Monday, 11 April 2016


27th - 28th Mar 2016

The Blue Mosque (not my photo)
Having semi-sussed out the transport system and got my bearings I managed, by tram, to get across the Golden Horn inlet over the Galata bridge and then took the funicular railway ('tunel' it is called because it's built inside a tunnel) up the steep hill to Sishane. I was met at Sishane by the 'tunel' funicular station entrance and guided to the apartment at which I was to stay. I would never have found it otherwise. It's like a rabbit warren up there, and the smaller street markings are not always clear, if there at all.
After my much needed kip I went out to investigate the Ferikoy 'flea market' which had been recommended, north up the city. I got lost getting there and arrived just as it was closing. I had supper in a local restaurant then set off back to the apartment. I got seriously lost again and, as the owner was away, I had visions of hopelessly roaming the streets all night. Nobody had even heard of the little street I was trying to find. Found it eventually, more by luck than judgement. Navigation was not proving easy.

Left: This little map shows a simple layout of the city. The western, European, side is divided north/south (N & S) by the Golden Horn inlet, and across the Bosphorous Strait is the eastern, Asian, part (E). North up the Bosphorous is the Black Sea and to the south the Sea of Marmara. So that's clear then? Most of the 'touristy' bits are in 'S' and most of the shopping areas and consulates are in 'N'. 'E' holds the enormous and defunct German built Haydarpasa railway station, a big army barracks, and is the place where the hospital was where Florence Nightingale worked during the Crimea War. There is a museum there now. Plus lots more mosques, of course. Shoals of ferries and cruise boats criss-cross the Bosphorous to many staging posts; a bit like the Vaporettos in Venice, sort of.

The place I was staying in had a roof terrace from which this view was taken (right) looking south over the Golden Horn to the Topkapi Palace on the hill opposite.
The maze of little streets in this area contain many tiny but really quite smart shops selling handicrafts, clothes, furniture, arty things etc, plus lots of cafés and restaurants. Good for browsing, and getting lost.

One of the the first places I called in at was the Pera Palace hotel which is at the bottom of the hill in the pic above. This hotel, the oldest in Turkey, was opened in 1895 primarily as a place for passengers on the Orient Express to stay. Agatha Christie apparently stayed there which inspired her to write 'Murder on the Orient Express'. It is an old-fashioned and luxurious place and undoubtedly very expensive. It houses the first electrically powered lift in Turkey (left). Very ornate.

.......and the grand drawing room in which I just managed to afford a cup of coffee.

To the Topkapi Palace, the seat of the Ottoman rulers of old. It covers a large area with many buildings including the Harem annex. Left: The main entrance.

Right: A model of the Palace grounds is on display to give you an idea of the layout. I only saw parts of it as there were too many rooms and pavilions which, to the untrained eye, looked remarkably alike. Once you've seen one you've seen them all, I began to think.

Lots of eleborated tiling and plasterwork.......

...with pavilions and water features

...and one room which took my interest, the Circumcision Room.......

....which contained, other than elaborate ancient tiling, stained glass windows and a security guard, not much else.

Left: Another elaborately tiled room (blue iznik tiles, I was informed)  with, I presume, a nice fireplace; either that or the storage space for an ancient Ottoman ICBM.

You have to pay another entrance fee to tour the Harem complex. This is a large annex of the Palace and contained, again,  many sumptuosly decorated rooms. The chief wife of the Sultan/ Emperor/Sheik/Grand Vizier/Emir/Caliph/
Taoseach or whatever the head-honcho was titled, ran this establishment with  a proverbial rod of iron and she was a very powerful lady in her own right.

Left: This is the central salon where His Nibs entertained, or was entertained by, the ladies of the harem. I expect they played a lot of Scrabble, or strip poker.

At the exit to the Harem was a room where this Mullah chappie was 'tunefully' warbling passages of the Koran into a microphone and blasting it out to departing visitors. Well I suppose it was that or, for all I know, it could have been the local football results.

Left: Then on to the Aya Sophia mosque nearby. This is renowned for it's architecture. Originally a Christian church in Byzantium times (from 573 AD), it was converted into a mosque by the Ottomans who arrived uninvited in 1453. 

Right: It had the builders and decorators in. I believe they have had the scaffolding up for the past 20 years. Sounds like they employed some cowboy builders (Mustafa Phag & Co 'Mosques our Speciality') to do the job who are being paid by the hour.

Underneath the Ottoman Muslim plasterwork designs some of the original Christian paintings of Jesus Chist etc. have been revealed in very good nick and are on view during the renovations. If you click to enlarge you can see them on the wall in the distance.

Next on the agenda, and again nearby, are the Basilica Cisterns (right); a popular tourist site. This expansive underground vault contained the Palace water supply from the early Byzantine days. It is dank and dripping down there and atmospherically lit by lots of little lights. The reservoir is crossed by very wet and slippery wooden walkways. The water was teeming with carp and I jolly nearly joined them on several occasions.

At the far end are two pillars, on the bases of which are carvings of the head of Medusa (she with snakes for hair and if you looked at her you were turned to stone). One was upside down (left) and the other on it's side. There is some mystery about the significance of these carvings. I suspect it was the ancestors of that well established firm of dodgy builders, Mustafa Phag & Co, who did the work and got the specifications wrong.

For some reason, near the entrance, there is a 'facility' where you can dress up in ancient traditional costume and have your photo taken, as per these people (right). Some punters obviously like to pay good money to look like prats.

After that I was feeling a bit peckish. There are hundreds of little stalls and carts, all over the city in fact, from which are sold chestnuts and corn-on-the -cob. I decided to try a tasty looking corn cob. It was like eating rubber and tasted similar. On the other hand, the chestnuts were delicious. Useful info if you are visiting.

Next up, and again nearby, is the famed Blue Mosque (left). It has six minarets which, I think, is the most around any mosque. Actually I only saw five. I then noticed that one of them had been semi-demolished and the stub remaining had scaffolding around it. Presumably being rebuilt.....and hopefully not by our old friends Messrs Mustafa Phag & Co.

Inside was as per most mosques, I presume, but maybe a bit larger. Plenty of carpet space for the Faithful to kneel down to pray. To one side was a small office which advertised itself as an 'Islamic Information Centre - Come In', it read. I might have done but it was closed.

I must admit, the architecture was impressive and imposing............ 

....however I didn't notice anything particularly 'blue' about it. Except for the tiled edging around the inside of the central dome.

After this I went for a light snack in a nearby café, selected on the basis that it served beer which many around here do not. While there one of the frequent wailing 'calls to prayer' rang out. These calls, from banks of mega-watt loudspeakers on the minarets, are deafeningly loud if you are close to them, ie within half a mile.  When one mosque stops another replies. It rattled the glasses. I couldn't help think what fun you could have if you managed to get control of the microphone. The mind boggles, but I suspect a few good jokes followed by a rendition of 'Four and Twenty Virgins Went to Inverness' would not go down terribly well amongst the locals.

All these minarets brought to mind a good name for a local pop group, 'Micky Mehmet and the Minarettes' perhaps. As it happened I passed a group of chaps singing in the street (left). As you can see, they are attired in the quaint traditional Turkish costume; black leather jackets, and unshaven.

I was also told that, originally, most of the houses in Istanbul were built of wood. This was as a precaution against earthquakes. I expect they provided little protection against fire however. Quite a few still remain (right).

Another interesting feature of the city is the preponderance of cats. They are everywhere. People seem to treat them with the same reverence as they do with cows in India. Mostly they are mollycoddled pets, but even the feral ones are sympathetically tolerated. Not sure of the reason for this.........

......and gun shops are quite popular. Possibly patronised by a minority group of violent activists who don't like cats.

So much to see in this city, and what little I have seen so far is hardly scratching the surface. Publication of these blogs has been somewhat delayed due to the fact that, other than touristing, I have been generously entertained during the evenings and not much time for fiddling about on computers.

Plenty more to follow, have no fear!

1 comment:

  1. I heard a tale recently of a chap who swapped the mueszzın tape with Born in the USA - in Djakarta, a few years ago. He boasted so much about it , they caught up with him and gave him 24 hours to leave - I think he was lucky!