Friday, January 22, 2010

Topkapi Palace

By Claire
It rained all day and the air was very cold. Still, we decided to walk over to Topkapi Palace--after all, it would be indoors, right? Wrong. I guess you could say it's an indoor/outdoor kind of place--cold too. No heat and such low lighting we could barely read the descriptive signs.

But first, we decided to investigate a place we walk past every day. We weren't sure what it was but thought it might be a cemetery, one of my favorite things to visit. A rainy day is the perfect time to visit, too.

Arriving at the palace, we decided to start with the Harem since we saw the crowd--perhaps 25 people--make their way over to the main part of the palace. Entry to the Palace is 20 TL; the Harem is another 15 TL and we're so glad we did it and did it first. We had the place almost to ourselves. It was interesting and quite luxurious with lots of gold and plenty of gorgeous turquoise tile. Did you know that turquoise means "Turkish stone?" In fact, if I were a poor peasant girl with no future, maybe being a concubine in this place wouldn't be so bad. The girls were chosen by their beauty and intelligence--oops, I guess that rules me out. The wives received lavish gifts from the sultan, which they often invested in real estate, bazaars, baths, and shops. The more wealth they squirreled away, the better they could protect themselves from internal enemies. There was the usual infighting about who was the favorite and all the conniving involved with rising to the top level and becoming the top dog, I mean top wife. I guess there is no free lunch. As usual, photography was difficult but here are a few shots giving some idea of the lavishness of the place.

The hamam (baths)

A corridor open to the air

I love the fireplaces in every room. I wonder how well they worked?

Chill out room with brazier

Could you get away from everyone and hang out here with a good book?

Plenty of water available wherever and whenever you need it

Through dripping rain we waded through the puddles and walked carefully over the slick marble walkways in the courtyard to the Palace. Inside each room we found groups of people bunched together in front of dimly lit glass cases. People were rather pushy and I had my first taste of what it's like to be around crowds, and this was nothing! I finally decided to just work my way around the room hitting those showcases that were relatively uncrowded, jumping from one to another in no particular order. It worked but I could barely make out the descriptions, somewhat frustrating. Chuck got into the swing of it too and we efficiently oohed and awed over all the jewel encrusted spoils of war that were part of the treasury. After about 3 rooms of this, I had had enough. Seen 20 diamond and ruby encrusted swords and you've seen them all. There were some really impressive thrones, though, especially the one from Iran. I wonder how comfortable it is to sit on all those pointy jewels? Throughout the rooms we could hear what sounded like the call to prayer. In the next room we found an Imam (cleric) "singing" from the Koran. This is done 24 hours a day and has been going on nonstop since the 16th century. The Imam was sitting at a small desk with a microphone and Koran open in front of him.

In the next room we saw the Sultans' garments. They were beautifully preserved, apparently having only been worn once, and it was fun to see the child sized robes too. No photography was allowed in any of these rooms.

Unfortunately, Chuck and I were both underwhelmed and even disappointed with the Palace. It's too bad you can't see just the Harem; that part was great.

An interesting fact about the sultans is that to prevent future conflicts, the new sultan would kill his brothers. Ahmet the First, regarded for his compassion, broke tradition and spared his brother's life. He allowed Mustafa to live and Mustafa became sultan after Ahmet's death. However, the tradition was revived when Ahmet's son Murat IV took the throne. He had his younger brother, Prince Beyazit, strangled. There are plenty more grisly stories like that. Come to Istanbul and find out.

Leaving Topkapi, we came upon this beautiful building, just across the street from the back of Hagia Sophia.

Back side of Hagia Sophia

Just after prayer, back side of Hagia Sophia

By now we needed sustenance. We wanted to get away from the tourist area and Diane had mentioned the Arasta Bazaar area so we wandered in the direction she had mentioned, below the Blue Mosque, and found a sign pointing us in the right direction. We found a restaurant that looked reasonable and the food turned out to be great: yogurt soup with tiny pieces of pasta and mint, tea and a basket of bread--10 TL.

Houses on the way to the Arasta Bazaar

It was hard to figure out what to do next. We weren't really in the mood to shop in the rain which was coming down sideways and we were fighting our way though broken umbrellas with vicious looking spokes sticking out. It seemed like almost every umbrella we saw was turned inside out. Get a hat!

One thought was to go back to our hotel and just kick back inside and another was to find a movie house. We had seen Avatar playing at a cineplex yesterday but that was over on the Asia side and just too far away for either of us at that point. We asked the waiter at the restaurant if he knew where a cinema was and he gave us complicated directions that mentioned our tram stop. Off we went.....Back and forth and forth and back, twice. We asked people and found that it was all the way back where we had come from. Back we went but couldn't find it. We asked at Tourist Information and found out it was right behind the tram stop and inside a small shopping center. Unfortunately they only had one English language movie that neither of us was interested in and it didn't start for 2 hours. Oh well. We headed home. Into the bathroom we both went to strip off our waterproof but dripping jackets, hat, gloves, rain pants, shoes and ear muffs. We hung everything on the radiator. We were dry as a bone underneath and stayed pretty warm all day. Wearing the wool long johns, wool socks, scarves and several layers certainly helps. I felt a little like the Michelin Man.

Just around the corner from our hotel--I think I like the subtle colors better

Our favorite "nice" restaurant

We love Ҫeșme but it's more expensive and a little formal. We have found that we really enjoy the hole-in-the-wall place we have gone to 4 times. I am the only woman in the place and it seems that these are guys who have no one else to cook for them. It's kind of a hang out joint too. The regulars come in and open a drawer and get their own silverware. One guy held his plate out and I assume asked for a second helping. There is one table in the corner where 4 guys regularly hang out. Last night, one guy was showing off his long underwear; I swear it was the same ones that Chuck bought. He pulled up his pant leg and the other guys were admiring them when another guy pulled his pant leg up. I was leaning over trying to see when one of the other guys caught my eye. It was just a little bit awkward. Tonight, the big deal was a new folding umbrella. It was demonstrated for the group several times. It folded itself in half and became a very tiny When we leave, they always pour the scented cologne on our hands but the regulars just help themselves on the way out. It's nice and warm inside--our glasses steam up as soon as we enter to the point where we must remove them or risk crashing into something. The food is great; hot and satisfying. We've even started ordering the rice pudding. Mmmmmmmm.

Imren Lokantasi, our hole-in-the-wall restaurant. One of the guys is wiping down the windows, clearing away the condensation.

The metal drawer on the right, hanging slightly open, is where you get your silverware.


Stuffed Aubergine

Rice pudding

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. ~ Henry Miller

No comments: