24.03.2013 - 24.03.2013 18 °C
We spent yesterday at our apartment. Even vacationers need a day off. Muriel and Hannah were feeling a bit spent from the day before and were just a bit under the weather. It was overcast outside and there had been some rain through the early morning. It was an opportunity to read and for Muriel and I to do a bit more planning for the weeks ahead. We are very grateful to have a bright apartment with a ripping view of the Bosphorus.
Today is our last full day in Istanbul and the sun is shining brightly again. We started with a walk along the Bosphorus. It being Sunday there were many people out for a walk or sitting at some waterfront canteens drinking tea. Each person taking in the view of the Asian continent which lay just over the waters and watching the constant ferry and boat traffic which is similar in density to the traffic clogging the city streets.
We have decided to visit the Dolmabahçe Palace which is the last home of the Ottoman Sultans before Turkey became a republic in the 1920s. It is only a kilometer from our house and is right on the waterfront. We were not the only people with the same plans. It appears that it is tourist season year-round in Istanbul and no sight is immune to large crowds. None of the palace can be visited independently, so you must join a tour. The size of each tour group is enormous; ours was nearing one hundred people. It says something about the size of the palace and the rooms that such group sizes are possible but I would dare say not advisable. We had a very unique guide. His English took a while to get used to but he seemed to have made a hobby of languages; translating key terms from Turkish into French, German, Persian, Farsi and Arabic just to name a few in his repitoire. His patience was fairly stretched by a number of people in our tour who could not refrain from taking photographs even after being told several times not to. He had a unique cutting way of commenting as an aside to the whole group about how such a small percentage of a people can make it difficult. He made the remarks without quite crossing the line of impropriety. Where his commentary lacked in content it made up for itself in the richness and character of its delivery. He could have worked in the court of the Sultan himself.
The palace is predominantly European in style and furnishings. In the 1840s, the Sultan spent 35 tonnes in gold to build the palace using some 14 tonnes of that to coat the ceiling and column detailings in gold leaf. The great difference between this 45,000 square meter palace and traditional European counterparts is the division of the palace into male and female domains. There are the opulent and ornate halls and rooms meant for entertaining and impressing male guests both rich and powerful. The palace contains 46 large halls some purposed for large sumptuous feasts for heads of state. These halls are adorned with the world’s largest collection or crystal chandeliers. A number of halls have crystal lighting weighing in at over two tonnes but the largest is over twice as large at four and a half tonnes. The palaces even boasts a double grand staircase whose balusters are constructed of crystal.
Contrasting with the magnificent rooms reserved just for males is the harem which translates as the forbidden place. According to our guide not even the flies in this section of the palace were allowed to male. The Sultan, who officially had one wife who lived in this restricted enviroment, also housed many other women who were concubines, servants and slaves who all lived in a strict pecking order. With the exception of the Sultan’s official wife, the women were not Turkish but rather came mostly from the Caucuses region. The more important influential women each had their own multistory set of apartments with numerous bedrooms and large halls. The style was much less opulent than the male domain but the sheer number of separate apartments and halls is staggering. Aside many more obvious questions and possible outrages one could ponder about life in the harem, I was struck just by the overwhelming sense of boredom the more prominent women endured during their largely idle existence just waiting for the Sultan.
After touring the palace and wandering the grounds, we briefly returned to our apartment before heading out to Taksim Square minus Abby. Besides sightseeing we had three objectives: find a quick bite to eat, locate where the bus shuttle to Ataturk airport is located and find a pharmacy so I could purchase more back medicine. The shuttle bus was easy. We were happy to find a transport option to the airport that did not involve a Turkish cab. We have heard nothing but tales of woe about trying to get honest service. Food was not a problem either. Taksim has its large collection of Doner and Pide restaurants. There seemed to be two restaurants that were the most popular. One was called the Bambi Cafe which had four outlets within a city block. There was a competitor which only had three outlets in the same block but was busier. We decided to follow the feet. On the square the bargain deal was Turkish hamburger for 2 lira each. Each restaurant had them stacked by the hundred hot and ready to go and and our chosen restaurant was selling them as fast as they could slip them into a wax paper sleeve. We tried one of these along with our last Doner before heading off to London. We will miss this.
Our final task of finding back medicine should have been the easiest of all. In Turkey pharmacies are as common as gas stations and corner stores. Along one street in Taksim there is at least one per block. It was Sunday and all stores were open except for every single pharmacy. Apparently people can only be sick six out of every seven days. Our search for a pharmacy did take us on what seems to be one of the most popular retail streets in Istanbul. On Sunday at least it is a pedestrian only thoroughfare and people are packed shoulder-to-shoulder as far as the eye can see. The street is lined with all manner of brand name stores along with more decidedly Turkish enterprises. Astonishingly in the midst of this melee of shoppers ran an old fashioned street car reminiscent of San Francisco. Perhaps even more incredulously, out of the blue came a huge marching band followed by a parade of placard bearing followers that the ocean of bargain hunters effortlessly allowed to pass among them and hungrily gobbled up their wake just as easily.
This evening we quickly packed up and picked up a pizza meal from down the street. Tomorrow we are off to London ending our month and a half in Turkey. We have truly enjoyed this country and would all be ready to come back and explore more of this fascinating country.