Turkey I - Istanbul, The Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar and the Hagia Sophia Museum.
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Turkey IX - Göçek and Fethiye (2011)
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Turkey II - Istanbul, Topkapi Palace.
Useful links on this page (Cut & paste if necessary) :
Hotel Side, Sultanahmet, Istanbul:
Restaurant: Aloran Cafe & Restaurant, Sultanahmet, Istanbul: www.aloranistanbul.com
Log Entry Monday 16th January - We visit Istanbul on the way back to Sailaway.
We had a very early start this morning, some issues with our hand luggage especially, carrying a watermaker (desalination system) through security, that was very interesting, but a reasonable flight afterwards. We arrive in Istanbul with snow falling and it seems much colder than the UK we had just left? We have, on friends recommendations booked into The Side Hotel. located in the Sultanahmet (Old Town) district, it is very close to all that we intend to visit during this trip. We have also booked their offered transfer service from the airport to the hotel, we have, in total approximately 95kg in luggage - not making public transport easy by any means? The pickup is simple, we are met with a board showing our name, the luggage is taken from us and we are shown to the vehicle. As we are driven over the mighty suspension bridge "Bosporus Bridge" the traffic on the waterway is unbelievable moving in both directs, tankers and freighters, all amongst the busy ferry traffic crossing over the waterway from both sides.
We arrive at the hotel and are greeted well, our 95kg loaded into the hotel reception then taken up to our room by the hotel staff. Entering our room our worst fear was completely eliminated, we have used hotels in many places out of season and they have been so cold, at time even unbearable causing us to relocate. Not in this case, the whole hotel is very warm, perfect in fact, they boast "heating on 24 hours" and that is exactly how it is. We are in the "Pension" our room and facilities are great, we wander up to the breakfast room on the upper floor, they have a roof top that is utilised in the summer, the open doors allow us to view our surrounds. From the roof top we can see the Bosporus, The Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia Museum, all are as close as we hoped they would be.
Time is getting on so we thought we would have a quick look around the neighbourhood, then retire for an hour or so before the evening approaches. We chose a local cafe, to sit, have a warm drink and plan out the next few days.
The time soon passes, after a short rest and nice hot shower we leave the warmth of the hotel to find "dinner", darkness already fallen by now. We make the short 5/10 minute walk towards the Blue, or Sultanahmet Mosque, we were very impressed with it's night lights. All open shops, gift or grocery all use lighting to attract attention it seemed?
We wander back towards, and, eventually past the hotel and are greeted by a very polite gentleman outside the Aloran Cafe & Restaurant "selling his wares". We accept his invitation and make our way inside, into the warmth. We note some activity across the room at another table, it is explained to be an Ottoman style casserole "Etli Güveç", meat stew cooked in terra cotta pot. The meal is finished off at the table, then the base of the pot is severed off and served - that is good enough for us!
We place our order, Ann selects the traditional option and I pick another of the specialties and wait, we are tempted to starters as it has been a long day? Well that was our justification for it? The bread is complementary and very nice, we like it a little too much, by the time the main coarse arrives we are pretty full but very determined all the same?
Ann's dish arrives, it is finished off and the base of the pot sheared off and served.
The food was excellant as was the hospitality though out our visit, the staff very informative and friendly, the perfect end to a long day!
Log Entry Tuesday 17th January - Our first full day in Istanbul.
We rise relatively early, our plan today is quite flexible, we know the Topkapi Palace is closed to day, so that we plan to visit tomorrow, other than that we plan to squeeze in as much as possible today beginning at The Blue Mosque.
While in the breakfast room we check outside, we have had a covering of snow earlier this morning, the light wind makes the air feel extremely cold, but at least it is dry!
As we exit the hotel our attention is gained by a couple of young guys in a nearby shop with the use of a snowball - our first of the year! We decline their offer to visit their store and continue on the short walk to the Blue, or Sultanahmet Mosque. I wager you ladies adore my hat - well, at least it is warm!
As the hotel is in very close proximity, it takes us no time at all, even when so slippery under foot (roads and pathways are not treated here at all?) to reach the Mosque, a very impressive building indeed. The name of Blue Mosque (or Sultanahmet Camii) come from "Sultan Ahmet I" (1590 -1617) the pious although predominantly believed to be "very unlucky" sultan who had the temple constructed as an attempt to appease Allah for his loses against many armies from both east and western flanks of the Ottoman Empire. The Mosque took just over seven years to construct, just as it neared completion the unlucky sultan died of typhus at the age of 27?
The large square courtyard is filled with wonderful detail, decorative masonry and tiles accompanied with detailed, painted artwork.
Internally, although the floor plan is again square it is broken by a series of domes surrounding the central great dome, each one now covered by amazing frescoes, these are not of the original decoration. This amazing roof structure supported by four magnificant, huge columns. The whole of the internal space is fed with natural light via wonderful, decorative windows, the detail of each being amazing.
This Mosque today is still a working one, and one needs to be respective of such, a large area is cordoned off for the use of pray, the impressive "mihrab" providing the indication of Mecca is of primary importance.
As you exit the Mosque you are greeted by the impressive view of Hagia Sophia across the public park area.
From the Mosque we turn to the north west, through the more modern, cosmopolitan area of this sector, making our way towards the Grand Bazaar. It's modern tram system easy and friendly to use, many restaurants with their alleyway table sections fully laid out for some one?
We turn off the main street making our way to one of the 22 bazaar entrances.
The Grand Bazaar (or Kapaliçarsi, meaning covered bazaar in Turkish) is acclaimed to be one of the oldest shopping centres in the world. It was originally constructed in 1461 under the reign of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. Today it is acclaimed to cover 45,000 sq meters, more than 3,500 shops over 64 streets. It is a city to itself with banks, restaurants, post office and it's own police force - a total workforce of approximately 22,000 workers at peak times! The bazaars activity during our visit is relatively low, most shops not even open, certainly not poring their stock out into the walk way as is the norm, there is just not the people around. We joke and laugh with the proprietors as they approach us, "it does not matter how cheap their prices are, if you do not want or need it!" we repetitively explain to them. We leave without a single purchase!
We now make our way towards Hagia Sophia, the biggest Byzantine Church in Istanbul, constructed three times over on the same site, the original construction in the 4th century. The current structure was completed and inaugurated in 537AD by Emperor Justinian I. After the conquest of Istanbul in 1453 by Fatih Sultan Mehmet II the Conqueror, Hagia Sophia was converted into a Mosque being preserved in the best manor thanks to ongoing strengthening and renovation works?
As one initially enters the great entrance hall the extravagance and wealth put into this place of worship is evident. The entrance to the main section is via the Imperial Door, bordered with religious mosaics. Once in the main hall, the contrast or confusion of Christian and Muslim believe is evident all around, the Christian, predominantly uncovered during recent renovation
One of the many splendours that took my interest was the marble water vase above, fitted with a tap it was carved from a solid piece of marble.
The magnificent "mimbar", is the equivalent of a pulpit in a church, built from marble in the 16th Century.
The "mihrab" gives the direction of Mecca, illuminated by the highly decorative windows.
Ann took the liberty of placing her thumb into this stone and making a wish while rotating her hand?
We then make our way up the sloped corridor up into the gallery above.
The whole gallery area beautiful decorated, the different view of the main area of worship giving a different perspective, creating even more clarity to the artwork on the ceilings. The galleries floor made entirely of thick white marble slabs, at its head (centre above) the "Loge of the Empress" from where she was placed to watch to view the Divine Service in the Church.
In the upper section of the gallery are various uncovered mosaic panels, of both religious figures (Virgin Mary and Jesus, etc) and Emperors of the period and their wives and children.
There is only one grave declared within, that of "Henricus Dandolo", the Doge of Venice and Commander of the Latin armies that invaded Constantinople.
In the "Baptist Courtyard" there lies a large crucible, used as part of the Baptism.
As one exits Hagia Sophia passing by the numerous fresh water taps, an act of pious, providing free water to the poor, one can see the splendour of the adjacent Tomb of Sultan Ahmed.
The sultans created great burial monuments to themselves and their families which continued until the demise of the Sultans mid 18th Century. We only entered one such tomb as it was difficult to become passionate about such splendour when the "people" were starving and riddled with disease? One such tomb held a sultan, his princess and children - a grand total of 54!
Our day was coming to a close, we were by now chilled through, time to head back to our lovely warm hotel with only time for a hot shower before finding some thing to eat.
We made for one of the densely populated "restaurant streets" nearby, we dinned lightly as we had eaten too much last night, drank and watched the world go by, tomorrow, another day!.