Thursday, May 2, 2013

Turkey 2013 - Istanbul Day 2 - Sultanahmet Sightseeing

Inside the Harem of the Topkapi Palace.

A whirlwind day of sightseeing in Sultanahmet for today.  (Remember, all photos were taken by me and are clickable for larger versions. More can be found on my Flickr page:

Inside the Harem.
Topkapi Palace - got there at 9:30 in advance of the Harem opening at 10:00 (sez Rick Steves book). Harem opens at 9:00 along with the rest of the place. Had prebought the tickets so breezed right through. Did the Harem first as there was no line. Since it costs extra, it gets less riff-raff than the rest of the grounds but am told in the tourist guides that it gets just as bad.  Will let the tour of the Harem speak through photos.

The rest of the Palace grounds has a bunch of exhibits illustrating palace life in the age of the Ottoman Sultans. There's arms and armor, Sultan clothing, the treasury of glittering things like the Topkapi Dagger (see "Topkapi", 1964, with Peter Ustinov, which TMC helpfully aired a few weeks before my trip, filmed on location). No pics in the treasury though!  There was also an interesting display of early mechanical clocks, which I presume complements those on display at the museum of Islamic Science and Technology, which I'll visit if I have time (in the end, I didn't make it there).

More about the Topkapi Palace:ı_Palace

Leaving Topkapi Palace, walked past Hagia Irene (not open to the public), another old, old church.  Then passed
The grounds of the Topkapi Palace
the Hagia Sophia again when I noticed a sign that said, "Visiting the Tombs of the Sultans is FREE" (see above) - so I did that.  (But I had learned my lesson and reviewed the Topkapi Palace walking tour section of the Rick Steves book on my iPhone before I left there.) Photos to illustrate.

I walked kind of circuitously to the Sultanahmet Mosque ("Blue" Mosque) through the Arasta Bazaar which was mercifully free of carpet touts and has some recommended (in the travel literature) shops, including a carpet shop, and the store I was looking for, called Jennifer's Hamam, apparently THE place to buy Turkish bath supplies like HUGE plush towels. Two of those big towels, two hand towels, and two washcloths of various patterns will set you back... oh, well you can just guess on that. More than at Macy's that's for sure.  Anyway, I did buy some towels but I doubled back later in the afternoon to do that. I didn't get to meet Jennifer though.

More about Jennifer's Hamam: (5 stars on Trip Advisor)

Inside the Yerebatan (Basilica) Cistern, Istanbul.

Got to the Blue Mosque at 12:30 but it was closed until 2:00 for prayer service. So, I went to the Yerebatan Cistern, known as the Basilica Cistern because of its high arches and, I don't know, something like 300 stone columns supporting the roof.  It was built in ~400 AD by the emperor Justinian (or as the English information sign said, Justinianus. I wouldn't want to be called Justin-i-anus...)  and is really impressive, and really HUGE. Not merely large, but GIGANTIC. The line to get in was LONG but moved quickly as there is a lot of space inside the Cistern to accommodate the visitors. Cost: 10 TL, which is about 5 USD but as a undergound-things-geek, I'd have paid more. 5 USD is cheap at twice the price, or even 5x.  Pictures will illustrate.

More about the Basilica Cistern:

After that, it still wasn't quite 2:00 so it was lunch time.  Saw a rooftop cafe called the Omar Teras, went up, took some pictures from their terrace, but as no one was seated up there (it wasn't closed, just not busy at 2:00) I opted to sit outside on the sidewalk for the people watching.  Had a pretty juicy and flavorful Chicken Shish.

Then Blue Mosque. Again, long lines. Once inside the mosaic tilework throughout is impressive. 900 years younger than the Hagia Sophia, it's clear where the inspiration for the domes came from. Found it hard or maybe just frustrating to get good pictures due to the crowd, which is kept to the rear part of the mosque. (Fortunately all the other mosques are just as beautiful and a lot less crowded, in particular the New Mosque and the Sulemaniye Mosque.) Under the main dome is reserved for worshippers even outside of the 5x prayer times each day. I think the ones I got turned out pretty well, though. Pictures will illustrate.

Interior of Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque.

Got my towels on the way back to the hotel after visiting the Blue Mosque.  I will mention again, and this echoes what I heard from some other travelers, that the Arasta Bazaar is mercifully free of the aggressive shopkeepers and carpet touts. When in Istanbul, do your shopping business here.

Borrowed this picture of Jennifer's Hamam from the Arasta Bazaar web site.; 

So allow me a short tap water rant. Apparently the tap water is not safe to drink. Maybe just for visitors - could be the locals are used to whatever flora and fauna lives in the local water supply. Ok fine. But if the water in the hotel bathrooms isn't safe to drink, water in the minibar really should be complimentary. Of course, it's not.  My hotel had enough other deals but 4 Lira for a 50Cl bottle of water is a ripoff. You can get it much cheaper outside-- if you remember.  If booze is expensive in Turkey, bottled water is cheap, 1.5L bottle for 2 TL ($1). Try buying at that price in New York City. Still, if you don't have any in the room and you want a drink, you're stuck at the 4 Lira for a half liter price.

For dinner on Sunday (day 2) I found myself down by the Galata Bridge; I wasn't intending to walk that far tonight, but I was looking to buy an Istanbulkart pass for the public transit. I ended up at the fish boats by the Galata bridge where you can get a "fish bread" (fried whitefish served on a French bread style roll with onions and lettuce and yoghurt sauce) and a soda for the equivalent of $3.50 US.  Tasty but repeated on me all night ;-)

Seems like all of Istanbul comes to the foot of the Galata Bridge for a fish bread sandwich on Sunday evening.

(So Istanbul has these plastic reloadable fare cards for just about every mode of transit, called, unimaginatively enough, Istanbulkart. (London has the "Oyster", Baltimore the "Charm City Card", and here we have Istanbulkart. Just joking!) Anyway, each tram stop (at least, the ones in the main tourist area) has machines that are supposed to sell them and reload them. I must have checked 10 machines at 4 tram stops and the ferry piers, plus two newsstands/kiosks that had huge ISTANBULKART signs.  No, no one actually has them.  Do they really exist?  I collect these things so I will keep looking but I settled for a paper 10-trip ticket to get around in the meantime..... and to add later, I offhandedly mentioned to the hotel clerk that the things were hard to find and he says, "oh yeah, we have them!"  Oh well. So I got one in the end but never charged it up and used it.  Into the collection it goes!)

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