Get ready for an abundance of photos. We have both been clicking away madly on our cameras at all the splendid photographic opportunities that abound in Istanbul and although we have culled our photos there are still plenty to wet the appetite.
Our arrival into Istanbul was chaos at the airport at Passport control and we thought oh no is this a sign of what we have to expect from Istanbul but gladly we didn’t see anymore serious chaos anywhere.
We were expecting a much less western culture than we found also. Although there is a strong Islamic culture and the Call to Prayer surrounding us from the many minarets in our area, starting at 4.30am in the morningand at intervals 5 times a day. The people themselves mainly are dressed in western clothing and English is widely understood. Of course there are areas where the females are dressed in the Islamic dress coat and scarf but many that we saw dressed like this were tourists from other areas of Turkey and surrounds
The sun was shining on our first day so when we arrived we headed out to discover the area of Sultanahmet where we were staying. We are in the old part of Istanbul and many of the iconic structures are on a short walk from us. First stop the Blue Mosque and what a spot to start, its 6 minuets soar into the blue sky and we join the queues to enter in the visitors area away from the practising Muslims area.
The domed ceilings and stunning blue mosaic work was even better than we had hoped . John walked around filming and taking photos whilst I sat down on the carpet at the rear and just took in the atmosphere and serenity, although the buzz of noise from tour groups being totally irreverent was annoying it was still easy to get lost in the beauty and just be.
We decided a repeat visit would be a necessity before we left Istanbul.
The hippodrome with its ancient columns and an Egyptian Obelisk dating back to 3,000 BC is across from the Blue Mosque and this becomes an area that we walk past each day to and from the tram that gets us to most places we need to get to.
We dined at the hotel on its roof terrace the first night and was impressed with the simple but tasty Lentil soup and grilled fish and salad.
Rain greeted us on our next day but that did not deter us from getting out and about but it does make the task a bit harder. The Aya( Hagia) Sophia is on the agenda today.
This is a 4th Century Christian byzantine church that became a mosque in the 15th Century and is now a museum.
It is an amazing huge structure and the mosaics of the Christian origin have been kept together with Muslim inscriptions it brings a beautiful unity of religions.
We have no trouble spending lots of time here and of course the photos are plentiful. It is so wonderful to think that such an old structure has been kept in tact and has been used continuously in some form for the last 1,600 years.
It really gave the true sense of what ancient civilisations created and destroyed over time and is one of the few still standing today.
A break in the rain allowed us to get out at night and see the atmosphere in the streets and to see how the buildings are all lit up, it really was spectacular especially as the two big ones are opposite each other as if competing for your attention.
The Topkapi Palace which was the sultans palace of the Ottoman Empire was in continuous use for over 400 years up until the mid 1800’s and is just behind the Aya Sophia so we continue our museum viewing the next day and get to see how the Sultans lived their opulent lives.
The harem quarters were the most fascinating but it was disturbing to think of so many young girls that lived there like slaves and many were killed when a new Sultan came into power or if the Sultan was disinterested in them.
The History,architecture and tiles etc were what had us once again camera snappy.
Every corner we took there was more and it would then open out to a stunning viewing platform, courtyard or terrace.
The rain became torrential so we slipped down a restored 19th cetury residential street into a nice hotel restaurant surrounded by greenery and had a lovely meal, then back out into the rain so it was a relief to get back to the Taskonak Hotel and dry off.
John slipped away later in the day to discover the Byzantium Cistern, a 5th century AD under ground water storage system that spread out over a massive area under the city.There are two heads of medusa under some columns laid in 500ad very mysterious!!!!!!!
They have only opened up 30% of it for public view but it is all still there and the Ottomans never knew for 300 years, absolutely astounding to see the thousands of columns and vaulted ceilings just like they were 1,500 years ago.
The Massive Grand Bazaar and the smaller Spice Bazaar were another two spots to spend some time on a rainy day and we enjoyed the atmosphere and the visual feast despite the chaos of pouring rain and wet people.
We were expecting to get harassed and have stall holders try and force sales upon you, but instead they were very well mannered and took a no answer gracefully and without a nasty come back.
We had lots of laughs with the chat that came from the stall holders and they seemed a jovial bunch.
It is so easy to get lost in the Bazaar but luckily John had his map and navigated our way around and then and made our way through back streets in the rain to the Spice Bazaar.
Rose flavoured Turkish Delight is on my list and after a taste test we bought a kilo!! For 8 lira around $6.50 aussie. We’ll be travelling with it for the rest of the trip there is so much but it so so so delicious .Interesting sign on the above photo but it was the only indication we saw of the Turkish feelings about theIsreali raids.
A quick lunch under cover outside the spice bar kept us dry and then we visited what we considered to be the most beautifully decorated mosque, called the New Mosque because it was built in the 16th century.
The tiles were stunning and the way the were laid out had much more thought to it as if someone had an overall plan .
The rain stopped again so we ventured across to the harbousider and enquired about Bosphorus ferries for when the rain stopped. Whilst there we escaped the rain again along the underside of the Galata Bridge and got enticed into a very funky looking night club for a beer overlooking the Golden Horn.
We couldn’t resist the chance to sit in the coloured vinly seats at the Max bar. It was fun sitting and watching the world go by and sip on our expensive beer, it was worth it just to take in the atmosphere. The spruikers at the other restaurants were hilarious, each one having their individual style in trying to get you eat at their restaurants. The funny thing is each restaurant more or less serves the same food at the same price too in each area. They are very polite when you say no and the best answer to them is maybe tomorrow, and you get some fantastic replies. They had us laughing all the way to the tram stop.
At night we wandered around Sultanahmet and visited a few dining establishments, watched some whirling dervishes, listened to the bouzouki players and ate the odd Kebap or two and met many of the thousands of cat gangs of Istanbul.
The next day we made our way down to Kabatas on the Tram (our preffered mode of transport) and from there we took the furnicular to Taksim Square. Fortunately there were no rallies happening today to protest about Israel so we wandered around had a Donna Kebap and then walked down the main shopping street Istiklal Caddesi. It felt like a London street, there were so many English brand shops and the lunch hour rush made the street a buzz to be at. We really say the Europe side of Istanbul here.
We finished up down near the Galata Bridge and decided to go to the princess islands as the rain had stopped and maybe have dinner there but we missed the ferry and the next one was too late for us so instead we walked up to The Dolmabahce Palace which was high on John’s list.The crystal staircase has him inspired in the travel book and the sumptuous interiors were reported to be amazing as it was the modern residence for the Ottoman Sultans in the 19th Century. We were not able to take photos inside, John was disappointed but postcards were purchased to make sure it was not forgotten.
It was such an opulent Palace, it is certainly up there with Versailles, maybe not as big but more detailed it has the largest Crystal Chandelier in Europe and is located on the waterfront, an amazing setting . The entertaining that the Sultans would have done would have been incredible. We enjoyed wandering the grounds and watching the guards march around too.
That night we took the tram up to the Grand Bazaar as it was closing and walked through to a restaurant we had seen the day earlier when we went to visit Suleyman’s, the biggest mosque which was closed for reno’s, the restaurant was set in the courtyard of the Mosques Kitchens which used to feed thousands of the city’s poor for hundreds of years and now serves us Tourists instead.
It was a beautiful setting and had such a serene atmosphere, and the food was good too.
The sun was shining for our Bosphorus Cruise and it was great to be out in the warm sunshine and rest the feet whilst sitting on a ferry for an hour and a half.
The sights along the seashore were really interesting seeing the mixing of almost 2000 years of culture in one piece of water.
We alighted at the last stop and had a few hours to kill, so a leisurely lunch of seafood and a wander along the waterfront was very relaxing.
John had to take a dip in the Bosphorus to add to his list of oceans that he has swum at.
It was very refreshing to get wet as the day became quite a scorcher.
The scenery from the boat was plentiful and the many palatial homes, palaces and even the Castles that Ottomans built to seige and defeat the Byzantine Empire had the camera clicking once again.
The amazing thing was that this beautiful waterway looks and feels like Sydney harbour.
An evening stroll in our local area gave us an insight into the neighbourhood and we enjoyed watching the children playing on bikes and with balls and we visited the mini Aya Sophia nearby. I donned my scarf around my head and shoulders and we entered a near empty small mosque.It was just beautiful and the small scale gave it such a personal intimacy. We were there as the Call to Prayer started, so we hurried out to make way for the men to enter and have their prayer time. It was an interesting experience watching them wash their feet etc at the fountain before they entered. They are quite obsessed with washing of hands at other times too, it is quite a ritual.
Our plans to visit the Princes’ Islands were scrapped the next day as we needed to slow down a bit and being on a boat for long periods is not one of John’s favourite pastimes. We visited our local Mosaic Museum, that were the original flooring of the Byzantine Palace from the 4th century that have been painstakingly restored to their original area. The quality of the work was stunning. we walked back to the palace gardens and saw them in a new light, what a difference a bit of sun and warmth make.
We then took in the delightful Archaeological Museum . We had read rave reviews and we were certainly impressed with the exhibits . As Turkey was the cross roads for all Near East battle campaigns, think Persians, Greeks, Alexander the Great, Ceasars galore, Barbarians of all sorts not to mention The Crusades, Gengis Khan and finally The Ottomans. So it has one of the richest Treasure Troves under its soil and this Museum has one of the best collections in the world.
We saw some of the oldest pieces we had ever seen, back to 6,000 BC!!! It was mind boggling to see so many items in great condition that were so old
Another great feature of the museum was the Cinili Pavillion that housed the best collection of Turkish ceramics in the world.
The pavillion was a perfect place for a study of the Islamic/Ottoman art form from carpet to glass and all forms of ceramics.
A nice lunch in an Anatolian restaurant followed by a stroll and lay in the sun in the Palace gardens took us through to nap time before Dinner on the Terrace of the World famous Sultanhamet hotel restaurant.
Our last day we had planned to meet our friends David & Liz Deane from Brisbane for breakfast as their ship was arriving that morning but their plans were changed and we attempted to meet later but kept missing each other by moments. Oh so close yet so far.
We ended taking a ferry ride up the smelly Golden Horn ( don’t bother )and saw a very good cross section of Istanbul life like 2 sets of 3 girlfriends , one set in full western dress the other scarfed up.
We then visited what we had read was the most adorned and light filled Mosque in Istanbul and had another wander around the grand bazaar trying to find David but had more luck with some last minute souvenirs and gifts.
We finished our adventure with a doner kebap for lunch in the park and a visit to the excellent Museum of Islamic Art that had some sensational traditional lifestyle displays,huge ancient carpets and more ceramics before we scootered off to the Airport.
So long Istanbul we enjoyed your calling, your atmosphere, your people, your history and your style.
Here are some more Isnik tiles and some really old carpets for those interested in more.