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Turkey

Dolmabahçe Palace and Our Last Full Day in Turkey

by Ben

sunny 18 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Dolmabahce Palace, Istanbul

Dolmabahce Palace, Istanbul

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.

Dolmabahce Palace, Istanbul

Dolmabahce Palace, Istanbul

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.

Near Taksim Square, Istanbul

Near Taksim Square, Istanbul

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.

Posted by KZFamily 14:46 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey istanbul Comments (1)

Istanbul's Grand Bazaar

BY ABBY

semi-overcast 8 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

Today we went to the Grand Bazaar, and for those of you who don't know, it's a very large, very old building that has over four thousand shops. All of the crisscrossing streets were packed with both people selling and buying, as well as the four of us who desperately just wanted to look at a couple things in a little peace. We had read earlier that it is near impossible to have the opportunity to look at something in a shop without the vendor running towards us saying, "Would you like this, very good price!!" But we were usually able to get them off our backs eventually, or just ignore them and walk away. A couple had some good lines though, like when my mom said, "Just looking," he replied with a shrug of his shoulders and retorted "Just selling." We also heard "Is it my turn to sell you a carpet?" and 'Those are nice shoes." Also, Hannah's hair colour provided a ready conversation starter and she received no less than ten comments today.

We spent the morning looking at the shops, and we even purchased a few small things. But at around lunch we decided to go out of the bazaar for a little and take a look around for some lunch. Hannah and my mom went off to pick all of us some Turkish wraps and pizzas while my dad rested his back and I kept him a little company.

After lunch we went back in the bazaar for a little while longer. My dad had an unsuccessful look for jeans, while I found a shirt I was looking for and Hannah got a pair of earrings. My parents also purchased a traditional coffee maker for my aunt, who will be joining us in our next destination... LONDON!

The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

But as we were there we noticed that the mosque that was right beside the bazaar was being surrounded by crowds of men, all praying and listening to someone over a loudspeaker. Every Friday there is a congregational prayer, but it's mostly just for the men. The men are encouraged to congregate to pray, while the women can do it alone, or with people, and it doesn't have to be at a mosque. Even as we walked around the shops, many of the narrow streets were crowded with men praying or walking up and down with their prayer carpets. It was a really interesting experience.

In the end my dad and I got tired quickly and went home first, and were joined later at home by the second half of our party. Mom and Hannah reported that the bazaar got a lot busier in the afternoon. Hannah cooked us some great chili, which was especially good if you took into consideration the ingredients she had to work with, but we're all adapting pretty well.

The day was one that I really enjoyed. It was really cool to be able to see the Friday schedule for the male Muslims, as well as the bartering and regular banter between shopkeepers and customers. And I think that even though we weren't really used to this whole system, we were able to adapt pretty quickly, which just goes to show that you really do learn something new every day.

Find more information at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Bazaar,_Istanbul

Posted by KZFamily 14:36 Archived in Turkey Tagged shopping walk turkey grand_bazaar Comments (1)

Istanbul: How Many Domes can you Count?

BY MURIEL

overcast 14 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

So, what does one do in Istanbul? The Trip Advisor website suggests over 583 sights and activities! Knowing we might get overwhelmed by sightseeing in Istanbul, we elected to hit the biggies first in case we burned ourselves out. The first on our list were the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque so we decided to trundle down to the tram area at a reasonable hour. Our place is situated on a higher street, providing a fantastic view of the Bosphorous, so we descended the 128 steps (they're only a problem coming up) and made for the waterside station just a few minutes' walk away. Once we figured out the token purchasing, grudgingly acknowledging that it's reasonable that every city should do it differently, we boarded the over ground tram to the Sultanhamet district.

Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia

The Hagia Sofia is quite the architectural and religious structure, important to both Christians and Muslims alike. The current building is the third built on the site, replacing the first two which were destroyed by rioters. Commissioned by Emperor Justinian, it stems from 537 AD. At the time, it was the pinnacle of Byzantine architecture, and claimed the prize for the largest cathedral for the next thousand years. The dome, in particular, was a spectacular achievement, and supposedly 'changed the history of architecture.' What I found particularly interesting was the hybrid nature of the Hagia Sofia: since it was used as a Christian church till 1453, mostly by the Eastern Orthodox and briefly by the Roman Catholics after they sacked Constantinople, and a mosque thereafter, it has vestiges of both faiths in the now-secular museum. Between the beautiful painted and gilded mosaics of Christ, Mary, emperors and other figures, the gigantic Islamic discs with Arabic script, the paintings of six-winged seraphim, and the Muslim pulpit (the minbar), there's lots to gawk at. We were surprised that after it was turned into a mosque that the Christian symbols were allowed to remain untouched. However, it turns out, in reading my handy dandy Islam 101 brochure, that Islam recognizes many of the Christian patriarchs and figures (Abraham, Moses, Isaac, Jesus, Mary, angels, etc. ) albeit differently than Christians do. Despite much of the crusading, pillaging and sacking that occurred in Istanbul/Constantinople, due to the many restoration efforts, the Hagia Sofia is still beautiful. It is largely empty as most mosques do not have much furniture and the carpets have been removed to reveal the rippling marble floor, settling in many places. Interesting to note is the front of the once-cathedral, where the Muslims replaced the altar with their mihrab, a semicircular niche that indicates the direction of Mecca. Fortunately for them, I guess, the altar was alllmmmoooosst in the right spot so that now, the mihrab is just a titch off centre, giving the impression that it was an apprenticing carpenter who installed it.

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Exiting, we nipped into some tombs of various sultans and their families. This required us to remove our shoes; it's a neat but simple area (green is a big colour for their cloth-covered sarcophagi here); however, the tile work of many of the domed buildings are beautiful, most certainly surpassing the disappointing tile museum we visited in Konya. And speaking of tiles, during one of the restorations of these tombs, the French helped out and kindly took several tiles back to Paris to be restored. Istanbul is still waiting for them back! They are now ensconced in the Louvre in the Islamic art section. Apparently it's not only the British who know how to pilfer historical relics.

Crossing the Hippodrome, once the sporting and social centre of Constantinople (can you say chariot racing?), we took in the obelisks there and proceeded to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque due to scads of blue tiles inside. Doffing our shoes and donning scarves, we entered the revered space through the tourist door as the front door is left for worshippers. The majority of the space is reserved for those praying, although I noticed a few of the Muslim prayers taking pictures too! Again, it's a beautiful piece of architecture, both inside and out. Its symmetry, many domes and six minarets (the most ever raised for a mosque in the 1600s), provide a pleasing view and capture one's admiration. When I visited Istanbul several years ago, Sultanhamet Square, with the Hagia Sofia at one end and the Blue Mosque at the other, quickly became my favorite block in the world. Being the second time, I wasn't so in awe; however, it's still very grand.

Candy vendor

Candy vendor

The prices in this district, with the big attractions nearby, are outrageous so after a small lunch and a smaller dessert, we moved on. Next was the Basilica Cistern; we debated about going in but then decided 'What the heck? This is our only chance. Why quibble?' The cistern was built by Justinian, everyone's favourite sixth century emperor, to provide water for the city. It measures 165 m by 65 m and contains quite the collection of columns, many of the 336 borrowed from earlier ruins, we surmised. With music being piped in to demonstrate its acoustics, and the dark environs gently lit by low-wattage bulbs, it was actually a very peaceful place. The water dripping periodically from the ceiling just added to the mood.
Grateful after a full day of sightseeing that we had a very comfortable apartment in which to retire, we eagerly hopped onto the convenient tram and walked back up to our place. It's beautiful to see the city lit up at night -- there's not much neon but there are a lot of lights. The unique situation of overlooking the Bosporus while on the European side of Istanbul often causes Abby to exclaim, 'I can see Asia!' That's the last look of the continent we'll have before returning home.

Posted by KZFamily 16:55 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey istanbul hagia_sofia Comments (1)

Ankara to Istanbul

By Hannah

semi-overcast 14 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

View of the Bosphorus from Istanbul apartment

View of the Bosphorus from Istanbul apartment

We crossed over from Asia to Europe today.

It was going to be another long drive, about four hours to Istanbul and another hour meandering the streets and getting to our apartment. We packed up and headed out of the country's capital, ready for Istanbul.

The landscape gradually shifted from busy city streets to rolling hills to flat plains. The highway was relatively new and smooth, and eventually everyone except my Dad had drifted off. A few hours later, we took a break and headed to a roadside pit stop that included a restaurant, a gas station, and a convenience store. We chose from a slightly overpriced buffet of basic Turkish fare, the likes of which were exceedingly average. The desserts were pretty good, though. One of them was kadayif, which was made of crunchy, wiry strings of dough, sprinkled with nuts, and soaked in syrup. We couldn't name the other one, but it was chocolaty and delicious. The restaurant was odd, spread over a large, open space that looked like it might've once been a gym. The chairs and tables were massive and wooden, like you might find... well, I don't know really. In a medieval lord's house, perhaps? They certainly looked very awkward in their current surroundings. We left satiated, pausing briefly to inspect a large case in front of the convenience store that was filled solely with fancily packaged chestnuts.

Istanbul apartment

Istanbul apartment

We drove for another hour or so, and finally came to the metropolis of Istanbul. As we crossed the bridge that arced across the Bosphorus, we waved goodbye to Asia and said hello again to Europe. The traffic was not as bad as we'd feared, and we soon located our last Turkish home. We brought our bags up the four flights of stairs to our apartment, which contrasted starkly with the rest of the building. The door is rusty and covered in old advertisements and stickers. The staircase is dirty and smells like mildew and garbage. But our apartment is bright and white and spotless and comfortable. Abby and I have to share a bed, but our room is big enough and we even have a vanity. There's a real shower with a mounted nozzle (which is always a treat in Europe, as you never know what you'll get), and a little dining corner away from the kitchen. The only real flaw is the lack of kitchen implements. But we've gotten used to this, and have actually become quite resourceful. Mom and Dad went to return the rental car, and then we got right to settling in.

We picked up some fruits and vegetables from the back of some guy's truck and purchased some essentials at the closest supermarket/convenience store. Abby made her best attempt at the lentil soup we'd learned to make at our cooking class, which turned out well considering the fact that we couldn't find all the ingredients and she didn't have a recipe. We planned some minor festivities for our halfway day, Day 132, when we'll have completed the first 50% of our trip. It feels like it's taken forever. It also seems like we were waving goodbye to Grandpa at the Victoria International Airport just yesterday. Istanbul's our last Turkish town. It's not going to be easy saying goodbye to the country after six weeks.

Posted by KZFamily 16:18 Archived in Turkey Tagged istanbul ankara Comments (2)

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