The Palace of Sultans

Built between 1460-1478 for Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, Topkapı Palace is definitely one of the crown jewels of Istanbul’s glory.  The sprawling grounds have amazing views of the city, but with every amenity available inside, there would have been no reason to leave the grounds! Sultan Mehmed spared no expense in building his dream home–complete with a church, a library, audience chamber, and a harem.  Of course wanting to contribute the grandeur, subsequent Sultans since Mehmed have built, rebuilt, and added to the palace grounds and structures.  The result is varying architecture throughout the palace grounds. Again, there wasn’t enough time to see everything, which meant picking and choosing.  The only thing I’m sad we didn’t get to see was the Sultan Robe collection.  There simply wasn’t enough time, as the line for that exhibit was approaching 2 hours, and so we decided to use that time strolling the grounds and visiting all the other exhibits.

The Imperial Gate and main entrance to the palace

The Imperial Gate and main entrance to the palace through the outermost wall

The Gate of Salutation that separates the First and Second Courtyards.

The Gate of Salutation along the inner wall and entrance into the Second Courtyard

looking across the courtyard at the Hall of Justice

looking across the courtyard at the Hall of Justice

Imperial Divan

Imperial Divan

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the detail of the ceiling of the Imperial Divan

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tile detail along the walls and ceiling

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The Gold Window behind which the Sultan would sit when he wanted to hear the affairs of state, but not be seen

all the doors along the Imperial Divan were decorated...

all the doors along the Imperial Divan were decorated…

...and the windows too!

…and the windows too!

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Kubbealtı, where the Imperial court was held

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The Gate of Felicity and entrance into the third courtyard, which were the private areas of the palace and entry through the gate was only with approval by the Sultan himself.

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the doorway of The Gate of Felicity

outside of The Audience Chamber

outside of The Audience Chamber

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main entrance to the Audience Chamber, where the Sultan received visitors

detailing of the tile of the entrance to Audience Chamber

detailing of the tile of the entrance to Audience Chamber

a look down at the cafe on the palace grounds--with stunning views of the Bosphorus

a look down at the cafe on the palace grounds–with stunning views of the Bosphorus

The Conquerer's Pavilion, which housed the Imperial Treasury

The Conquerer’s Pavilion, which housed the Imperial Treasury

of course, I loved the decorative sidewalks!

of course, I loved the Pavilion’s decorative sidewalks!

one of the water fountains around the palace grounds

one of the water fountains around the palace grounds

wash basin in front of the Enderûn Library, aka Library of Ahmed III

wash basin in front of the Enderûn Library, aka Library of Ahmed III

inside the reading room of the Enderûn Library

inside the reading room of the Enderûn Library

nothing like a selfie while in a palace!

nothing like a selfie while in a palace!

potted plants and flowers lined the sidewalks...

potted plants and flowers lined the sidewalks…

the huge tree lined sidewalks

…along with huge trees

walking back to the Salutation Gate

walking back to the Salutation Gate

I know I could have stayed there for hours exploring, as there were a lot of areas of the palace grounds that we didn’t get to visit.  Unfortunately and all too soon it was time to go–after all, we had much more to see!

the view from across the Bosphorus

the view from across the Bosphorus–pic courtesy of Istanbul Top 10 (click pic to go to their website!)

Walkabout in Istanbul

We did a lot of walking around (and there were like 30 in our group, so I’m sure we were quite the spectacle!), but it meant for a lot of great shots of the city.  I could babble on and on about all the things we saw, but really the best part about it was just taking in the sites of this amazingly beautiful city.  And since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll let them do the talking!  Enjoy 🙂

colorful houses

colorful houses

A view from an overpass

a view from an overpass

down the streets we go!

down the streets we go!

the obelisk at the Hippodome

The Obelisk of Thutmose III, originally erected at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor around 1490BC–Theodonsis The Great had it brought over to Istanbul in 390AD.

base of The Th Obelisk

the base of The Obelisk

The German Fountain, commemorating the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1898

The German Fountain, commemorating the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1898

In the Hippodrome--although there wasn't a chariot or horse to be seen!

in the Hippodrome–although there wasn’t a chariot or horse to be seen!

what's a trip to Istanbul without a magic carpet speech?

what’s a trip to Istanbul without a magic carpet speech?

one of my favorites, however, I wasn't interested in schlepping a big ol' rug around for 17 days!

one of my favorites, however, I wasn’t interested in schlepping a big ol’ rug around for 17 days!

One of the 3,100-ish mosques in Istanbul

one of the 3,100-ish mosques in Istanbul

A street sign on the way to the palace

a street sign on the way to the palace

An information booth

an information booth

Tulips...

tulips…

...tulips everywhere!

…tulips everywhere!

Amazingly Bazaar

Well, it certainly would not be a trip to Istanbul if you didn’t go to the bazaars!  Yes, there are numerous bazaars in Instanbul.  Bazaar literally means market and there are many to be found.  We went to the two most famous: Kapalı Çarşı and Mısır Çarşısı.

The Kapalı Çarşı, or Grand Bazaar, was just that: GRAND.  It was an enormous web of stalls, selling everything from handmade objects to jewelry to tshirts.  If you didn’t find something, you definitely weren’t looking hard enough!  My only complaint about the Grand Bazaar is that we weren’t given any time to look around.  I know we were on a tight schedule, but it should have allowed for us to get lost in the throngs on stalls. Then again, perhaps if we had–we might still be in there looking!

Grand Bazaar entrance...well, one of many!

Grand Bazaar entrance…well, one of many!

color everywhere!

everything everywhere!

rows and rows and rows of stalls

rows and rows and rows of stalls

exiting the Grand Bazaar, heading to the Egyptian Bazaar...

exiting the Grand Bazaar, heading to the Egyptian Bazaar…

...and of course, more stalls along the way!

…and of course, more stalls along the way!

so many pretty--and breakable--things!

so many pretty–and breakable–things!

The Mısır Çarşısı, or Egyptian Spice Market, was tiny in comparison.  However, there seemed to be miles and miles of spices of every variety–if you can name it, you could find it.  But the best place?  The best place was right by the north eastern entrance: a little old man selling the best Turkish Delight I have ever eaten.  It was everything you wanted–soft, chewy, slightly aromatic, and with a hint of flavoring that you could tell was real–not artificial.  Our wonderful keeper of the Turkish Delight let us sample the flavors–knowing full well that we would happily purchase whatever we tasted. April and I definitely disagreed on the best flavor, but that’s okay because everyone is entitled to their own wrong opinion.  Unless your opinion is that rose Turkish Delight from the Mısır Çarşısı is the best, then you would be right! 🙂

Our only shot of the Egyptian Bazaar...we were way too distracted by the spices and Turkish Delight!

Our only shot of the Egyptian Bazaar…we were way too distracted by the spices and Turkish Delight!

and what's a trip to a market without a flag seller?

outside of the Egyptian Bazaar–what’s a trip to a market without a flag seller?

After we finished at the bazaars, April and I were given a few hours of free time while others in our group went on a cruise on the Bosphorus.  We went back to both bazaars for a much closer look.  As time grew near for us to meet our group, we walked along the Bosphorus and enjoyed people watching.

Galata bridge: connecting two continents

Galata bridge: connecting two continents

at the time we surmised this said no swimming or jumping, but according to Google Translate: "It is forbidden to keep fish in this area"

at the time we surmised this said no swimming or jumping, but according to Google Translate: “It is forbidden to keep fish in this area”

even if the sign was about jumping or swimming, we wouldn't have wanted to with all the jellies in the water!

even if the sign was about jumping or swimming, we wouldn’t have wanted to with all the jellies in the water!

the lower level of the bridge was filled with restaurants

walking along the lower level of the bridge

and there were plenty of food carts

there were plenty of food carts

and this...boat/restaurant

and this…boat/restaurant

It was rather bizarre to sit on the shores of the river and look out onto…Europe.  Even today, it still seems strange that not only a country, but a city can sit on two continents. But perhaps that is part of the charm that is Istanbul.

a look at Europe from Asia

a look at Europe from Asia

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque

Also known as the Blue Mosque, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque was built from 1609-1616.  While seven years may seem like a long time, when you arrive and realize how enormous and intricate it is, you’ll be impressed that it only took seven years!  In fact, it makes the neighboring Hagia Sophia look tiny in comparison.

It was quite humbling being in such a beautiful and awe-inspiring place.  The pictures below, however, do not do it justice.  That certainly is not a dig at April or my photography skills.  They cannot convey the craftsmanship poured into each of the 20,000+ tiles that cover the interior from floor to ceiling or the time spent creating over 200 stained glass windows. But even more simply than that, they cannot convey the serenity one feels while being in such a majestic place.

The impressive front shot

the impressive front shot

one of six minarets (first one mosque in Turkey to have that many! There is actually only one more in Turkey that has 6.)

one of six minarets.  it is the first mosque (of only two) in Turkey to have that many!

Walking through the outer wall and into the courtyard

walking through the outer wall and into the courtyard

another minaret

another minaret

ceiling decorations of the courtyard walkway

ceiling decorations of the courtyard walkway

Taking off our shoes.  There was also a basin, should anyone want to cleanse themselves (usually arms, feet, and head) before entering for worship.

the entryway where we were asked to remove our shoes. there was also a basin, should anyone want to cleanse themselves (usually arms, feet, and head) before entering for worship.

The doorway where we entered

the doorway where we entered

The main dome ceiling--all tiles in the Blue Mosque were hand painted!

the main dome ceiling

all women had to keep their heads covered

keeping our heads covered

even the pillars were tiled

even the pillars were tiled

A close-up of some of the stained glass windows

a close-up of some of the stained glass windows

The Women's area of worship.

the Women’s area of worship.

the intricately designed tiles were floor to ceiling

the intricately designed tiles…

a close-up of the tile work

…and a closer look at the detailed work

The main floor has a huge space for worship surrounded by walkways to the other parts of the mosque.

the main floor has a huge space for worship surrounded by walkways to the other parts of the mosque.

After we were finished–and because it was right there–we went to have a look at the famous Hagia Sophia.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for a tour, but the gardens were quite spectacular!

The gardens between The Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque

The gardens between The Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque

The fountains in the garden.

The fountains in the garden.

well-sculpted mushroom trees

well-sculpted mushroom trees

A side shot of the Hagia Sophia

A side shot of the Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia

Istanbul, Part 1 of 78.

Just kidding! I mean, I could easily do it AND provide you with at least 3 pictures per day…but I shall refrain, simply because well, there is a great big world out there to explore!

Our first day in Istanbul was all ours. So once we got to the hotel and unpacked our things, we grabbed our cameras and went exploring! While we tried to blend in as much as possible, we obviously didn’t do a very good job because random people would stop and ask us where we were from. And before we could even answer, they would start guessing–as if they had a bet with the coffee shop guy next door. English? Nope. Australian? Nope. German? Are we wearing socks with our sandals? I mean, nope. South African? Nope. New Zealand? Nope. Canada! Closer, but no. Finally, they would throw their hands in the air, which would give us the opportunity to respond with [at the same time] The United States and Texas [because yes, I’m that kind of Texan!]. We usually got puzzled looks, followed with a “we usually don’t get Americans visiting here.”  Ah, well…we’re excited to be here and they sure as heck don’t know what they’re missing!

As we started wandering, we realized our hotel was literally right around the corner from Taksim Square.  Oh sure the taxi driver pointed it out as we drove through it, but we didn’t realize just how close until we were walking!

A view from the hotel

A view from the hotel

as we wandered down the street from our hotel, we realized we were right next to Taksim Square

walking up to Taksim Square

down the street from our hotel

looking out from Taksim Square

Taksim Square

The Republic Monument Taksim Square

Taksim Square: the tulips were in bloom and they were gorgeous (hint: expect to see many more pics of tulips!)

Taksim Square: the tulips were in bloom and they were gorgeous (hint: expect to see many more pics of tulips!)

A busy thoroughfare where we just got lost in a sea of people

After Taksim Square we weren’t sure which way to go, so we decided to follow the sea of people down this busy thoroughfare.

We had no clue what was behind these gates, but--if the gates were any indication--something impressive!

We had no clue what was behind these gates, but–if the gates were any indication–something impressive!

Afterwards, we had dinner at a restaurant near our hotel.  While there was a lot of pointing involved–the food was delicious and of course, it wouldn’t be complete (for me, anyway) without a Turkish coffee.  I know, I know I’ve already shared this picture with ya’ll before, but it was a monumental occasion!

My very first Turkish-in-Turkey coffee!!

My very first Turkish-in-Turkey coffee!!

It was a great day–although April will be the first to tell you that I was a party pooper and went to bed waaaaay too early!  c’est la vie! 🙂

Istanbul, An Introduction.

I’m not sure why, but I’m having a hard time writing about Istanbul.  If I have to be perfectly honest, I think it’s a combination of several things.  Such as (thanks for asking!) being scared I’m going to miss something, as well as trying to figure out how to cull down all my photos (I’m on my 3rd cull thus far and I still have over 75 pics!).  And probably the biggest concern is being scared I’m not going to do it justice.  You see, I think Istanbul is one of the most beautiful, most magical places I have ever been.  I’m not sure why.  I’ve been to beautiful and exotic places before, but none quite like this.  At least for me.  Perhaps there is some magical city out there for you, but for me it is the place formerly known as Constantinople.

So stick around and let me take you to my Istanbul.

The Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia

 

 

 

Pergamon

Today Pergamon is known for the extensive amount of  ancient ruins still in tact high on the mountain above the modern day Turkish city of Bergama.  In its prime, however, it was known for its great library, considered to be second only to the Library of Alexandria, and its Asclepeion, which was considered to be the greatest therapeutic and healing center in the entire Roman Empire.  The Pergamenes were also the inventors of parchment from calfskin, created when papyrus became scarce and the Ptolemies stopped exporting it, and it’s believed that the Library contained over 20,000 parchment scrolls.

In order to reach the ancient city, we had to travel up the mountainside by gondola and then wandered around the ruins, much of which were temples and tributes to the gods, Zeus, Hera, Athena, Demeter, and Dionysus to name a few.  There was a lot to see and many, many pictures taken (read: I could have added a TON more, but figured you probably didn’t want to spend 3 days looking through pictures!).

up, up, up the gondola we go!

up, up, up the gondola we go!

Even at the top, there are stairs to climb!

Even at the top, there are stairs to climb!

An arch way and a view of the town below.

An archway and a view of the city below.

April contemplates

April contemplates the ruins around her

Statue of a soldier...but all I can think is "doth mother know you wearth her drapes?"!!

doth mother know you wearth her drapes?

The most impressive structures--towering over everything else in the city

The most impressive structures–towering over everything else in the city

Pergamon has the steepest theatre, with a seating capacity of 10,000 people

Pergamon has the steepest theatre in all of Ancient Greece, with a seating capacity of 10,000 people

That's a long way down to the stage!

That’s a long way down to the stage!

Osgur (our guide) telling us about the theatre--asking if anyone wants to venture to the bottom...alas, no takers! No one wanted to make the climb all the way back up!

Osgur (our guide) telling us about the theatre–asking if anyone wants to venture to the bottom…alas, no takers! No one wanted to make the climb all the way back up!

columns, schmolumns--they made for good seating!

columns, schmolumns–they made for good seating!

Inside the Trajaneum/The Sanctuary of Trajan

Inside the Trajaneum/The Sanctuary of Trajan

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walking on a wall to nowhere

a look down the well...

a look down the well…

a bit of reconstruction

a bit of reconstruction

peek-a-boo!

peek-a-boo!

On the road to the the Temple of Zeus

On the road to the the Temple of Zeus

The temple of Zeus

The temple of Zeus

Assos

Since I spoke briefly about it in the last post, I thought I’d follow up with a few pictures of Assos.  Assos is a present day seaside resort, known best for its Temple of Athena and the Academy of Assos, which was founded by Aristotle.

We actually didn’t spend a lot of time in Assos, or Behramkale, as it’s also known.  It was just where we spent a few nights at the Hotel Albena, while we were in Gallipoli/Çanakkale. Since it was still part of the low season, there wasn’t a lot in the vicinity that was open (so thankfully the teenagers were able to push start the bus and we didn’t have to call in a mechanic from who knows where).  Of course, lack of places to visit didn’t stop us from exploring during our free time.  The remoteness and solitude of the place was very evident on our walk–we only ran into a couple of locals that were out and about and nothing seemed open, not even anywhere we could stop for an ice cream or a cup of çay!  When we commented about it, the hotel staff said that soon they–and all surrounding hotels–would be completely booked for the summer season with hundreds of families seeking respite from city life and searching of a bit of serenity that comes from only from being seaside.

Our balcony...

Our balcony…

view from the balcony, part I

view from the balcony, part I

view from the balcony, part 2

view from the balcony, part 2

do we go south?

out for a walk, should we go south?

or should we go North?

or should we go North?

not much around but a few houses, a couple of hotels, and these horses, which freely roam the countryside...

not much around but a few houses, a couple of hotels, and these horses, which freely roam the countryside…

 

Turkish Time & A Wonky Bus

Oh the wheels on the bus go round and round…

round and round…

round and round…presuming, of course, the bus actually starts.

Finally--a way for the teenagers to use up all that pent up energy!

Finally–a way for the teenagers to use up all that pent up energy!

But I’m jumping ahead, so let me rewind a bit.  When April and I arrived in Istanbul, we were happily greeted at the airport and taken to our hotel.  Everything in Istanbul went smoothly–more or less, I mean there were times when we were running a bit late, but there were a lot of us to wrangle and traffic and all that jazz.  But then…then it came time to leave Istanbul and we were introduced to Turkish Time.

The morning we were set to leave, while we are waiting for our bus to arrive, our guide Osgur explained Turkish Time:

“In Turkey, things run on their own time–we are never in a hurry, so if we’re late, we’re late.  And we’re not really late because meeting times are only suggestions–everyone knows that!  You know, as long as you arrive within, let’s say, 3 hours, it’s good. It’s good…it’s good, it’s fine.  Don’t worry, the bus will be here soon.”

So there we sat at our hotel in Istanbul and we waited…and we waited…and we waited some more.  Now, I would just like to point out that the night before we had an information session where we went over the itinerary for the rest of the trip and Osgur explained to us it was very important that we were packed, had eaten breakfast and were ready to go at 8am because we had a full day of driving ahead.  Osgur neglected to tell us about Turkish Time during this information session.

Finally around 9:30am, our bus arrives.  Our teeny, tiny…uh, what?  Osgur seemed to flip out a bit because they sent a bus that had just enough seats for everyone in our tour + Osgur and absolutely no room for luggage.  NONE.  ZIP. ZILCH.  NADA.  HIÇ.

After much talking, shouting, and gesticulating, we watched our bus drive away.  And so we sat and sat and had a cup of tea and sat some more. Finally another bus arrived, which looked a lot more promising.  And by promising, I mean it least it has an undercarriage for luggage.  Or, rather, most of our luggage.  You see, nearly half of our group were teenagers who each had several large bags and thus not all of the luggage fit underneath the bus.  That’s okay because we can just stack it on the back seat and in the stairwell of the back door of the bus.   Hopefully, we joked, the bus wouldn’t catch fire and we’d need to exit quickly.

Another fun fact about the bus: not all of the seat backs stayed in their upright position. And I will say they were definitely made worse by teenagers climbing (yes, climbing) over them (BIG SIGH and a slight prayer that I wasn’t that obnoxious when traveling Europe when I was a teenager…no, I feel certain I wasn’t…hopefully).

Another fun fact about the bus: it never went over 55 mph.  I’m not sure if there was a governor on the speedometer (transmission?) that kept it from going faster–all I know is that grannies on mopeds were passing us.  It seemed even the bus liked to work on Turkish Time.  Not that I am complaining about that, mind you, especially once I found a seat that didn’t have me permanently reclining into the lap of the person behind me. The only time it got, well, annoying is when we would have full driving days without many pitstops.  AND THEN, honestly, it had nothing to do with the speed of the bus, but rather being cooped up with hyperactive, whiny teenagers (I should interject that they weren’t all hyperactive and whiny…just most of them).  But, I will admit that the slower pace did allow for better pictures of the countryside…and more time for…well, napping–at least for me–I feel like April got a minimum of 20 shots of me sleeping on the bus and I only caught her sleeping once and I was in such a state of shock, I didn’t even think to take a picture!

green fields on one side...

green fields on one side…

...water on the other!

…water on the other!

One of MANY pictures of me sleeping on the bus!

One of MANY pictures of me sleeping on the bus!

Meanwhile, April never slept...

Meanwhile, April never slept…

Look!  I'm on the bus and actually awake!

Look! I’m on the bus and actually awake!

We did lose one bag, when the bus driver ran over it.  Since it was dark when we got to that particular hotel and the bag was black, no one noticed it fell under the bus.  Fortunately, the owner of the bag, Tom, just salvaged what he could, chalked the rest up to la vida loca, and within a day we were all laughing about it.  Perhaps it was something about that hotel (The Hotel Albena) because that is also where the bus would not start.

oh and yes, those are just horses that roamed freely about the countryside.

oh and yes, those are just horses that roamed freely about the countryside.

I personally think the bus was tired and annoyed because the teenagers were begging to be taken to town (the hotel sat along the sea).  The driver, who was also thoroughly annoyed at the teenagers, said that they only way they could get the bus started was, well, to push it.  So they did (to the amazement of all!).  The rest of us just sat back with a drink, cameras at the ready, and watched the spectacle!

The one great thing about the bus was the driver.  Okay, the whole Tom’s bag incident aside, he was really nice–he always had a smile on his face.  He tried teaching us some Turkish and never laughed too loudly at our horrible accents and mutilations of his language.  One of our group members got sick and he made a special stop just to get her medicine. And he played the best music [sidebar: when in a foreign country you should definitely listen to the local radio!] By far the bus favorite was this:

At first everyone was enjoying the beat and trying to figure out where we heard it before and then she sang “something something jailhouse rock.”  well, at that point we were all hooked and starting singing with the chorus!

Memories, that’s what this wonky bus and Turkish Time created.  I know there was a lot of grumbling amongst the tour group about both, but trust me when I say these memories brought so much laughter and bonding within our group–and those are truly priceless!