Saturday, January 23, 2016

Istanbul

In September last year I arrived as one of 12.56 million annual foreign visitors to Istanbul, yet felt like my arrival was eagerly anticipated when we arrived at our lodgings.  My brother had done the leg work and a found cheap but cheerful looking hotel for us.  He was right on both counts. Because we proved difficult for the courtesy van driver to find (it wasn't our fault, honestly.  That airport arrivals area was bedlam and we just got caught up in it) our hosts were extremely happy to see us eventually materialize.  The owner, with much flamboyant waving and gesturing ordered the front desk clerk and waiters to whisk away our luggage while each of them bid us many welcomes.  I didn't realize it at the time but it was an introduction to how hard the local people work to make a dollar (or lira) from tourists.  

And now, after the recent terrorist attack, they will have to work even harder.  That attack took place in the area where we stayed.    My heart goes out to the warm and welcoming people of Sultanahmet, the heart of Istanbul city. It's the location of a number of major tourist attractions - Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque and Grand Bazar and a quick taxi ride from the Bosphorus.  

We had three days to see and do as much as possible.  Let me assure you when my brother is the (self appointed but excellent) tour guide, you don't spend a lot of time sitting around.  I begged for a little time off one afternoon after a night with no airconditioning.  I was relieved when I returned to the hotel to be told my room had a "bad problem" and I would have to move to a better room.  At least that's what I figured they were saying as my bag was whisked away to another room - with a balcony!  The tiniest balcony I've ever seen but it did allow me a view of the parking lot next door.

 

a distant view across the rooftops to the high rises 


and a reasonable view of one of our closest neighbours, Hagia Sofia.  I was more impressed with the loudness of the Calls to Prayer from such a short distance.  I even vaguely recall hearing the pre-dawn salah - and it takes a bit to disturb my slumber before daylight.
 

Here's a better view from out the front.  From the scenes that appeared on the news at the time of the terror attack, the explosion was close to this point. 


and again by night, this time from a restaurant.



I could have spend days just taking photos of the outside.  Not that the insides weren't impressive.  It blew me away but none of my photos come even close to doing justice to its grandeur.  

The design of Hagia Sophia was so unique it was reputed to have changed the history of architecture. For almost one thousand years, it was the largest cathedral in the world before serving as the principal mosque of Istanbul for almost half a millennium. While it was not built as a mosque, it was widely admired in the Islamic world and its architecture heavily influenced the design of many Ottoman mosques. Despite current efforts to return Hagia Sophia to a place of worship, it has not been used as such since being converted into a secular museum in 1934. Hagia Sophia has undergone many changes over the centuries.


Here's my guide who lead us unerringly (good word that if it is one) - to the humble back gate of the Topkapı Palace.   Not that we knew it at the time, I just thought it was a bit unpretentious for a palace. If we'd gone in the front entrance we wouldn't have seen this lovely garden.  The guards watched their back gate visitors carefully for a while before deciding we were harmless. 


I couldn't really get my head around the size of the palace, the opulent pavilions, the jewel encrusted treasures on display, the sprawling harem, the engineering, the architecture.  Even the size of the kitchens.  There was a touch of fairy tale about it all.  I was dazzled and overcome by the beauty of it all.


Choosing where we would eat each night was an entertainment in itself.  I was a little overwhelmed by the turkish way of enticing customers into their businesses.  All the restaurants looked much the same, a few were noticably more expensive than the others, the biggest difference was in the guys I thought of as hustlers.  Each and every one had a special deal and I wouldn't have been surprised if an offer had included a first born son along with a free beer or a 5% discount.
 
All three restaurants we chose were excellent.  Two of them were beside the footpath and one night we allowed ourselves to be tempted up in a lift to the third floor with the promise of the best night view of Hagia Sophia in town, along with the best fish dishes.  There was only one other table of diners there that night, maybe the hustler wasn't in good form.  What a dreadful job to have, especially for one who must have so many talents - a good knowledge of different languages and the ability to "read" people for an instant communication 'connection'. 

One restaurant we dined at, located in an alleyway.


9 comments:

  1. Istanbul has long been a place I've wanted to visit. We are considering it. One is torn between wanting to be prudent and wanting to visit as a statement of solidarity against bullies everywhere. Those poor people whose neighbourhoods/livelihoods were targeted!
    I'd love to sit in that alleyway restaurant!

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  2. Istanbul looks like an interesting place to visit, Pauline! You really did have a wonderful time away!

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  3. Turkish restaurant hustlers are the making of an evening stroll.

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  4. I don't know anyone who has been to Istanbul who hasn't been enthralled. I doubt I'll ever see it so it's good to see and read your account.

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  5. Everybody seem to Like Turkey. Open minded people have much to learn from touring other places.

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  6. I would love to get there one day.

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  7. It looks exotic and wonderful and i hope i can travel again someday.

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  8. Not being a traveller myself...I never caught the travel bug...one of the many good things about blogging is seeing other parts of the world through the eyes, lens and words of fellow bloggers.

    See...I travel more cheaply than a backpacker does! I hitch a ride with my blogging mates...I hope you all don't mind! :)

    "Topkapi", the movie starring Peter Ustinov and Melina Mecouri, amongst others was a fun movie.

    Great post, Pauline...thanks. :)

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  9. oh my the inside of that mosque must be so beautiful.

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