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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, Ataturk and Pizza to Go

by Ben

18 °C
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I know what some of you might be saying. “Enough with this Atatürk already!” If you are a Turk, it seems like you can’t get enough Atatürk and we are starting to understand why. Modern Turkey and Atatürk are truly synonymous.

Anitkabir: Ataturk's Mausoleum

Anitkabir: Ataturk's Mausoleum

Our main reason for visiting Anakara was to visit the Anıtkabir (literally, "memorial tomb"), the of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the leader of the Turkish War of Independence and the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey. This monument to Atatürk took nearly ten years to complete and occupies a massive piece of real estate in Ankara. The whole monument is all about size and heft and a less about opulence. The architecture contains some characteristics of fascist and communist era monuments in regards to its expansiveness and reliance on hard clean lines. Somehow the whole complex just barely escapes some of the worst in propogandaesque architecture that typified German, Italian and Soviet architecture between 1920 and 1940. This is mainly due to its use of a warm reddish brown stone and the employment of mosaic work and painting patterns that herald from the ancient Hittites. The complex consists of a wide and long promenade lined with 24 lions that leads into a gigantic courtyard that can accommodate 15,000 people. The perimeter of this parade ground consists of open arcades which front buildings that have display space containing artifacts from the life and times of Atatürk. The huge square fronts a mausoleum of exaggerated height which contrasts with the rest of the complex which is excessively wide and flat. Although the memorial tomb has very simple lines it still makes loud statement about the esteem this nation holds for the person whose body it houses.

The display space surrounding the main courtyard contains some of Atatrurk’s personal and presidential possessions. There are cars and boats he used in his official capacity as head of government; there are numerous gifts he received from heads of state (most often daggers, swords and cigarette cases); and personal effects such as his clothing as well as his 4000 volume personal library. Interspersed with all these artifacts are a great number of life size photographs of him. The simple and tasteful displays do give more than an aura of reverence for the man. The reverence moves to near cult-like worship when you sit in the small movie theatre that shares the story of his life and how he delivered Turkey from the brink of annihilation. Despite this, it is hard to overstate how important he truly was in the birth of this nation.

Anitkabir: Road of Lions

Anitkabir: Road of Lions

Here is a list of just a few of Atatürk’s accomplishments. He played a key role in the defeat of Anzac and British forces in the battle or Gallipoli. He later took this same military prowess and fought against the partition of what we know as modern day Turkey into several subsections controlled by Italian, French, British, Soviet and Greek governments. After accomplishing this he became the president of Turkey. He instituted a new Latin alphabet to replace the Arabic one and took the nation from a ten percent literacy rate to a seventy percent literacy rate in two years. He put in place free and mandatory primary education and had its curriculum based on the most modern methods of the era. He even wrote two textbooks for use in these schools; one about Turkish and the other about Geometry. He had the prayers of Islam translated from Arabic into Turkish so people could worship in their own language. He gave equal rights to women and freed them from the veil and scarf. He instituted a system of surnames, where none had existed before. He instituted a secular legal system and created a modern system of finance and banking. These are just a few of many initiatives. He had a few more quirky ones, such as a hat law which outlawed the Ottoman style Fez and required civilized Turks to sport European style headgear. He did not go as far as legislating western clothing for women. He had more confidence in their wisdom in exercising their newfound freedom to dress as they chose rather than be forced to be veiled.

The legacy of one of his important legislative acts is his own name, which translates as “Father of the Turks.” In championing the need for last names to clear of confusion about people’s identities he was given the last name Atatürk by the parliament. Parliament also made it illegal for any other person ever to use that last name, including Atatürk’s descendants. A few decades later (well after Atatürk’s death) the Turkish parliament would also create a law forbidding the criticism of Atatürk and his legacy which has led to some stick situations between Turkey and the European Union and websites such as Google and YouTube.

Below the Mausoleum is a Museum that outlines the history of the battle for Turkish independence and and Atatürk’s central role. The Museum then documents all his political, social, cultural, industrial and economic accomplishments after the establishment of the Turkish republic. This is where everything goes over the top with patriotic songs being piped into all the exhibits and the heroism and genius of Atatürk is heralded at a fever pitch. It can make one feel uncomfortable and a little concerned about the problems Turkey may face when they inevitably will need to take a sober second look at their history and examine it for possible mistakes and missteps from which they can only profit. For now, it seems a strong sense of identity and clear rallying point is what keeps Turkey together and provides some of the confidence that is helping spurn its strong growth, bucking the trend of its European neighbours. We are glad we visited the Anıtkabir. I definitely will be picking up a biography of this man.

Flag Display on Grounds of Anitkibar

Flag Display on Grounds of Anitkibar

Our visit to the Mausoleum pretty much exhausted our sightseeing capacity. We headed back to our apartment neighbourhood to seek out a fairly late lunch. Abby has been craving a cheeseburger for quite a while, so I humoured her and accompanied her to Burger King. This US chain seems to have a fairly large presence in Turkey. Muriel and Hannah meantime had better sense and went to eat somewhere more appropriately Turkish. We both discovered that English was not readily spoken in Ankara which added some interesting wrinkles in ordering. It was to be taken to a new level of frustration in the evening when Muriel and girls went to order North American style pizza.

The pizza was a long-ago promised treat for Abby. We said we would get some the next time we came across it in our travel. As luck would have it, we discovered an North American pizza place the same day Abby also got an American style cheeseburger. A Little Caesar Pizza place is located quite close to our apartment. Late in the evening Muriel and Hannah accompanied a pretty eager Abby to get two take-out pizzas. Unfortunately, the pizza toppings were not readily distinguishable by their Turkish names and no English help was to be found. The solution was to point at pictures of some of the pizza toppings and then visually convey the size of pizza desired. The result was two pizzas that were smaller than what were ordered with one bearing little resemblance to the ingredients identified. I think the lesson learned for Abby is that if you have a craving for something from North America you should just leave it as a craving since you are more than likely to be disappointed by the overseas facsimile.

Posted by KZFamily 11:14 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey ankara Comments (1)

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