10 July 2013

Turkey: June 6, Istanbul, back to the Divan Hotel

On the slow bus drive back to our hotel, I gaze out the window as we drive through a business district. Wow, a whole ton of bridal shops, one after another! And then tons of mannequin shops. (Yes, mannequins.) It seems that each type of merchandise - kitchen appliances, paint, mannequins, food, bathroom fixtures, etc. - is sold in a separate shop. No Walmarts or Home Depots here.

Crumbling wood or concrete buildings are tucked between newer structures. Jumbling of the old and the new.

We near Taksim Square and the protester's barricade where the bus needs to make a U-turn to drop us off. But, a car is blocking the way. A Japanese couple can't seem to figure out how to back up their rental car. So Ali gets out of our bus and into their car and moves it! Yay Ali!

We swam in the hotel's gorgeous rimless, half-Olympic sized swimming pool. Overhead are curved mirrors and as you swim on your back, you see yourself reflected and it looks like stars are in the background. Mesmerizing. And John and I were the only ones in the pool. It was simply gorgeous. (I wish I had taken a photo - can't find one on the Divan website.)

Why did we have the pool to ourselves? Most tourists must be avoiding Taksim Square because of the protests. Many cruise ships cancelled the Istanbul stop. We are just about the only tourist group at the hotel.

Dinner tonight is a special Odyssey welcome dinner. Ali takes us to a local, traditional kebab restaurant. Meze (small dishes like tapas) and big sesame-covered flat breads were set out first, then came the kebabs. The meze were yogurt with a parsley-like herb, green beans, big flat breads with sesame seeds, a tomato mixture, mashed fava beans, and roasted onions. The lemon-garlic-pistachio beef kebabs were melt-in-your-mouth great. Dessert: fruit.

Later, on our own, we walk along the fringes of the protests near our hotel. It's Thursday night, and the crowds seem larger than last night. I snap some photos (see below). Then we sit outside at the bar and watch the protesters and learn more about what is going on. The Taksim Square protests started when the government wanted to remove trees from a public park in order to build yet another building. But it goes beyond that. They want a say in their government, and they do not want to be forced into Islamic ways. During our visit, we could definitely feel the Muslim influence on alcohol: it was expensive and sometimes hard to acquire. They want the freedom to continue to show affection in public. Most women do not cover their heads, and seem to enjoy that freedom. I sure would hate to have to wear a head covering, and even worse, a Berka. The constitution of Turkey guarantees a secular, democratic government. The protesters want to keep it that way.

This photo was taken from the front doors of our hotel, looking towards Taksim Square and beyond that, the Bosphorus. The protesters are camped out under the trees that you see.

Taksim Square

Here are a couple photos of tents and people hanging out:

Taksim Square

Taksim Square

Looking towards the square:

Taksim Square

Looking back towards our hotel. It's the first, big hotel that you see, with gold and brown horizontal stripes.

Taksim Square

A great view of our hotel, the Divan. Our favorite bar/restaurant is a couple building beyond it on this same street.

Taksim Square

This is one of many tables set up to sell goggles, Guy Fawkes masks, whistles, paper gas masks. I wondered about the Guy Fawkes masks. According to Wikipedia, these masks have become a symbol of a "hactivist" group called "Anonymous". Hactivists use computer technology and networks to promote political ends, especially free speech, human rights, and information ethics.

Guy Fawkes masks

Here is a short movie I took as we sat at the bar:

It's getting too dark to film. But in this photo you can see the sign for Taksim Square, with the people under it, gathering for the night.

Taksim Square

Finally, to bed, listening once again to the sounds of the protests and fireworks.

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