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!)

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

 

 

 

Coffee Break

I’ve been sitting here thinking about Turkey and Greece; trying to figure out where to start by looking through photos and old blog posts. Naturally I begin basking in my trip down memory lane, so much so that I’m actually having trouble focusing on exactly what I want to write.   This trip was spectacularly epic.  I think, in part because it’s been so long since I’ve been somewhere so out of my element and so completely, well, foreign.  Not that the entire trip was out of my element, but the majority of the last 10 years has been spent traveling around America and Australia–so it was exhilarating and revitalizing getting to visit a place where I could sit and relax and be completely immersed in anonymity and not understand one single solitary word being spoken.

I realize that probably sounds outlandishly bizarre, as most people I know would be slightly panicked at the thought of being in a place where communication wasn’t guaranteed.  It was also very evident that April and I were, in fact, not Turkish.  Not that we really felt out of place–on the contrary, both countries were so warm and welcoming–but well, people kept stopping us to ask.  We also realized that Turkey doesn’t get many American visitors, or perhaps if they do, they don’t hang out where we hung out.  Everyone we met were generally amazed that we were Americans.  English, Australian, German, Dutch, Kiwi, South African, Swiss, and Canadian were all guesses, but never American.  In fact, our second afternoon in Istanbul we exited the Egyptian Bazaar (aka Spice Market, which has THE BEST TURKISH DELIGHT ON THE PLANET!) to a very busy plaza area.  As we head down amongst the throng of people undoubtedly on their way home from work, I felt someone poking my arm.  I turned to see this 90 year old woman sitting on the ledge, glaring and shaking her finger towards my face and she asked “Armenian?”  I was in such a state of shock that she had taken the time and effort to poke me to confirm my Armenian heritage, all I could do was shake my head and yell “American!”  She responded with an equally confused look and finally there was a shoulder shrug followed by a “HUH!” and then went about her day.

So what was the equalizer? The one thing everyone spoke was coffee.  You know…that stuff I affectionately refer to as nectar of the gods!  If you enjoy a robust cup of coffee, then let me tell you that Turkish and Hellenic coffees are amazing!  They are very similar–in case you’re wondering–although Hellenic coffee is usually a bit bigger than Turkish coffee.  The first time I had Turkish coffee in Turkey (and yes, it was something pre-trip I was soooo excited about experiencing) I felt fireworks in my head!  I feel quite certain my eyes rolled back and I asked April to give me a moment with my little demitasse cup!!  I also learned that it’s traditionally served with sugar.  My first few coffees I ordered without sugar and I would get stares by everyone, which I thought were because this crazy American is actually drinking proper Turkish coffee. However a few days into our trip, a waiter informed me that Turkish coffee is usually served with sugar, which is how I had it from then on (but I still got a lot of stares, so I’m still going with my crazy American theory!)  For Turkish coffee, I will happily deal with the stares.  It’s breathtaking.  Like a great shot of espresso, but with a lingering sweetness that caps any meal perfectly.

It is usually prepared in an ibrik (a tiny pot with a long handle–ibriks are usually just big enough for 1-2 servings) by adding cold water, finely ground coffee (hello, Turkish grind! 1-2 heaping teaspoons), and sugar (usually 1 heaping teaspoon).  NO STIRRING until the sugar starts to melt and the coffee starts to settle.  You then give it a quick stir or two and allow the coffee to come to a boil, pull it off the heat, then repeat the boiling and pulling off the heat at least two more times (depending on the site, they suggest reboiling anywhere from 3-4 times).  Afterward it is poured into a demitasse cup and voila!  a bit of sunshine for your day!

Şerefe!

 

My very first Turkish-in-Turkey coffee!!

My very first Turkish-in-Turkey coffee!!