Chapter Five - A Sunday of Super Sights, Part I
Trip Start Sep 28, 2011
23Trip End Oct 14, 2011
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Where I stayed
It's our third day, and it’s time to see the highlights of Istanbul, namely the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace.
Today is Sunday. There are cruise ships in port and we have been told that all of the above attractions will be swarming with tourists. Deciding to jump the gun, we plan to visit the Blue Mosque as soon as it opens for prayer just after sunrise. We are up at 7 and out by 8, only to find that although the mosque is open for prayer, it isn’t open for tourists until 9! So it’s back to the hotel for breakfast.
By the time we return Sultanahmet Square is packed with motor coaches and seething with tourists.
This is the first of several mosques we will visit, so we are suitably impressed with the magnificence. Prior to entering we must remove our shoes and are provided with plastic bags to carry them in until we exit. Women must also cover their heads, though we find that at least in Istanbul tourists are generally allowed to skip this requirement.
Unlike Gothic cathedrals that tend to be long and high, the mosques of Istanbul are wide and high. The huge dome covers a vast open area with massive columns at each of the four corners. There are no rows of seats, but in compensation the floor is covered with beautiful Turkish carpets. No wonder they want our shoes off! Muslins stand and kneel to pray and do not use chairs, rather sitting cross-legged on the lovely rugs.
We are not to witness prayers, as we tourists are shuttled out to accommodate the next assembly of worshipers. But we still have time enough to wonder at the marvelous mosaic and marble designs on the walls and dome
We depart this holy building, leaving our plastic bags in the recycling bin and cross over the square to the Hagia Sophia. On the way I stop at the row of ATM machines. I slip my Chase debit card into the HSBC machine and this time request 1,000 Turkish lire (US$ 532). It is denied. Oh no! Don’t say my card is no longer valid in Turkey. I try the next machine from another bank. Same result. If I keep on doing this I’m sure one of the machines will gobble up my card.
"Try a lower amount" suggests a bystander. “Mine worked just fine for 500 lire. Probably there is a limit on your card how much you can take out at one time.”
Maybe I’m being too greedy. I try 500. Phew, it works! What a relief!
“Look at that bloody queue!” Arriving at the Hagia Sophia, we find there is an excruciatingly long line of tourists winding around the entrance waiting to get inside.
“I know I’m English, but I’m not into queuing. Let’s do Topkapi Palace instead and come back here later.”
Topkapi is just down the street and passing through the Gate of Salutation we pay our $10 entrance fee
“This doesn’t look like any palace I’ve seen up to now.” remarks Miryam.
“Silly, of course it doesn’t. It’s a Turkish palace. We are not in Kansas any more.”
In fact to our eyes, it doesn’t look all that palatial either, so much so that a later sultan built a European style palace on the shores of the Bosphorus, the Dolmabahçe Palace which we had seen yesterday on our cruise. He did this just to impress the European royals, but the construction almost broke the Turkish economy.
Topkapi is made up of multiple courtyards that become more intimate as you penetrate the palace. At the far end is the sultan’s residence, with stunning views over the Bosphorus and the city of Istanbul, split between Europe and Asia.
We stand in line to enter the Royal Treasury, with gold, diamonds, emeralds and any number of other precious stones on view. These are the crown jewels of the Ottoman Empire.
“Now you see why I ordered that old 1964 Melina Mercouri film the other day from Netflix. We are actually going to see the real jewelled dagger that was stolen in the movie. Do you remember Topkapi?”