Trip Start Apr 23, 2009
17Trip End Jun 23, 2009
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Where I stayed
Our bus trip to Istanbul took 5 ½ hours, but Turkish buses are very nice. There was a steward on board who delivered tea, coffee (Nescafe instant—the main type available here, much to our surprise), juice, water, little cakes, and one time, ice cream! The seats were comfortable and the bus was very clean—even the windows. Greyhound could take some lessons!
The bus terminal was in a labyrinth of dark, cement levels out of the centre of Istanbul, so we had to take the tram to the Sultanahmet district where most of the old structures are located. We were met by a man with a pamphlet advertising his hotel that had been open a week, offering a room for 45 Euro, so we decided to check it out. Yes, they had been working on renovations and had made some good improvements, but, it was not quite ready and on a very noisy street. After three nights, we moved to a quieter, nicer place for 55 TL. We four were in the right place at the right time, as it was the best hotel we had since our holiday began.
Our first hotel had a great view of the harbour from its rooftop terrace, so we had a cool drink and looked out at the 80+ ships in the water! What a busy area! You could imagine the ancient ships that passed this way carrying cargoes of spices, silks, metal items, rugs, etc..
We stayed in the old section of the city, right below the famous Blue Mosque. Our friend, Emmy, had given us a super little map she had received from her hotel on a previous trip to Istanbul, and it had four different walking tours mapped out. It was the best map we saw.
The first walking tour took us to the impressive Aghia Sophia Mosque, which is now a museum. We spent quite some time looking at the giant calligraphy, stunning wall mosaics of glass and stone, beautiful glass windows, painted designs, and architecture. It was comissioned by Emperor Justinian to help restore the greatness of the Roman Empire and was completed in 537. Mehmet the Conqueror had it converted to a mosque in 1453, then Ataturk proclaimed it a museum in 1935. UNESCO funds some of the restoration, which is ongoing, so the inside dome was filled with scaffolding.
From there, we went next door to the Blue Mosque, which is an active mosque. Built by Sultan Ahmet between 1606 and 1616, it received its name from the tens of thousands of blue Iznik tiles that cover the walls. The original glass for the 260 windows came from Venice, but have now been replaced. The effect is still striking.
We spent five hours wandering through the three buildings comprising the Archeological Museum, where we saw some of the most incredible sarcophogi! There were many carved
marble statues, items removed from Troy, and a gorgeous building highlighting the development of the types of Iznik tiles. We were overloaded by 5 hours, so didn't even get to the basement area of items found in area near Istanbul!
One of our most interesting days took us to Constantine's Column (under scaffolding for repair), the Grand Bazaar, and the Spice Bazaar. Everyone has to spend a few hours roaming the maze of pathways around the sellers' shops in the Grand Bazaar! Of course, each merchant has his own ploy to get you to enter the store, but keeping a cheerful, polite attitude goes a long
way, and you can have fun just poking around.
There are too many jewelry shops to imagine, followed closely by carpet shops. We didn't even see half of the place, so can't even comment on the leather goods, silver shops, and clothing! The name of the game is to look for an item in several shops first, determine what you want, then have fun trying to strike a good bargain. One lamp I liked was 120 TL in one shop, but
right around the corner, an identical lamp was only 55 TL. I wonder what I would have actually paid had I got into the offer/counter-offer routine!
Thanks to Emmy's great map, we had even more fun going through the ancient area of the Hans, which is the old warehouse district. The map helped us navigate through the winding
streets down the hill from the Grand Bazaar where few tourists end up. This area was swarming with local Turks who went about doing their daily shopping, and the prices were much better, too! It was a fascinating glimpse of the local neighbourhood which took us right down to the Spice Market.
The Topkapi Palace took several hours to tour and observe the opulent lifestyle experienced by the Sultans. Of particular interest was the Harem which was lavishly decorated with gorgeous tiles, marble, fabric, and ornate ceilings. Out in the Sultan's private gardens were several beautiful kiosks with fabulous views of the water and city.
The treasury contained elaborate robes worn by different Sultans as well as numerous dazzling, jewelled objects, (sorry, no photos allowed there). When the sultans' robes became worn, they were sent to be recycled. We were told that 88.345 kg of silver and 912.64 kg of gold was extracted fro old curtains and garments! One museum treasure, the Topkapi sword, was the subject of a popular movie Matt remembered from the 60s, so we'll have to search it out!
Our seventh day was spent at the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, where we saw a massive display of ancient Turkish carpets, old documents calligraphed by the Sultans and other scribes, and dioramas depicting life in rural areas of Turkey, as well as Istanbul. There was also an exhibit of works done by local calligraphers, which was a bonus!
We had stopped at a cultural workshop where lessons are given to locals who want to learn ceramics, rug-making, pottery, marbled paper making, jewelry crafting and calligraphy. Gail ended up spending 50 TL to try her hand at some Arabic calligraphy with an instructor and three regular students. Of course, it was much more difficult than it looked, as the reed pen and soot ink-soaked silk wool took some getting used to! Still, it was a good experience, and a unique opportunity.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped in at a special, small, basement carpet shop where the owner explained that he had rugs from his own nomadic community in Eastern Turkey. Pictures of his sister, mother, and cousins were on the walls, and he noted that the money goes directly to the community (no middle man skimming the profits). We were impressed and wanted to support these women, so bought a small pillow cover that would fit in David's backpack. The coffee table in his shop had photos of happy customers, and David noticed a CBC business card with Anna-Maria Tremonte's name, along with Wendy Mesley's, who had bought carpets there. Then the owner showed us a framed letter from Prime Minister, Kim Campbell, expressing her delight with her new carpet!
Matt and Judy left the morning before we did, as their holiday was winding down. They caught a flight to Athens for three days, and we decided to check out northern Greece. We missed them at supper that night!
11. Which group of ancient people, who arrived from Mesopotamia in 3600 BC, invented all of the following items: the wheel and carts, pictograph script, terra-cotta cone mosaics, cylinder seals, mathematical numbers and multiplication tables, and the musical instrument (lyre)?