First off, yes, the dates on the title of this blog post are correct. We spent 4 wonderful days in Istanbul as a stop over on our way back to the US when leaving Tsamaya in the water in Fethiye, Turkey. Our plan was to spend the winter in the US and return to Tsamaya in the spring of 2020. As everyone knows plans changed with the spread of Covid. As a result, we have been in the US since the end of October 2019 and as of June 2021 are still here.
I did have the best of intentions and it was always in the back of my mind that I really should sit down and pull together a blog post on our time in Istanbul and then provide updates throughout our time back in the US. As you can easily see, that definitely did not happen. As we are starting to seriously start thinking about getting back to the boat somehow the update of the blog with at least the details and some of the photos from our time in Istanbul came up in priority for some reason if only to give me “practice” in the process of
doing this again. With that in mind, hope you enjoy hearing about our time in the amazing city of Istanbul.
Our flight back to the US consisted of a definite stop over in Istanbul and with the time schedule we would have to at least stay one night. With knowing that we would have to deal with getting into the city to stay over we decided to take advantage of this and actually plan on staying for 4 nights to give us time to start to explore this very interesting and historic city.
We flew from the airport near Fethiye to Istanbul on October 25th
, Bob’s birthday. We had pre-arranged for a taxi to take us from the Istanbul airport to our hotel. That didn’t go as smoothly as planned as the taxi never showed up. We kept calling and didn’t get any answer, therefore we started to work with the person at the airport that was there to arrange for a taxi. He tried calling the one we had pre-arranged with and was told they were on the way, but he still didn’t materialize for at least an hour later. So much for planning ahead – we
know not to use that same service when we return. When the taxi finally arrived, the next “hitch” was he didn’t seem to have any idea where the hotel was. We were definitely hoping that this start was not an indication of what was to come. We finally arrived at the hotel after the driver asked a few times of how to get there. When we did, the hotel was not ready for us even after the delays, so they said we could leave our luggage and wander around for a while which we did. At least this gave us some time to get oriented to the area and find out where there were some local restaurants. All in all, it worked out and we finally got our room which turned out to be quite nice and the location worked out well with it being an easy walk into the historic areas that we wanted to explore.
Once checked in we walked up to where the Hippodrome was located. It was commissioned in 196 AD and not completed until the time of Constantinus reign between 324-337 AD. It held 100,000 people and was the social and ceremonial center at
the time. The Hippodrome was fashioned after the Circus Maximus in Rome which seems to be commonly done – copy the design of other places. Chariot races were held in the Hippodrome during the Roman Empire and it continued to be used up through the end of the 12th
C. for a variety of activities which included wild beast shows, acrobatic shows and dance performances.
One thing we have found as we travel, there are so many historic relics that help tell the story of the political changes that have occurred over the years. The Column of Constantine dedicated in 330 AD is an excellent example of this. It is a 57-meter column that honored Constantine when Istanbul was designated as the capital of the Roman Empire. It originally had a sculpture at the top to represent Constantine in the figure of Apollo (the sun god) which seems to indicate that Constantine still wanted to represent the emperor as a heroic-divine figure. As the Emperors changed, so did the statute at the top. During a severe storm in 1081, the column was damaged, but in the mid-1100’s it was repaired and a cross sat at the top. At that
The Prayer Square in the Historic Spice Market
artisans came to pray before the start of the day here
time the emperor had an inscription added which read “Manual, the pious ruler, restored this God’s work destroyed by time”. When the Ottomans captured the city in 1453, not surprisingly the cross was removed. It is always interesting to learn more of the history of a place by learning more about the items such as this column which still partially remains.
It was still our first day in Istanbul, but we knew before coming here that we would probably buy a “Turkish carpet” so we gave ourselves a little pep talk before entering a shop that sold rugs. We had learned some of the process of this quite unique process from our experience buying rugs in Tunisia, so we gave ourselves a pep talk that we needed to be firm (or as firm as we could be knowing that eventually we probably buy). We have found that the buying of a rug is quite an involved process that is almost ceremonial in feel. First, everyone introduces themselves and you have a pleasant talk just “getting to know each other” but at the same time you are being led to a lovely sitting area where the offer of the inevitable
“mint tea” happens. We have learned that once you agree to sit and drink tea, you are then going to be presented with a number of rugs to “just look at”. The lead person at the shop starts to explain the rugs and the making of them while at the same time getting a feel for what you like – your favorite colors, the styles you like and what size of carpet is best for your needs all while enjoying your cup of tea. Of course, this information is obtained from you through pleasant conversation, not just a list of questions, but cleverly woven into your talking to them. At this time another person in the shop is hauling out many rugs and showing them to you – some are being held up, some are put on the floor in front of you to have a chance to walk on and look at the details. Yes, you guessed it, we walked out with a carpet even though it was the first carpet shop we stopped in. It is not shopping like in a store where you just browse on your own, it becomes almost a social event with very pleasant
conversation and lovely tea. In reality you know it is all part of the well-honed marketing process, but as long as you know it up front and relax with it, it actually does feel like a pleasant experience even when you get your credit card out to pay! One thing that amazed us was when we told them we were flying back to the US therefore we couldn’t buy anything too big or heavy, they had a ready answer. They knew how much the rug weighed and they were able to show us how they could easily pack it up quite small that they tie up in a way that it creates an easy handle making it into a carry-on package! We already had our carry-on luggage and were heading back to the US quite loaded down already. This resulted in us having to work some later to get it to fit into our suitcase - quite a job, but we accomplished it. As Bob says, if we ever want to open a used car lot, we would definitely look to hire someone that worked at a carpet shop in Turkey or Tunisia!
As with many cities that we
visit we try to hook into small guided tours as it gives us an easier way to learn our way around and pick up more of the history than just by reading the signs and guide books. The guides are usually very good and this time was no exception to that rule. Fortunately, we were able to hook into a tour the next day which only took a maximum of 6 people. It only cost 25 euros each and was to run for 90 minutes but our guide stayed with us for 4 ½ hours which was amazing! He took us to numerous sites, some that we did not go into but he provided us with information so we would know which ones we would want to take in later on our own. This is invaluable information as it helped us plan the rest of our time here. We find that many of the guides (this one was no exception) are not afraid of talking politics, was a wealth of information regarding the history of the area and more than willing to answer any questions that you may have. As soon as the guide found out we were from the
US he said Americans are wonderful but Trump is crazy and only interested in money and himself. Since Trump has been in office, we keep getting this reaction wherever we travel – what a difference from the comments we used to get when Obama was in office. Always interesting to hear what people from other countries have to say about the US.
The guide did take us to both the Spice Bazaar as well as the Grand Bazaar. As both of these places are filled with plenty of vendors and lots of tourists it was good for us to get a “taste” of them with a guide showing us the ropes of where to go and how to get around. He also took us into a couple of shops where they offered samples of their goods such as Turkish Delight and a wide variety of teas and spices. We know that these stops are part of the “package” to encourage people to buy from them (which we did), but it is still a great way to get a much better sampling and they take more time to explain their wares rather than if we had just come into their
shop on our own. They were definitely not pushy at all with making a sale which is what encouraged us to support them by making a purchase. It was a win-win situation.
Now that we had received an overview of various historic sites from the guide, we were able to take the rest of the time in Istanbul and concentrate on places that we wanted to return to. Even with the time we had to do so, we know we only touched the tip of the iceberg! At the end of the time in Istanbul, we knew that this was going to be a city we will want to return to get to more of the places that we couldn’t this time.
What westerners call the Blue Mosque due to the approximately 21,000 blue tiles within the interior is actually the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It was built between 1609-1617 and has 6 minarets, 16 balconies and 260 windows. When Ottomans built a Mosque, it was not only a place of worship but also contained numerous buildings provided for community use. This one had a hospital, primary school, a place for higher education, a soup kitchen, a market, a
tomb for royal family members and even a room for what they called the astronomer who was responsible for calculating the times to call the worshippers for prayer. It definitely is an impressive place to visit. Inside the beauty shows through from the intricate tile work, the marble workmanship, woodworking and the inclusion of mother-of-pearl in the panels.
The numerous educational panels outside provided many details that explained more about the Islamic religion – their articles of faith and core beliefs which when reading them seems to have many things in common with those of Christianity. These also told about the various items that have over the years been influenced or improved due to the intervention of Arab culture. A great example of this is in the area of the common product of soap. Washing and cleaning is an obligation necessary before prayers. As a result, Arabs experimented with the more caustic soaps of the day and worked with vegetable oils, a sodium hydroxide base and added fragrances to make the soap a more pleasant one to use. Others in the West benefited from these improvements. Another example I found interesting was that of the idea behind quilting. When
Anyone Need Tin Work Done?
custom work done here as well as some pre-made
the Crusaders came in their very heavy and bulky armor the found that the Muslim warriors were wearing shirts made of two layers of canvas with a filling of straw between as their protection which was easier to maneuver in. A definite precursor of what we think of quilted material. These were only two of many examples provided of the influences made on other cultures.
The next day we went to the Topkapi Palace which was built between 1460-1478. The building of it was ordered by Mehmed the Conqueror following the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. This was the residence of the Ottoman Sultans as well as the center for the state and its educational needs. The location chosen was very strategic in that it overlooks the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the Marmara Sea. As each Sultan came in, they added to the complex for their unique style and need until the Ottoman monarchy was removed in 1922 when the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed. A couple of years later in 1924 the Topkapi Palace was transformed into a museum which it still is today. The two main sections of the Topkapi Palace are the Treasury and the
Harem. The Treasury which was built from 1468-1469 houses an amazing display of over 5,000 pieces of jewelry, porcelain, calligraphy, books, clothes, armor and weapons. Many of the items were gifts from other leaders as a sign of prestige, but another large source came from the estate of other public officials as in theory they were all slaves of the sultans and were not allowed to own private property. Some items were commissioned by the various Sultans as the Palace also housed numerous craftsmen that could produce the items desired. The Harem is actually the private area where the Sultan and his favorite women slaves lived. The word Harem comes from the Arabic and originally meant forbidden. The only males allowed in were the sultan and his sons and it was guarded by black eunuchs. The Harem was built at the end of the 16th
C. and had 300 beautifully tiled rooms which were connected by courtyards and fountain gardens. At its height it housed over 1,000 women, children and black eunuchs. Once a woman entered the Harem she was not allowed to leave. The Islam religion would not allow enslaving Muslims, therefore most of the harem women were Christians
or Jews that were received as gifts from nobles. Once they entered the Harem they were schooled in and converted to Islam. The training also included how to write, read, play an instrument, sing, dance and provide pleasure to the Sultan. The most powerful woman in the Harem was the mother of the reigning Sultan, therefore there was competition among the women to become the favorite of the Sultan and birth the next Sultan. As many of the woman would have a child by the Sultan and the rule did not exist that the first son became the next Sultan, there was lots of competition between the mothers of the Sultans children. It became cut-throat between them leading to some even being poisoned.
Some of the kitchen area could be viewed providing some information on the extent of the position of those doing the cooking here. Every day the cooks had to prepare meals for the 4,000 – 5,000 people that lived in both the inner and outer part of the palace. If that wasn’t enough, four times a year the 15,000 men in the infantry were paid at the Palace adding to the number that the cooks had
No Matter When You Go the Markets Are Crowded
both inside and outside, even night time is busy!
to feed. As for the food that they ate, most of the dishes was rooted in Central Asia, but was adapted as the Ottoman Empire moved west. Lamb and chicken were the main meats, but birds such as duck, goose, pigeon and partridge were also served to those with higher rank. One thing of interest was that of a variety of foods that started to enter their menu as they found out about various foods – an example was that of pumpkin, maize and turkey coming into their diet in the 16th
C. from America and then later the arrival of the potato and tomatoes. Guess we never stop to think of how various foods start to become regular parts of the diet of a region due to influences from other regions.
The last full day in Istanbul was another busy one. We visited the Spice Bazaar, the Grand Bazaar as well as the markets in the open near the Bazaar that was full of numerous craftspeople. All areas were packed with people, but we never felt concerned walking around and the crowds just added to the atmosphere which we thoroughly enjoyed. If you can’t find what
you want in one of these three areas, you better give up as it seemed anything you could ever want was sold here.
Our main destination for the day was the Suleymaniye Mosque but on the way there we stopped in to see the Nuruosmaniye Social Complex as it sounded interesting. It was built between 1749-1755 in the Baroque style which was unusual. Besides the main mosque this complex contained a soup kitchen, library, tomb, public fountain and some shops – again, very common for any Mosque complex.
On our way to Suleymaniye a gentleman was running across the street with his kit for shining shoes. While running, a shoe brush fell out, but I was able to retrieve it and caught up to him to return it as knew this would be important to his livelihood. He was so thankful he said he had to polish Bob’s shoes immediately. It wasn’t necessary for sure, but he definitely wanted to take the time to do it. Afterwards he made sure to point us to the entrance to the Mosque as it was somewhat hidden as you had to climb up a narrow staircase to the mosque. Once you
did, you were rewarded with quite the views of the city around the Golden Horn as well as the impressive Mosque itself. It was actually the first time we saw numerous men using the washing stations for washing their feet before they enter the mosque as well as when they exit. The Suleymaniye Mosque had been the largest in the city until another surpassed it but not until 2019. The mosque was built by order of Sultan Suleyman more commonly known in the west as Suleyman the Magnificent while in the east he was known as Suleyman the Lawmaker. He was the 10th
Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and reigned the longest from 1520 until his death in 1566.
That evening we had decided that we could not leave Istanbul without trying their traditional testi kabap. We had been seeing these everywhere we went so stopped into a lovely restaurant to give it a try. We actually weren’t quite sure what would be inside, but after the very impressive delivery to the table where it arrives in a coal fire, the top is very skillfully “knocked off” and the meat and vegetable stew is poured out onto your plates.
Before the main course we were treated to numerous appetizers which included lovely dips and bread and afterwards without ordering a dessert were provided with one that we found out was included with the meal. We now can say that we have had testi kabap but will probably not go back for another as neither of us were that impressed as it didn’t seem to have as much flavor as we would have hoped. Even so, it was a lovely experience!
If the day was not full enough, we decided to walk through the market area at night as we have done that in other countries and enjoyed seeing the night activities. We were definitely enjoying it, until we got separated. As Bob says it was definitely due to the fact that I stopped to take some photos. I thought Bob saw me do that, but when I turned around Bob was gone. Unfortunately, we found that Bob was not receiving the text messages I was sending and Bob’s phone didn’t have a sim card to make calls. We did eventually find each other but for quite some time I kept looking farther ahead as I was sure Bob
was ahead of me, and of course he was looking farther back from where we separated so our paths were not crossing. Of course, the streets were full of people and we both wondered for a while if we would just have to go back to the hotel ourselves and just hope that the other decided to do the same. Once we finally connected Bob definitely didn’t let go of my hand and didn’t want me to take any more photos (at least that evening). In all the years of traveling, this is the first time we got separated this completely and for as long as we did – not something we want to repeat!
The next day we were to fly back to the US so we packed up, checked out of the hotel and waited for our taxi to the airport. As always you need to get to the airport hours before your flight time in order to check in and then sit around and wait. Oh well, those are the “down” sides of travel but that is minimal compared to the joy we have in discovering new places. We were happy to be flying Turkish Air
as we could fly directly from Istanbul to JFK and even better than that we can each take 3 suitcases with no extra charge – a real bonus!
Our plan was to return to the US the end of October in 2019, spend the holidays and most of the winter in upstate NY and then return to Tsamaya by the beginning of April, but as you all know covid stepped in with a vengeance and we had to stay in the US. That definitely changed our plans, but on the flip side it has given us plenty of time to work more on house projects, spend more time with my Mom and visit with friends and family. As with everything you need to continue to look on the bright side of the situation that you are in and “go with the flow”. We now though are getting to the point that we are ready to head back to the boat as Tsamaya has been sitting in the water for a very long time. It will be interesting to see what we have to return to as we had packed up the boat thinking we’d be gone for 5 months
rather than over 1 ½ years which it has been so far! Fortunately, we do know the boat is still floating and have seen a couple of photos of her since we left. Stay tuned to hear when it works out for us to return to Turkey and our water home, Tsamaya.
Tot: 0.348s; Tpl: 0.029s; cc: 31; qc: 109; dbt: 0.0254s; 1; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.7mb