Thursday, June 5, 2014

Not Constantinople (day 1-2)

Sara just left after visiting for a week.  We had a really fantastic time together again.  We started off the week with a short trip to Istanbul, which was amazing.  Istanbul was probably, along with Prague, on the top of my list of places I have never been that I really want to go to (Europe edition).  The city did not disappoint.

We arrived Sunday night and took a taxi to our hotel in Sultanahmet, which is the oldest part of the city and home to the most well-known tourist sites.  We went out for a delicious dinner of mezze on this street full of restaurants and bars.  Total tourist trap, but we still had a blast.  We went to a hookah bar after dinner and watched the crowds begin to die down.  After a couple of drinks, we made our way back to our hotel.

Monday we started our day at the Tokpaki Palace.  This huge palace housed the Sultan for around four centuries during the height of the Ottoman empire.  The palace takes up a huge chunk of the peninsula that comprises the old part of Istanbul and the Sultans definitely lived high and mighty.  The grounds were gorgeous, but the buildings and the tiles inside were even more amazing.

Islamic tradition does not allow for Koranic figures to be depicted.  Therefore, you never rarely see pictures or paintings with figures the way we see in western culture.  There is no Sistine chapel or Last Supper.  Instead, Islamic art focuses on the Word - literally the Arabic script - and geometric and patterned designs.  And, whether due to artistic styles, available materials, religious doctrine, or some other accident of history, Turkish artwork is mostly composed of tiles or mosaics rather than paint.  There are few, if any, frescoes here.  By no means is any of this any less impressive than what I usually see in Italy or France.

The grounds of the Topkopi Palace

Interestingly, to me at least, the columns came from different marble
 and none of the expensive cararra marble you see in Italy.

Not sure what this says, but it's beautiful

Awful picture of us with a great view of the Bosphorus

The tile work was really amazing

Gorgeous golden gate in the Harem

These stone mosaic paths were really neat and changed patterns

This was the crown prince's room.  The picture does not do it justice

Even the drains in the courtyard were stylized.

Another view from Topkapi palace

This huge church, on the palace grounds, somehow escaped from ever being converted to a mosque,
so it remains in the same state from hundreds of years ago
After lunch, we went to the Blue Mosque.  This huge mosque was built in the 1600s.  This is, I believe, the first mosque I have ever been in.  We took off our shoes and Sara covered her hair and we entered.  The entire floor was covered with a soft plush (presumably Turkish) carpet.  A few people prayed while the majority of us looked around in awe.  Perhaps because there is very little furniture and the mosque is mostly an open space, it did not appear to be as big as I knew it was.  The walls were covered with gorgeous Iznik tiles.  From the ceiling hung hundreds of wires supporting low hanging chandeliers.  According to our guide the next day, this is not just a modern addition.  In the old days, these were filled with candles instead of light bulbs.

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque (detail)

View of Hagia Sofia from Blue Mosque
After the mosque, we made our way to the Grand Bazaar.  This is a fascinating experience - there are something like 3,000 shops in the bazaar.  All of the covered, selling mostly the same things and one looking exactly the next.  Of course, there are no prices on anything.  One must haggle the prices.  I've had to haggle prices at markets in a couple countries now - Morocco, Israel, Hong Kong - but Turkey was by far the most pleasant.  The salesmen (and they were almost all men) called out to you a bit when you shopped, but they were not too aggressive.  Moreover, they were extremely nice and actually listened to you.  They answered questions with knowledgeable answers.  I'm sure we got the tourist price on things we bought, but they weren't upset if we didn't buy something.  Sara and I spent two days looking at beautiful decorative tiles that we wanted to buy and frame, but we were never able to find something we loved in our price range.  We probably should have splurged, but we never pulled the trigger.
Where is the quick brown fox?

An ancient Egyptian obelisk - no idea how it came to be here.

Cowboy boots in Turkey
That night, I had made reservations for Sara and me at a fancy restaurant on the roof of a hotel with a view of the water.  We could see all the way to Asia!  Both the food and view were fantastic.

1 comment:

  1. Wow those are some beautiful pics alright...

    You must have had lots of fun