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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

10/4 Istanbul: Bazaars, the Harem & Turkish Vocab 101

Our first day in Istanbul: so hard to decide what to see when, as we have a full week in the city of 14 million people, about half of the country’s population. But I had forgotten to take into account when planning our visit to Istanbul that our first few days would coincide with the 4 day long Bayrim Muslim religious holiday. There was nothing we could have done really anyway as coming here now was the only time that fit in with everywhere else on the trip. 

We only found out when we arrived that Muslims from all over the Middle East come to Istanbul for the holiday, so the city’s sights were even more packed than they would have been otherwise. One of the biggest tourist draws in the city is the Grand Bazaar which was closed for 4 days straight due to the holiday. Thank goodness we’d allocated so much time here and will still be able to visit there tomorrow (10/8) when it reopens. The thought of having come all the way here and NOT see the bazaar is too sad to contemplate. I did digress though and get way ahead of myself. So back to Day One in Istanbul
Had planned to take the bus just a few minutes’ walk from our 12 room hotel downtown along the Golden Horn waterfront but quickly decided to walk there instead. It was a spectacular way to start our Istanbul adventure, we thought. It's been neat seeing fishermen down at the foot of the main street from our hotel every day, fishing in the waters of the Golden Horn.
Seeing this made me think of the old joke How many men does it take to wash a taxi?!

Quite a contrast in architectural styles!

In case you don't know, Istanbul spans both Europe and Asia and is divided by the Golden Horn on the north and west or European side and the Bosphorus River on the east side. To further confuse matters, the southern areas of Istanbul are by the Sea of Marmara, also on the west or European side! If you need further clarification, google Istanbul’s geography as I am not a geography whiz in case you hadn’t guessed! All that to say, across the water in the picture above is still the European side!
I thought it was at first a playground but it's an exercise yard.
Colorado's own ReMax in Istanbul.
Our first of many mosques we'd visit in Istanbul was this one located very close to the Spice Market.

More of the beautiful Itzik tiles we first saw in Edirne's Muradiye Camii.

Another Turkish word for you: 'carsisi' means a covered bazaar in English. We couldn’t wait to stop at the 17th C. Egyptian Bazaar, also known as the Spice Market, even though only some of the outdoor stalls were open due to the 1st day of the 4 day long Bayrim holiday. It was fascinating seeing perfectly formed mounds of spices and heaps of dried fruits and nuts. I had hoped to buy some saffron, the stamen of a particular kind of crocus, but I just couldn’t justify spending $25 a gram for it.

The market was a veritable feast for all the senses, not just the eyes and sense of smell as we could hear sellers hawking their wares and music blaring on all sides. Did have to be careful not to touch the mounds of spices and teas though lest they crumbled down around us.

I HAD to ask what these green mounds were; they're henna
Walked over to the magnificent Blue Mosque but it was closed for 2 hours for afternoon prayers so went instead to the Arasta Bazaar –ah shucks, I know, more shopping - since it was open and nearby. Stopped in at the Blue Mosque the next day so you’ll see photos of it in my next post. Loved the Arasta Bazaar as that was our first chance seeing some of Turkey’s gorgeous rugs. Sure wish we ‘needed’ one or two of those but our home is already full of beautiful Oriental rugs.

Set every 10 feet or so on the ground were these beautiful tile designs; great marketing ploy by the tile sellers to get you in their stores you might think but just lovely designs with no ulterior purpose.

Even the adjacent cafe had beautiful rugs.

The steps had coins from different lands glued to them - don't know the origin of it though.
Next up was a visit to Topkapi Palace, the symbol and political center of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 400 years which stands on the very tip of the promontory where the old city of Istanbul is set. I found the entire place absolutely overwhelming because of the vast numbers of people all set on seeing the wonders of the museum contained in seemingly countless rooms in lots of  buildings. The guidebooks rave about the 2 story Imperial Treasury but again having to queue outside to gain entry to each room and then, once having gained entrance, having to stay in a line moving quickly from item to item in each room loses its appeal very quickly for me. There was no time to fully read the descriptions let alone appreciate the beauty of the item being described. I did see and appreciate, however, the Spoonmaker's Diamond, a 86 carat diamond found in a garbage heap that is the 5th largest diamond in the world – that was an OMG moment for sure! 
Looking at this photo now makes me think it looks like the entrance to Disneyland but the thought never occurred to me when we were there!
I couldn't take any interior shots of the Treasury and other rooms but here are some exterior photos.
At the Tokapi with Asia in the background!
I couldn't swear to it but I think this shot had the north shore, i.e. the European side, in the background!

Part of the Topkapi Palace is its Harem, also known as the Court of the Black Eunuchs. As there weren’t nearly as many people wandering through the Harem, there was no sense of being ‘herded through’ from room to room without being able to stop and take pictures and simply enjoy the moment. I found that part of the complex fascinating. Here are some photos I hope you will enjoy seeing.
Turkish vocab #3: harem is harem in English!

The Golden Road

The Harem's Main Entrance

The Courtyard of the Favorites

Leaqving the Topkapi Palace, I just 'happened' to look behind and saw the police carrying assault weapons - wowsa!
Yummy candy treat, I'm sure, but sure hope you have your dentist's number on speed dial.
From Topkapi, we walked back through beautiful Gulhane Park even though it was well out of our way. It’s one of the loveliest parks I’ve ever been in; I hope we’ll have time to come back here with our kindles and read or just people watch as Istanbul has been the best city for that, bar none, for me.

I'll go out on a limb and hazard a guess that I'd think about 25% of the women we've seen have worn the hijab as above and a full 60% wear scarves fully covering their hair. I wonder though if those numbers may change after the holiday when presumably many of the hijab wearing women return to their Middle Eastern countries?

 Turkey is the 1st country we’ve been to this entire trip that does NOT use the word ‘stop’ for their stop signs. 

Good night from Istanbul, dear family and friends.