of an open-air affair, like the one in Aladdin. Apparently that kind of bazaar is more common in Egypt and Morocco. In Istanbul you have this massive maze of crisscrossing streets; narrow streets, lined with shops, each one armed with an owner trying to sell you his wares. I explored for a while, figuring the guy couldn’t possibly be following me through such a massive throng of people. I even stopped for a 20-cent class of freshly squeezed orange juice and marveled at how the same thing could cost 8 euros in the Istanbul airport.
I even bought a nice piece of silk that my girlfriend would later turn her nose up at, because she preferred the emerald bracelet I bought. Women, huh. I thought it was diamonds that were the key to a girl’s heart…
Before long, I caught a glimpse of my predator behind me. Somehow he’d kept up with me; I guess he just knew the area a whole lot better than some pesky tourist. My trip to the Bazaar was over and I headed out, along some tiny street, back towards the mosques. To be honest, I was starting to tire, and my rationality had started to kick back in. I really doubted that he wanted to kill me, in broad daylight, surrounded by hundreds of tourists. So I promptly stopped and sat down with my back against a wall, waiting for him to catch up.
Muhammad: You come buy some carpets? My uncle’s shop is just around the corner.
Seb: wheezing. You must be kidding. You followed me, to make sure I went to your uncle’s store to buy a… carpet?
Muhammad: Yes. Follow me, sir.
And so I had my first, true Turkish experience. ‘Apple tea, sir?’ Sure, don’t mind if I do. I found out later that if they really like you, they get out the liquor — some kind of brandy — but they obviously didn’t like me all that much, after I hauled ass half way across central Istanbul, as they only offered me apple tea.
For about an hour a guy tried to flog me carpets that ranged from 250 euros to about 4000 euros — and that was just for the small ones. ‘This one would be a lovely gift to your mother.’ Sorry mum, but I just don’t love you enough. It was informative though, and I learnt all sorts of exciting things, like the number of knots per square inch, and how silk carpets are far superior to other threads. It takes about 9 months for some young woman, in a hut somewhere in the Eastern mountains of Turkey to weave a 1 meter silk rug — thus the insane price, the man said.
I finally managed to get out of the shop — it took about 20 minutes from me standing up, to actually being allowed out of the shop — I couldn’t help but think I’d really upset these guys by not buying a carpet. I’d sipped their tea, and rubbed my feet on their rugs. I’d flaunted their hospitality.
Then I reminded myself that a creepy guy called Muhammad had stalked me across Istanbul. Something told me this was just the opening act of a trip that would turn end up being far more interesting than I had anticipated.