Day 1 – the cultural tour of Istanbul
My family travelled around Western Turkey & this site tells our first hand experiences.
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After a hot and restless start to the night and a rather chilly finish to it as the air conditioning was finally able to overcome the heat from the outside we woke at 8 and went for breakfast on the 6th floor Olive restaurant that has a view over the city and Bosphorus. As is normal in our holiday hotels the buffet breakfasts result in a mιnage of unusual combinations if flavours. This time ranging from waffles, to omelettes, cakes, chocolate gateau and even a few olives thrown in for good measure. We meet our guide, Yasmin in the lobby.
is a friendly, diminutive young lady with long dark typically Turkish
hair and dangling earrings coupled with a piercing at the top of her left
ear. She waits patiently for everyone to be ready, suntan lotion applied
and drinks in hand before we set out together to walk around the major
sites of Istanbul. Yasmin explains as we make our way towards our first
stop at the hippodrome that you can think of Istanbul's history in 3 main
chronological ages. Up to the 1500s when it was largely an in effect the
Eastern Roman Empire, from the 1500s to 1923 when it was the heart if
the Ottoman Empire and finally modern Turkey where despite its downgrading
from the country's capital (which moved to Ankara after the civil war
and independence in 1923) it continued and continues to this day to be
the preeminent city of Turkey with more than 13m citizens.
Then we move onto the Blue Mosque, the most
important mosque in Istanbul. It has 6 minarets which is very unusual.
The story says that at the time the mosque was built, the only mosque
in the world was the one at Mecca and apparently the Mecca mosque was
less than happy with the situation until the emperor donated money for
a seventh to be built in Mecca (there are now 8). The mosque is a fabulous
structure, completely evocative of Istanbul. It has several domes/semi
domes and the decoration on the ceiling inside is exquisite.
Then we visit Hagia Sophia ('Divine Wisdom' or as Callum calls it Divine Wiseness) which when it was built it was the biggest dome in the world and even now is in the top 4. Originally it was built as an orthodox Christian church (the current building is the third to be built as the other 2 were burned down). However, when the Ottomans took over it was converted to a mosque which actually protected it from being ransacked as the invaders would never steal or vandalise a mosque. Now it's a museum and has an interesting mixture Christian and Islamic architecture. On the way down from the balcony level, which is reached via a bumpy stone ramp way (the church was originally built in only 5 years and is made from recycled stonework) Callum and Tom plan how they would manage to make it down in a shopping trolley (not exactly intellectual stuff!).
final cultural stop today is the Basilica Cistern which is apparently
one of the settings for Dan Brown's Inferno. This is basically an underwater
reservoir which was built to help keep Istanbul's fresh water supply flowing.
It is dark deep down in the depths under the city. There are many columns
with low lighting giving it an eerie feeling and the shallow water now
contains large fish.
Our final trip of the day is to two markets - the grand bazaar and the spice market. As we wonder around the grand bazaar, filled with every assortment of shop and market stall you can imagine it was easy to see how you could get lost. The main thoroughfare is like a small road with boutique shops on either side (Callum adds that you can swing along the central bars of this road in Assassins Creed and the main character pickpockets the passers by - fortunately none are around today!). The swish silver merchants and gaudy gold traders give way to lavish leather bags as we turn into more narrow passageways.
Along the route we encounter swords and pistols (which hold the boys attention for some time until they are absolutely certain that they are not going to be allowed to by one), second hand and antique sellers and of course lots of rugs and other clothes outlets. Callum is particularly fascinated (or rather repulsed) by the shop selling flashy white boys clothing that look fit for a prince when Yasmin explains that these are the clothes boys where to 'celebrate' their circumcisions! More likely what they where while others celebrate while they are probably in too much pain! While there was much that could be bought in the end, and certainly to our slight embarrassment the only purchase as Tom's Batman t-shirt!
this point Toms feet were beginning to ache and Callum revealed that his
trainers had two massive holes at the front where his toes see basically
hanging out. So we made a couple of quick detours. First stop was a pretty
little cafe for a Turkish coffee - nice and strong! While we are sitting
here, Yasmin tells us about a big argument she had in this very coffee
shop with a man who supported the government position on Taksim Square.
They had debated reasonably for a lite while until the man, who had suggested
that the protestors had defiled the mosques in some way when Yasmin said
they had video proof that it was injured people who had been taken there
in an emergency but the man insisted that there was no way his president
would ever lie. It got heated and turned into a shouting match - tempers
were running high.
After a wonderful cool swim, a game if water volleyball and a brief nap
headed out for dinner, first walking through the many narrow streets with
offers of dinner in all sides and then along the River (The Golden Horn)
and back through Guihane Park (where we unnervingly passed an army barracks
with soldiers holding machine guns stood guard) back to the restaurant
we had selected - the Hatay Restaurant (we took the long route to avoid
the many restauranteurs who we'd said 'yes, we'll probably be back for
dinner'!) where we ate a wonderful fare of Ottoman Lamb Chops, Chicken
in a Turkish tomato sauce, a spicy kebab and....a margarita pizza? (we're
not judging you Kate!).