Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Turkey, Aug.-Sept. 2006

This is where it all began. Early in the morning at SFO, shortly before we boarded our flight to NYC.

Istanbul - Hotel Nomade (Aug. 26-30)

We stayed at the Hotel Nomade, a cute little hotel in the Sultanahmet District, which is where the Aya Sofia (aka Hagia Sophia) and the Blue Mosque are.

The hotel has a great rooftop terrace...

...with wonderful views of the area.

Istanbul - Basilica Cistern (Aug. 26)

On our first day, we checked out the Basilica Cistern, which was built by Justinius in the 6th century. After the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, it lay unremembered until it was noticed that some city residents could get water by lowering buckets in their basements. It was renovated as a tourist site in the 20th century.

Most of the columns are undecorated, but a few are different, like this one:

Two of the columns have Medusa heads at their bases. For some unknown reason (though it's suspected that there was a reason) the heads are not upright.

Istanbul - Topkapı Palace (Aug. 27)

Day 2 in Turkey started with a walk to Topkapı Palace. The outer grounds are surrounded by a magnificent wall...

...and after a short walk inside those walls, you come to the palace grounds proper:

There are a ton of amazing sites within, but we spent most of our time on a tour of the Harem...

...featuring many amazing domes...

...and a variety of cool "skylights":

The Ottoman sultans loved Chinese ceramics, and at Topkai amassed the finest collection of Chinese ceramics outside of China. Spotting a good market, it appears the Chinese worked to satisfy these voracious clients, even incorporating Arabic script into some pieces:

Istanbul - Aya Sofia (Aug. 27)

That afternoon, we visited the Aya Sofia (aka Hagia Sophia). Pretty amazing stuff, though, alas, the dome of the Aya Sofia was being renovated when we were there. There was a ton of scaffolding that kept us from getting an unobstructed view of the dome.

Out in front of the Aya Sofia is the ablutions fountain, where the faithful washed their feet prior to entering to pray.

Also out in front of the Aya Sofia, you'll find several mausoleums, used for the burial of three Ottoman sultans.

Istanbul - Whirling Dervishes (Aug. 27)

We weren't able to make it to the Mevlevi Monastery to see the Whirling Dervishes, but we did manage to catch a performance at the Sirkeci train station, the final stop of the Orient Express.

The first half of the performance was music, and then the dervishes came out. There was a lot of ritual bowing, and then finally they took off their outer coats, and began to whirl - and whirl, and whirl, and whirl. They always whirled counterclockwise, and while they didn't whirl that fast, I still thought I would have been puking dizzy by the end of it.

Here are my two favorite dervishes:

We had heard that it is better to see the Whirling Dervishes at the Mevlevi Monastery, and were worried that the presentation would be "dumbed down" in some manner. Not having seen the "real" performance, we can't say for sure, but it seemed like we saw the genuine article. That said, the train station was not an ideal concert hall. There was street noise from one side and train noise from the other. Also, it's possible that the other audience members may have been more serious had we been at the monastery. Noise and the like notwithstanding, it was a cool thing to see.

Istanbul - Spice Market (Aug. 28)

On the morning of Day 3, we headed over to the Eminonu ports and bought tickets to the ferry for a tour up the Bosphorus. We were a bit early, so before we boarded the ferry, we visited the spice market.

Istanbul - Bosphorus (Aug. 28)

From the ferry, looking back on Istanbul - the New Mosque is in the background...

...and here you can see the Galata Tower...

...and the Galata Bridge, which crosses the Golden Horn.

Here's the Dolmabahce Palace.

The Bosphorus Bridge.

The Fortress of Europe, built by Mehmet II in advance of his taking of Constantinople.

The Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge.

Anadolu Kavagi, with the ruins of the Genoese Castle.

The ruins up close.

The view from the ruins, looking north up the Bosphorus.

Istanbul - Turkish bath (Aug. 28)

On the night of the 28th (the pictures below were taken later), it suddenly started raining. Quite a bit. We were looking for a quick, cheap dinner, and dropped into the oddly named "Pudding Shop," which we had passed several times by then. It's located right by the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque, and it apparently was the place to be for hippies in the '60s who were beginning their pilgrimages eastward. These days it's a cheap (and not that great, in our opinion), cafeteria-style restaurant (with no pudding, for what that's worth).

After dinner, we went to the Cemberlitas bath house. Lots of oh-so-not-gentle scrubbing, and soaping/massage, and plenty of hot water - all in a schmancy steam room with a beautiful stone dome. Highly recommended!

Istanbul - Blue Mosque (Aug. 29)

Here's a shot of the Blue Mosque from one of the earlier nights:

On the morning of Day 4, we visited the Blue Mosque.

Istanbul - Beyoglu (Aug. 29)

Day 4 we went to Beyoglu, across the Golden Horn. Here's a street bread vendor. The Turkish eat more bread per capita than anyone else in the world. The bread you see here, simits, is round and twisted, with sesame seeds - one of my favorite Turkish breads.

We walked down Istiklal Caddesi, a pedestrian way lined with stores.

Taksim Square is at the end of street.

The arches in front of the Church of St. Anthony of Padua.

The Pera Palace, built for guests who came to Istanbul on the Orient Express.

Raki - bottoms up!