We visit the Topkapi Palace

Becca couldn't leave Istanbul without seeing the Topkapi Palace, so we set aside a day to do just that. The site is huge, so it is never a short visit. The Topkapi Palace, sits on top a hill, overlooking the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. Its views are quite spectacular, so it is no wonder it was chosen as the original home of the rulers of Constantinople, which became Istanbul.

The church of Saint Irene

As we entered the grounds, we passed the church of Saint Irene, now a concert venue, and made our way through the huge crowds coming and going along the path, to join the queue to buy our ticket. Once inside, we headed for the harem, where the Sultan and his ladies lived. Although their surroundings were quite sumptuous, the women of the harem were prisoners, unable to leave, only used for the pleasure of the Sultan and to provide his heirs.

The Courtyard of the Concubines in the Harem
of the Topkapi Palace

The Courtyard of the Queen Mother, dating from the 15th Century

A window to the outside world, from the Sultan's Privy Chamber

Some of the windows are beautifully decorated with stained glass

Large sections of Topkapi were being renovated, and we felt that we should have been given a discount. Especially as the kitchens are still not open for general view, after years of renovations.

Closed for renovations

We had lunch overlooking a magnificent view of the Bosphorous, and that alone was worth the expense and the crowds.

Becca at Topkapi Palace


Photo Trek to Vefa and Tahtahkale, Istanbul

Şehzade Mosque

Becca joined me for a trek to Vefa and Tahtahkale with the Photography Club of Istanbul. This was on the European side of the Bosphorus, so we had to make and early start. The treks are great fun and an incentive to really concentrate on photo techniques.

We began our trek at the Şehzade Mosque, and then walked down through the narrow streets, trying to capture the essence of this old area of Istanbul.

We found the Boza Maker. 

In Turkey, boza is a popular fermented millet drink, rich in Carbohydrates and vitamins. It is thick, rather like condensed milk, and is definitely an acquired taste, you either love it or hate it.

The area we walked through was a poor neighbourhood, mostly inhabited by Kurds, the women especially distinctive in their colourful dress.

We came across a group who were linking rings into chains for sale.

...and others sitting in the street chatting

A Kurdish child looked curiously at us from a doorway

It was encouraging to see that some of the houses are being renovated

The distinctive design of these old Ottoman houses was to enable the women to see up and down the street without revealing themselves.

We ended up in the colourful streets behind the Spice Bazaar

...where Becca was offered some Balklava to taste

Sightseeing in Istanbul

 The vast space inside the Aya Sofya

Spring has come to Istanbul, encouraging Becca and me to venture out to do some sightseeing. Our first stop was the Aya Sofya. Even this early in the season, there were so many tourists that we had to queue to get in. No matter how many times I visit this amazing structure, I never fail to feel overawed by its size and overwhelming magnificence. It's incredible that the entire basilica was completed in 537, taking only six years to build, without the use of any machinery, just with the work of human hands!

Yerebatan Sarnıcı - the Basilica Cistern

We moved from the soaring heights of the Aya Sofya, to the subterranean depths of the Yerebatan Sarnıcı - the Basilica Cistern. There, I was surprised to discover that much of the water had been drained away, and the poor fish were confined to a small area beside the heads of Medusa. The reason is that a strange interloper has moved into the cistern. It is a model of the legendary Lagoon Monster, said to lurk near the Punta della Dogana in Venice. Apparently, this is its first stop on a worldwide tour, so be warned, it could arrive in your city any time soon!

The Lagoon Monster, luking in the depths of the Basilica Cistern

From the cistern, we walked down the hill to Sirkici Station, the last stop of the famous Orient Express, before taking our ferry to Kadiköy where we had lunch in a rooftop restaurant.

Becca in Sirkici Station, Istanbul

Our view from the rooftop restaurant. The building site in the forground will be the new metro station for the line running under the Bosphorus.

On the way home, we stopped to listen to these street musicians


"Van Gogh Live", and Old Istanbul

This has been a cultural week for us. We first went to the "Van Gogh Alive" exhibition in the Antrepo 3 exhibition space in Karaköy, next to Istanbul Modern. This was an extraordinary experience. The paintings are displayed digitally on huge screens in a totally dark space. There are over three thousand images in all, shown in chronological order, accompanied by classical music.

There are also some wonderful effects. For example, in the painting of Van Gogh's room (above), the bare room appears first, followed by the placing of individual peices of furniture until the painting is complete. We also saw wheat ears blowing in the wind, and then the crows, in his famous painting of Wheatfield with Crows, suddenly flying away out of the painting.

The exhibition was really difficult to photograph, as the room was so dark, but there are some good photos on this site where the photographer was able to introduce light into the area.

Another exhibition we went to was the "Historic Photographs of the Anatolian Shore" at the Pera Museum. This gave a fascinating glimpse into old Istanbul, and how the city looked before the advent of the ugly concrete residential blocks that disfigure much of the city today. There were also descriptions of the original villages dotted along the shores of the Bosphorus, that were ultimately swallowed up into the great metropolis that is modern Istanbul.

We also had time to look at two other art exhibitions in the Pera Museum, "Sultans, Merchants, Painters: The Early Years of Turkish-Dutch Relations", and "Intersecting Worlds: Ambassadors and Painters", both these exhibited fine paintings, engravings and books from past eras. Fascinating!


We visit Büyükada, and Erenköy Street Market

We took a similar ferry to this one, when we went to 
Büyükada, one of the Princes' Islands

On Wednesday, Angela had kindly invited us to lunch at her house on the island of Büyükada, one of the Princes Islands off the coast of Istanbul. It was a gloriously sunny day, but still rather cold. After one of Angela's delicious lunches, she ordered up a phaeton to the house, and we toured the island so that Becca could experience the delights of a horse and carriage ride.

Angela and Becca in the phaeton, with our driver standing by.

Rebecca in the driving seat, outside Angela's house

Later we took the dog for a walk in the forest. One odd thing about Buyukada is the marked difference in temperature from one side of the island to the other. On one hand we were warm and thinking of throwing off our coats, while on the other, it was freezing. Angela explained that this was due to the direction of the wind. On the north side of the island, the wind was blowing from the north, bringing in cold air, but the other side was sheltered and bathed in sunshine.

Angela with Rebecca in the forest

The next day we shopped at Erenköy's street market. This is huge, covering several long streets, and is very colourful with stalls jostling for space, and the stallholders vying for attention. I love the street markets in Istanbul, there is always something interesting to see.

We saw this friendly cheese-maker in the market.
She gave us some of her home-made cheese to taste

Angela and Becca shopping for clothes in the market

This man was selling different grains, beans and lentils. 
There is a far greater variety of produce in the street markets, 
than can be found in the supermarkets!

We had lunch in a little restaurant by the market. These lovely ladies are hand-making Mantı, a sort of Turkish mini dumpling, 
served with yoghurt, garlic and red paprika


Our Day at Istanbul's Grand Bazaar

Rebecca with the scarf seller in the Grand Bazaar

Last Thursday, noticing a gap in the foul weather we have been experiencing lately, I took Rebecca to the ultimate of all shopping Mecca's, the Grand Bazaar. As we arrived, we were immediately hailed by the same scarf seller, who showed us how to tie scarves when Jessica was here. We promised to visit him as soon as we had finished lunch, and found our way to Pedaliza, where we were welcomed warmly, as I have been there several times.

This is a traditional Turkish restaurant in the Grand Bazaar, 
specialising in Ottoman cuisine, with the menu changing daily 
so there is no chance of it becoming boring! 

After lunch we returned to the scarf seller, who brought us tea, in the traditional Turkish manner. Rebecca eventually bought a scarf and we wandered off to see the rest of the delights of the Bazaar.

Rebecca loved the hanging lamps in the Grand Bazzar

We gradually worked our way downhill to the exit that leads to the warren of narrow streets that lead to the Spice Bazzaar.

 Rebecca stands next to some Turkish delight in the Spice Market

We bought some cheese in this delicatessen

After exploring the bazaar and the surrounding area, we decided it was time for dessert at the Saray Muhallebicisi in Eminönü. This is one of a chain of restaurants in Turkey, that serves a variety of Turkish dishes, and are also famous for their vast range of desserts.

The name, Saray Muhallebicisi, translates as "Palace of the Seller of Milk Puddings", and as you can see, they all look rather delicious!

After this we returned home, exhausted but happy.


Explosion in Istanbul!

There has been an explosion in Istanbul. I just want to reassure everyone, especially Mart and Babara, that we are far away on the other side of the Bosphorus. It appears that a bomb, carried on a motorbike, blew up a police bus in İmrahor Street, Beyoglu, at 9:00h this morning, near the Golden Horn. The Prime Minister, Erdogan, has described it as a typical PKK operation, as they have targeted the police in the past. So far they haven't reported any deaths, but 16 people have been injured, one seriously.

We were planning to stay at home anyway, as it snowed rather heavily in the night and it is very cold. So I repeat, we are quite safe, and would know nothing about it were it not for the news programmes!

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I couldn't resist this one!