Monday, June 29, 2009

Istanbul II [updated with pics and more; first posted 09/03/09]

I had planned to get up early, to get to the embassy early, but slept in until almost 9. Oops.
Breakfast at the hostel was decent, though a bit greasy. I had French toast with honey. I had to eat in a bit of hurry as I had to be at the Syrian embassy before 11.
At the embassy, I got in, filled in the form and stood in line. When I got to the counter, I was asked for a letter from the Canadian Embassy!!! What??? OH NO!! She said I had to go to the Canadian Embassy to get a letter saying I can go to Syria. I left and took out my travel guide. Ummmm... the only Canadian embassy/consulate listed is in Ankara!!! There is NO WAY I'd be able to go to Ankara just to get a letter. Ack. I went back in and asked the woman behind the counter. She said there is a consulate in Istanbul, and went to get the address for me. Istiklol St. 37315, Beyoslu. Phew.
I hopped in a taxi and gave him the directions that I was given. He said okay, no problem. Well, the taxi sort of went the long way around and then onto Istiklal Caddessi. Istiklal is actually a pedestrian only street!! He drove for a ways, asking guards at other embassies along the way. Then he stopped and said I had to walk the rest of the way. He said to walk a long way and it would be on the right. I paid and made my way in the direction that he pointed to.
I walked, and walked, but didn't see it. I got to the end (Taksim Square) and asked a police man that was standing around. He pointed back in the direction I came from and said around 1 km. What??? I had just walked about 1 km. Grrr. It was there. On the 3rd floor with only a small Canadian flag hanging outside showing that it was there. I rang the bell and was led into a small office with a big round table. A woman came in, got my info and then went to get the letter. For 62.5 YTL I got a letter that pretty much just said I intended to go to Syria. What a waste of time and money. I had to wait to go back to the Syrian Embassy as by then, it was too late. This was seriously taking time from my travels.I had lunch at the Cafe Sultan just down the street from the consulate. I had a chicken sandwich and a lemonade for 10 YTL. It was not bad, except that the sandwich didn't have much chicken in it. After eating I went for a walk along Istiklal Caddessi and then headed down a side street to find a taxi.
I went to Topkapi Palace, (used 1465 to 1863) right around the corner from my hostel.Along one side of it, the buildings are actually built right up to the wall, even following the shape of the walls. I paid my 20 TL entrance fee and headed in.Once inside the walls, I wandered around the first courtyard a bit to take pictures.I absolutely love the old trees there that have naturally been hollowed out but still grow. Amazing.[one of the old trees, in front of the palace kitchens - those are the chimneys on the roof]
Then, when I was heading for the buildings, I was approached by Harun, an English tour guide. The guides there charge 10TL for a tour. I said no thanks. He said okay, he'd do it free. Hmmmm. He is a student and teacher of history at the university and in his free time he sometimes goes to the palaces to give tours. I told him okay, but he wasn't going to get anything out of me. He said that was fine (though I know he was hoping I might change my mind). I figured if he still wanted to give me a tour for free after I said he wouldn't get anything out of me, why not. I'd learn more about the palace and, of course, I'd have someone to take some pictures with me actually in them!! :)Not the easiest thing to do when traveling alone. He talked about the different buildings in the palace complex and the entire history of the place.The palace is absolutely beautiful.Everything is so ornate. Hearing explanations of the uses of the different room was interesting and very entertaining at times.
This summer pavilion was built by Sultan Ibrahim in 1640. As this place was used for the circumcision ceremonies of the crown princes, it is also called the circumcision room.
The walls are covered with the rare specimens of Ottoman tiles. The most important of these are the blue and white tile panels influenced by Far-Eastern ceramics on the chamber facade dated 1529.
[from a sign outside the room]
We went through the main part of the palace and then came to the entrance of the Harem part. The main ticket didn't include this part, so I had to get another ticket, specific for the Harem part. I didn't have to wait in the relatively long line, though, as I gave my money to Harun and he went to the side entrance of the booth, since he was friends with the guys working inside. :) The Harem part was also fantastic. The Harem is not really a harem as we generally think. It is pretty much just the family part, or the Sultan's private quarters as opposed to the public and business part of the palace complex.The Sultan would ride into the Harem part along the fancy stone pathway. ONLY the Sultan was allowed to ride a horse on that path. The concubines and Eunuchs were just the servants, the concubines being maids to the family.The Eunuchs would place the meals out along a long table in the Passage of the Concubines. They would then leave the hallway, and the concubines would enter to pick up the food.There are so many hallways and courtyards and rooms that are all so wonderful and different: for the concubines, for the Eunuchs, for the Queen Mother, for the Sultan, etc. I wish I could put pictures of all of them here.[a fireplace][a toilet]
The Imperial Hall
This domed place in the Harem, believed to have been built in the late in 16th century, served as the official recepion hall of the Sultan as well as the entertainment hall of the Harem.
Entertainments, paying of homages during the relitious festivals, and wedding ceremonies took place here in the presence of the members of the dynasty.
The tile belt surrounding the waslls bearing calligraphic inscriptions were revetted with 18th century blue and white Delft tiles in the rococo style after the great Harem fire of 1666.
The domed arch and the pendantives still bear classical paintings dating from the original construction.In the hall are the throne on which the Sultan sat, and a gallery that was occupied by the wives of the Sultan headed by the Queen Mother.A pantry where musical instruments are exhibited and certain other apartments open to the Imperial Hall which gives access into hte Sultan's private apartments.
[from a sign in the room]
[a bedroom. Like in the other palace, there were 2 beds!!][a wall :) in the room for eating fruit][the swimming pool]Harun and I had a great conversation going the whole time, in between the information about the palace. We were talking about relationships, traveling and other such things. He said that when I said he wouldn't get anything out of me, he didn't really believe me. Men in Turkey often try to meet the foreign women, and take them out for a 'fun night'. They take them to a fancy dinner, a show, or what ever it is they like. Then they hope that they'll get something in return. Harun was saying that from his experience, most women never say no. If they accept the invite, they always end up in bed by the end of the night. He said he's even had women say absolutely no, but by the end of a tour, change their minds. I explained to him that not all women are like that. He found that hard to believe. In the end he was still hoping I'd change my mind about going out for an evening of fun with him. I told him I wouldn't. He gave me his number just incase. Harun was fantastic company and a great guide for the tour of the palace. He said that even if he got nothing, he enjoyed talking to me.
Why is it that so many people think that a woman that likes to travel (especially one that travels alone) is always easy??? I suppose many are and that makes it harder for those of us that aren't. Since when does having a conversation with some guy imply that I am in some way interested in something more??? Even if I say I have a boyfriend (whether true or not) they seem to think it doesn't make a difference. Accepting an invite to share the cost of a taxi or to sit at the same table doesn't mean an acceptance of anything more.
Within the palace complex, many of the rooms are now museums. There is one small museum in the former Privy Chamber. Inside are the Sacred Relics. These relics include Prophet David's sword, Prophet Moses' staff, things of Prophet Mohammed including some of his hair, and part of his tooth, his robe and other such things (refered to as the Sacred Trusts). Also within the museum is part of St. John the Baptist's skull as well as his right arm and hand (which he used to baptise Jesus). The arm is enclosed in gilt metal with a small window showing some of the bone within. There is a great debate as to whether these items are authentic or not. There are at least 6 places that claim to have possession of the head/skull/part of the skull of John the Baptist. One of the other forerunners in this is the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. Inside the mosque is a shrine to John the Baptist, which is said to contain his head.
Next to (or rather, connected to) the palace is the Archaeology Museum (10 TL entrance fee). It was quite nice.SO many statues!!Roman statues, funerary steles,sarcofagi,etc. There was even an Egyptian sarcofagus, complete with a mummy.

Fountain (Selsebil)The "Ta'liq" inscription decorating its side walls informs us that it was built in 1590. The peacock amid tulips, carnations and flowering plum branches displays the popular motifs of the time, that is the reign of Murad III (1574-1595).
[from a sign next to the fountain]

Outside the museum there are all sorts of things to see. I loved the atmosphere!I walked back to the hostel area and had dinner at a little restaurant across the road from my hostel. I had mushroom soup (fantastic!) and mushroom spaghetti (so so).In case you don't know, I love mushrooms. :)
Back at the hostel, I borrowed Mehmet's laptop (the 2 hostel computers were being used) to upload some maps onto my GPS.
At one of the computers was an Italian named Edoardo. We started talking and then decided to head out for a walk and a late night snack. We were looking for a little restaurant that he had eaten at earlier in the day. It was so far!! We walked and walked. Along the way, a dog started to follow us (like a golden retriever, though probably a mix). It was with us for a large part of the way, until it met another dog. For a little bit, both were following and then disappeared. At around 11:30 or so, we eventually found the restaurant but it was closed. We went to another place nearby that was open 24 hours. It was sort of a cafeteria style place. Grab a tray, take what you want, pay for what you took. I had something that looked and tasted similar to lasagne but with egg on top instead of pasta. I also had a chocolate pudding for dessert. Mmmm. Hadn't had good chocolate pudding in so long!!! (they don't really do pudding in Korea)On the way back, we came across a guy selling a hot drink. At first we thought it was tea, but were told otherwise. We decided we should try it anyway. They guy said it is made with milk and corn and cinnamon. Not sure exactly what it is but it was delicious (but VERY hot!!). It reminded me of custard. A nice bedtime snack. :)

1 comment:

Jean said...

Guide books are helpful to get knowledge of a place and to start planning. But I think a
local tour guide can offer more insights with personal communication. And professional guides are usually hassle free compared with street guides. :)

OurExplorer - Travel through the eyes of a local