Sunday, October 06, 2013

Turkey: Istanbul

Turkey is our destination for 14 days. It has long been on my list of places to visit and has both the exotic and the familiar. The Turkish people are so friendly and not at all harassing like they could be in Morocco. The food is amazing and the history and influences combine the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and Central Asia. There are Mosques and churches, Roman theatres and temples in ancient cities, as well as the modern culture that is modern day Turkey.
Turkey crosses continents. Most of it is in Asia, but part of it is in Europe.

The city of Istanbul where we arrive by plane lies half in one continent and half in the other. We are staying in the old city which is in the European half. 
We arrive at Saruhan Hotel which is a simple room and bathroom with wifi and a breakfast buffet. Also a bonus are the free hot drinks in the lobby with a lounge area. Nice! It is centrally located, about a 10 minute walk up a hill to the major monuments (Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya, Topkapi Palace, and the Grand Bazaar). 
 A view from our window overlooks the backs of regular Turkish homes in the city.
 We wander the streets to get our bearings. Most of the side streets are still all cobblestones.
 We wander towards the main drag.
 We are back to the tram and main street where we alighted from the airport for our hotel. Many major monuments are right here.
We decide to start with the Grand Bazaar. We are always torn between our guide books (Rough Guide and Lonely Planet are usually the best for our style of travel. The Rough guide usually has more history about places, while the Lonely Planet often has some great cheap eats. But the Turkey guides seem to both be good). In this case the Lonely Planet has a Grand Bazaar Walking Tour which we decide to follow as the bazaar spans blocks and blocks in all directions.
The Bazaar is centuries old and was built by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1461 and grew to a vast covered area it is today. You can spend hours wandering and getting lost.
The tour starts at the Cemberlitas, a huge pillar erected by Emperor Constantine to celebrate the dedication of Constantinople (Istanbul's previous name) as the capital of the Roman Empire in 330. I was more interested in the man feeding the birds at the base of it.

 But we must stop and eat a falafel at what seems like it might be a fast food Turkish place. The difference is everything is fresh and healthy, despite being fast. It is absolutely delicious.
 We find the first gate and enter through.
 And then we wind our way to the entrance arch to the indoor bazaar.
 As we enter the brightly lit street in front of us is Kalpakcilarbasi Caddesi, the busiest street in the bazaar. It was originally named after the makers of fur hats, but is now full of jewellers, who pay up to US$80,000 per year in rent for this location.
 The ceilings are a series of amazing arches and domes adorned with painted details.
 We turn up Sandal Bedesteni, the market section in an old 17th century stone warehouse featuring 20 small domes which is now home to the textile sellers.
 The lamps are a distinguishing feature of the Turkish tourist markets.
 The Ethem Tezcakar Kahveci junction is a popular cross street and a good spot for tea.
 We sit down and I order the popular Turkish apple tea (delicious) and Nigel orders a mint tea (popular in Morocco and also amazing here).
 We continue to wander the indoor streets and pass carpet merchants, pottery, leather goods and all sorts of other tantalising goods.

 The Bazaar eventually leads us outside where we find an outdoor market selling the normal cheaply made imports.
 Around the corner from here (not pictured) is the Book Market (all Turkish language) and nearby is the spice market. We only have a day here before we head off for other bits of Turkey. We will be back for a couple more days at the end of our trip.
 We head out into the streets to some other major monuments. Above is the Aya Sofya. It is unique as it was commissioned by the great Byzantine emperor Justinian, consecrated as a church in 537, converted to a mosque by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453 and declared a museum by Atataruk in 1935.
 There are remnants of both the Christian and Muslim heritages. Above is depicted the 9th century mosaic of the Virgin and Christ Child. To the right of that hangs one of several large 19th century medallions inscribed with gilt Arabic letters. The low hanging lights have a distinct Turkish feel to them.
 In the northeast of the Imperial Door is a column with a worn copper facing pierced by a hole known as the Weeping Column. Legend has it that the pillar was blessed by St. Gregory the Miracle Worker and that putting one's finger into the hole can lead to ailments being healed if the finger emerges moist. When we arrive there is a long queue to put one's finger in. I snap this in a rare moment.
 I must give Nigel all the credit for organising and planning this entire trip and simplifying it again once we realised I wouldn't be able to trek rigorously around everyday.
To access the upstairs galleries we walk up the switch-back ramp of very polished stones. 
 The upstairs gallery.
 The view looking down from above.
  I do love the decorations that are found everywhere in Turkey.
  Another view from the upstairs looking down.
 12th century mosaic: Judgement Day, Jesus Enthroned between the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist.

 12th century mosaic: The Virgin and Child surrounded by Emperor Johannes Kommenos II and Empress Irene and their son Alexios. 
 11th century mosaic: Christ Enthroned surrounded by Empress Zoe and Constantine.
 Above is the large green marble circle marking the spot where the throne of the empress once stood. 
 The marble steps are well worn and extremely slippery.
 An artists depiction of the Aya Sofya when it was a mosque.
 Outside sits an ornate fountain for Ritual Ablutions.
 A last grand mosaic on the way out.
 Nigel rests in the courtyard outside looking like a pilgrim.
 We head to the main square towards the Blue Mosque. We can visit now that prayer time is over at 2pm.
 A glance back we catch another glimpse the the Aya Sofya, where we just were.
 Inside the Blue Mosque's courtyard (the biggest of all the Ottoman mosques) we wind our way to the non-Muslim entrance. We find the queue which enters through a tiny narrow doorway into a room where visitors are required to remove shoes and put them in a provided bag. Next we go to a room where we are quickly inspected for suitability of dress. If your skirt is too short or you are man wearing shorts, or your hair is uncovered as a woman you are given a piece of fabric to cover up the appropriate bits.
 Then we enter the grand building where blue Iznik tiles adorn the interior and give the building its unofficial but commonly used name.
 With 260 windows the central prayer space is huge.
It features many domes and six minarets. 
 All the covered tourists wander around.

 We exit and put our shoes back on.
Then we go for a hot chocolate and some baklava. 
 We eat at a great little place around the corner of our place. I am dying to have the mezzes for two (a cold starter with hummus, falafel balls and homemade bread and more. But we go for the mains instead knowing we can't eat that much in one go.
On the same street are two little tiny shops that we frequent until we leave the next day. The shop on the left sells an array of baklava and the other sells an array of Turkish delight. 
 We wander around Istanbul at night which feels very safe.
 Both tourists and locals wander in the park.
 We find the little recommended dessert place.
 Nigel has been dying to try the famous rice pudding. We end our day here and head out early the next day for our flight to the Turquoise Coast.

No comments: