I arrived in Istanbul at 1:00 PM, but my suitcase didn’t—drat! I got checked into the Hotel Barin and immediately walked down to a Turkish bath and had a bath, massage, and shampoo. Ah, I felt much better after the two long flights from Minneapolis, even without a change of clothes. There is a free tram here that I took back to my hotel. After resting a bit and having tea, I took the tram back to the Topkapi Palace for the Sound and Light Show in French (English is Sunday evening). I ate lamb, eggplant, other veggies and cheese at a little buffet for dinner. I found a better hotel to which I could move the next day, bought cards, notes, and a cookbook. My suitcase arrived that evening! Yay!
The next morning after moving to the Otel Kecik, I took a taxi to the Topkapi Palace since the tram was full to bursting! There were beautiful gems to see—Spoonmaker’s Diamond (86 karats), huge emeralds, and the Topkapi Daggar with big emeralds in the handle. There were rooms upon rooms, a Haram, a Treasury—all beautifully decorated and it was so atmospheric, one could almost imagine living here in former centuries. The Palace has a commanding view over the Bosphorus. I had a
I visited the 17th century Blue Mosque which is really pretty—airy and light, and then went to the Sultan’s stables where an English-speaking Kurdish man, whom I had met earlier, had a rug store. The rugs were beautiful, but too expensive for me! But I did buy some beads for my daughter, a silver pendant for me, and a bracelet for my secretary.
I took the tram back to the hotel—phew! It was really crowded and it had been a very hot day and everybody had their arms up, hanging on! I rested a bit, then went back to Sultanahmet to eat a lamb sandwich, then back to the hotel for a Turkish coffee, which I enjoyed outside under the stars.
The next morning an early start took me to the Hippodrome before hoards of tourists got there. This was the site of chariot races long ago, where the Egyptian Obelisk of Theodosius that was carved in Egypt in 1500 BC was brought to Istanbul in 390 AD. At the base of the obelisk one sees the Egyptians watching their chariot races. Here, you could tell where the track had been but now there is only the obelisk and a few columns.
On to the Hagia Sophia, (The Church of the Divine Wisdom) a really spectacular building that was built as a Christian church in the 6th century, then later converted to a mosque, and still later declared a museum. The dome, which has fallen many times, is huge and does not appear to be supported by any columns. There are beautiful mosaics high on the walls, the dominant one being of Christ as Panocrator (Ruler of All); another set pictures the Madonna and Child along with the Emperor Comnenus II and Empress Eirene. There are big 18th century Arabic medallions decorating the interior, giving various names of God. It really has a beautiful open space, which is a marvel since it is 1500 years old!
From there I went to visit the Grand Bazaar, a centuries-old shopping mall with over 4,000 shops! Built in the 15th century, it still does a big business, especially with tourists, but evokes a feeling of times past. I bought three rings, a silver spoon, four egg cups, a bowl, and a camel bone box. When I asked the seller how I would know it were really camel bone and not plastic, he took the box out of my hand and said, “Oh, you Americans!” I bought it anyway. I caught the tram back to my hotel with all my goodies!
I went around to the Suleyman Mosque, the grandest of the Ottoman mosques, commissioned by Suleyman the Magnificent, in the 16th century. It was quite simple but had some wonderful Iznik tiles in the mihrab (showing the direction of Mecca), lovely stained glass windows done by a man named Ibrahim the Drunkard, and four massive recycled columns, one from Baalbek, one from Alexandria, and two from Byzantine palaces here in Istanbul. Suleyman’s tomb was next door in the cemetery, which was quite beautiful.
I met a young man, who showed me where to get a dolmus (bus) to visit the Yedikule, a defense bastion with seven towers, connected to the old city walls. My new friend, Salih, and I walked on the walls for quite a ways. Later we went to Gulhane Park and visited the zoo, an aquarium in an old Byzantine cistern, had tea overlooking the Bosphorus, and then had dinner at a very good restaurant on Sultanahmet Square. After dinner we stopped over at the Blue Mosque to see the Sound and Light Show before I went back to my hotel.
I’m absolutely loving Istanbul!