Day 2 – Topkapi Palace, the Bosphorus and Taksim Square

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The sun was already beating down on Istanbul as we made our way slowly up the street from our hotel to the entrance to Topkapi Palace where the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire had made their home. The palace is a large walled complex with expansive green areas surrounding several large buildings leading to the north east corner of the Old European quarter of Istanbul. It was just after 9 but none of the children had slept particularly well and there were a number of (amusing!?) trips along the way but no serious injuries!

The outer courtyard of the Topkapi Palace is a large green space lined with trees and a winding pathway leading to a second gate through which you reach a second beautifully laid out park. 20130728-175213.jpg We wondered through the park and into the palace itself which is now a museum. We saw a wonderful exhibition of ancient weapons, a selection of clothes from the Ottoman period - which frankly looked way too large to where but Yasmin explained that they were intended to make the Sultan look big and indeed they didn't even wear the sleeves as there were slits on either shoulder to poke their arms through - plus treasure chests and jewellery including an enormous diamond and an ornate dagger with huge emeralds on it (which apparently the subject of a film also called Topkapi).

The final exhibition was special as it was a display of religious artefacts - some of potentially dubious heritage but others with a stronger pedigree. At the slightly dodgy end are the skull and finger fragments of John the Baptist (apparently their are enough fragments worldwide to create 7 of the prophet!), the staff of Moses (which did look incredibly well preserved from something that should be close to 4000 years old) and the turban of Joseph (Kate remarked that it was a shame they hadn't also saved the coat of many colours). At the more authentic end were some of the Muslim relics including fragments of the beard of the Prophet Mohammad as it is recorded that he cut it and distributed it to his followers before he died.

We also learned about how the Sultan governed his people. He had a parliament of sorts, run by the Grand Vizier which made recommendations for new laws to the Sultan for his decision. They sat in a room known as a divan but the Sultan retained a curtained opening above the room that he could use to listen to what was going on - a useful way of preventing plots as no one ever knew if he was behind the curtain or not. We also heard that the Sultan had children from Christian lands that he had conquered brought to his palace (only one boy per family and never and only child) whom he schooled and turned into powerful men who gained power but could not leave anything to their children thereby preventing strong rivals among his native Ottoman population.

The next Sultan was always the son that was regarded as the most likely to be a good ruler although this led to many disputes so they changed the system to an oldest first (Tom noted, with a sidelong glance at Callum, that this was likely to lead to the younger son killing the older one!).

20130728-180952.jpgSimilarly the Sultan had 4 wives but also several concubines and female slaves that served in the family area (the Harem apparently means family space) but once the girls reached about 25 they were allowed to leave, keeping the Harem young! The Sultan had chosen this spot well as when you get to the furthest point in the palace there is a balcony which overlooks the confluence of the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. The view is spectacular. For some reason the heat has an odd affect on the kids. Normal people tend to feel that its too hot to eat much. However Kate was already getting hungry by 11.30 and by 12 she was desperate and the boys were complaining too (in a nice way!). So we left the palace behind and made our way back to the old city centre to a restaurant with the slightly misleading name of The Pudding Shop. While they do sell puddings there seems to be nothing particular special or remarkable about them but the dinners were fabulous. Callum and Kate had doner kebabs but I can't help associating these with drunken nights out so I had an Iskender Kebab while Tom, proving he is the most sophisticated among us had calamari.

20130728-181031.jpgAfter lunch we spent a relaxing couple of hours on a river boat cruise on Bosphorus (which apparently means the traveling of the cow after a Greek myth about Zeus turning his lover into a cow! The boat is do relaxing that all three kids fall asleep. Oh well, I enjoyed it! And the at last we had to say goodbye to Yasmin. She was a fantastic guide but our Istanbul adventure is almost over. But not quite! After a quick swim we decided to explore the city some more and as a new experience we chose the city tram to get there. The trams follow the normal roads and wind their way like slow slithering snakes the the streets of Istanbul. To ride them you only need to buy a token each (3 TL or about 1 each).

So we took a tram across to the New Europe part of the city and then changed to a funicular railway to reach Taksim Square - the kids were desperate to see Gezi park!

After this we walked down an long street lined on either side by a mixture of Turkish and International shops and restaurants until we reached our final destination - the Galata Tower. Callum has been desperate to visit this tower (as it is a key part of the Assassins creed game and he wants to compare the real thing).

20130728-232144.jpgAfter a few interesting map reading moments he navigates us the the base if the tower which is the tallest building in the area. Then on a bit of a whim we decide to have dinner at the restaurant at the top. The lady who is selling tickets to simply go to the top and see the view for 10TL each appears incredulous at the idea. 'It is 65TL each' she repeats over and over. 'And there is no alcohol'. Feels like she doesn't want us!

However when we reach the top the waiters are very friendly. The meal is fixed with no choices (except chicken or beef for main course). There appears to be many courses - cheese, ham, picked fish (oh dear); bread, jam, honey still in the comb (lovely) and fresh cream; yogurt soup (surprisingly nice!); cheese borek (not as nice as I had hoped - the pastry was very sloppy); side salad and chicken; Turkish desert selection (mainly pastry, honey and dates) and finally Turkish tea! We are stuffed. Finally we go to the top balcony to see the city sights before returning to our hotel by tram. What an end to the day!