Monday, February 7

And back to Turkey

Our last full day in Istanbul rained heavily but we were ambitious. We went to the Topkapi Palace, the Suleiman the Magnificent Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and then treated ourselves to a Turkish bath. It was awesome!

Topkapi Palace - This palace was built after the Ottoman Turks sacked this easternmost city of Christendom, then called Byzantium in 1453. The Ottoman's ruled from this Palace for 400 years until they built a new palace a short jaunt down the Strait to keep up with the grand palace fashions of the time - Versailles.

Inside the council room where the Grand Vizier and council administered the affairs of the empire and received local and foreign envoys. There's a metal grate on an adjacent wall where the sultan could watch and listen to the envoy's entourage while not being seen. And it's exterior:

Topkapi Palace is perhaps most famous for it's harem which denotes not only the wives, "favorites" and concubines of the sultan, but also where they lived. Learning about the harem was fascinating! The day to day servants of the Harem where black eunuchs, mostly Ethiopian. The sultan ruled with his mother, the mother sultan. She would select his wife and subsequent wives or concubines. Each of these wives or elevated "favorites" had a huge stake in their sons who could become the next sultan. Imagine the politics and horrible intrigues that followed for centuries as each woman fought for her life and sons - since the ruling sultan may also have brothers! When your son became sultan, you got to send the other wives and their children away or have them killed - however you worked it. These women lived so closely together there could hardly be many secrets among them, yet history tells some pretty amazing tales! My RS guidebook calls the harem "the carefully administered social institution that ensured the longevity of the Ottoman Empire." But it was so much darker than that sanitized description!

The throne room. The ornate thrones are behind glass in the treasury.
And a view looking up.

Within the grounds of the Topkapi Palace is Hagia Irene. I was really excited to see this but it was closed up with archeological digs surrounding the entrance.

This is where the Second Ecumenical Council took place in 381AD where Christendom debated theological questions such as whether Jesus was divine, mortal or both.

Near the gate, we could have had our fortune told by these two white rabbits or their friendly chicken friend by the gentleman's shoulder. We passed since we were headed to another big site: the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent.

I didn't have time to take pictures inside because we just sat and soaked up the newly renovated interior at first. It was light, simple and very impressive - amazing architecture. Then we were shooed out for the beginning of the next prayer service. It was probably 47 degrees outside, but some of the men would stop to do their ritual washings at the line of spigots you can see if you enlarge the picture.

The Mosque was quite a walk up away from the Topkapi in pouring rain. We headed next to the nearby Grand Bazaar. We were starving by this point and this busy antithesis to the peaceful mosque was not a good combo for our hunger. It was wall to wall people, but surprisingly spacious to other bazaars I've been to and sadly very repetitively touristy rather than the traditional sectors of tradesmen.

The only wares I was tempted by were the ornate costume where to outfit some really good-looking Nativity kings bringing gifts! But instead we opted for finding food! We stumbled upon a simple chicken rotisserie kitchen that made chicken soup, chicken and rice, legs or breasts with rice and an assortment of simple puddings. We had some yummy rice pudding and a vanilla pudding with pistachio and shaved coconut on top.

Our weary, wellfed bodies were then struck with genius! Let's visit a Turkish Bath! We found some recommendations in our book and headed back to our hotel because I was firm on my no public nudity clause and wanted to grab my swim suit just in case this "family establishment" held a surprise or two. Sadly, the one we wanted to visit was real close to the Bazaar so we trekked down the hill and then back up in the rain again.

It was awesome! Here's the website - and the initial picture here shows how covered we were.

They provided a big towel/cloth for men and women. Women also were given a “bra” (more like a string bikini top and some shorts so you really could feel covered with the towel wrapped on top. I was a bit apprehensive about the modesty issue and the fact that I don’t like sauna type stuff but this was pretty good once I got used to it.

You spent 40 minutes in the hot marble steam room where that huge slab in the middle of the room is seriously hot and fit many people! Or you could be in one of the side niches where the fountains let you cool yourself off with bowls and the floor and stoops are all heated. Then your name is called for a 15 minute sudsy, exfoliating scrub down and massage. Seriously felt awesome! Ryan said it was much better than his Turkish bath experience in Budapest years ago, especially since it was smaller and no naked old men!

After the scrubdown, you cooled off in the sauna until you wanted to go relax in another room all wrapped head to toe in light sheets where they tried to sell you hydrating beverages. We hung there for about ten minutes until a young family with three kids came out and needed seats. I'd seriously enjoyed watching them arrive in the sauna. The parents did their best to rein them in, but kids that young saw the fun cereal-size bowls and fountains and couldn't resist breaking into the best water fight of their lives! They stayed contained to their alcove, but their laughter was infectious and I could only imagine my three doing the same thing.

On our way home, we stopped by a confectionary shop. The shop owner was very nice and while working the register and telling you to sample all the Turkish Delights and other sweets. Now that's how it should be done! So we sampled and sat down for some sweets and hot chocolate. What a great day!