Day 4, Jun 29: 4th & Final for Istanbul

Istanbul Mosque on a hill

We both got decent sleep, had breakfast in the hotel and went out for our last day in Istanbul just before 9am. It was a simple day with what felt like not a lot planned; still we managed to make a pretty full day of it.

We took a bus/tram to the same stop, Sultanahmet. We had a couple of other things that we wanted to use the museum pass for and they were both in the same area as Blue Mosque/Hagia Sofia where we started on Monday.

On our way to the first stop we walked through the Hippodrome area – an ancient chariot race track no longer visible with the exception of remnants from the center of it which helped form the track. Three items in succession in various levels of preservation, all erected in the late 300’s, and some older than that even because they came from somewhere else. You can see two obelisks above. The photo below shows a 3rd smaller item in between them, a serpent something. It’s in pretty bad shape, roughly half the height it should be.

Our first stop was the Museum of Turkish and Islamic art, and the first display was on the hippodrome which is just outside of it, with an image, below, of what it might have looked like back in the day.


 Most of the museum was on a 2nd level and you got an amazing view of the Blue Mosque from there.
This was a terrace on the 2nd level.


We realized way too late that we started from the end, having completely missed the entrance sign once we got upstairs, and did the whole thing in reverse. Oh well. At any rate, Dan always likes these old books which are works of art themselves so we took some shots. Most of them were of the Quran.


This was a really rich piece of tapestry that the photo doesn’t capture well.



 A footprint of Muhammed.



The museum itself was set in a former palace. I’ve lost count now of how many times we’ve been in a museum/palace combo but it always makes it more interesting because the building itself becomes part of the display. I enjoyed this particular view from an exterior corridor and thought how much whoever lived here would have, too.
 Dan loves this calligraphy.


 A piece of pottery circa 900 AD.
 We passed the Hagia Sophia again on our way to the next stop. I got a different appreciation for both this and the Blue Mosque today, seeing them from the outside again and after we’ve been in other mosques. Somehow they both seemed larger and more spectacular than I remembered on Monday. Not sure why that is.

The entrance to Topkapi Palace. This is less palace, more complex. It was built in the 1400’s after the first conqueror took Istanbul for the Ottomans. It started out as the sultan’s residence but over several hundred years additional buildings were added as other sultans needed more space and as administrative functions grew, since it was also the seat of the Ottoman Empire. While not exactly the same, coming here for a Muslim is at least adjacent to the Catholics or even other Christians going to the Vatican. It provides a sense of history to how it all happened if you come from that particular branch of religion. One of the things I’d forgotten was that Muhammed was visited by the Angel Gabriel – same archangel as in Christian writings – and asked, among other things, to take his people back to basic via the God of Abraham. I’d forgotten about the connections between Judaism, Islam and Christianity, all connecting to the same tree. It’s so weird and ironic to me that so much war and strife gets created under the name of God – and certainly historically Christians and Muslims have done their share. Doesn’t make any sense when everyone’s really starting in the same place attempting to get to the same place, does it? But I’ll leave that rabbit hole right there for now.

There is this odd thing that happens with palaces after you’ve seen a few, and that’s that they all start to look alike. So I was trying to focus on things that looked different from what we’ve seen before. Not quite sure I met that bar. The styles and colors may be different, but the sense of extravagance all very much the same.


 Here are a couple of things that looked different: above in the clock room, below in the amour room. In both cases you were not supposed to take photos but we managed to sneak them in.


One corner of the grounds was a series of gardens and we tried to capture that above and below.


 Dan being silly with a nice view of the Galata Bridge (and Tower) in the background, above. Below: from the right of where Dan is standing was a balcony that provided even better views. I was able to zoom in a little and get the same mosque we were at yesterday that we liked so much, Suleymaniye.


 The arches and tile were here were unique. Actually, in general this palace had lots of tile work which you don’t see too often. Most of it came from Delphi which is in the Netherlands.

What I was really interested in capturing above and below was the walkway. It felt like a runner in a way when you were walking on it, but its made up completely of rocks and pebbles. It felt good to walk on with shoes and I wondered if it would still be true barefoot. Looked like it could, but some of those rocks may have had sharp edges.


 This was the Queen’s room in the section know as the Harem. In this context, it refers to the private quarters of the palace, not the wives.
 The receiving room of the harem. This was probably the prettiest room in the complex.

We left the palace complex and went on to Hagia Irene, an Eastern Orthodox church from the time of Constantine that predates Hagia Sophia. It was never converted to a Mosque and was used as an armory for much of the years that followed the change in power. It’s in pretty bad shape today, and they are just now taking preservation steps. It was on the museum pass otherwise we probably wouldn’t have stopped.



 There’s a net above your head to keep pigeon poo from dropping to the floor. You could hear the pigeons while you were visiting, And as an aside, the acoustics in this place were incredible.

And that ends our museum visits for this trip. It was about 1:30pm and we sought out lunch, finding it eventually at the end of this block.

 Dan got their specialty which was a lamb dish. I ordered the pizza like item below as an appetizer thinking it was much smaller than it was, and not realizing the spicy meat that was in it would also be lamb. Not my favorite. It was OK.


 I had this which was essentially a pizza but in pita bread. It was pretty good.

Our last official stop for our visit to Istanbul was Gulhane Park. This is just outside of the Topkapi Palace and some of it at least used to be part of the palace gardens. We sat here for a bit to rest and people watch. Parks are universal. You can go anywhere and see people doing the same things they do in parks at home: hanging out on the grass, sitting by the water, taking walks, visiting friends and family. That’s pretty much what we saw. Something comforting in that in a “people are people” sort of way. (Depeche Mode anyone?)



 Art, this is strictly for you…as many schlocky lamps as you want! And from Harrod’s this time even 🙂


 We passed this on the way to the bus stop and thought: why not? If they’ve been doing dessert and coffee for over a 150 years they must be pretty good. And it was.



 There was a seating area upstairs that wasn’t air-conditioned, as so little of Istanbul is we’ve discovered, despite it being 91 and humid today. The window were open to the street though and that helped.


 A chocolate sourcherry cake above, and a chocolate chestnut cake below. The chestnut cake was like Dan’s 4th order, he kept picking things they were out of!
We got back to the hotel about 4:30. We both rested and started getting ready to leave. We noticed when checking in that because we are flying in from Turkey, there are restrictions to what we can take on the plane so may have to check some baggage. That was unexpected and took some sorting out between Dan and British Airlines (he originally bought discounted tickets that didn’t allow for checked luggage, because we never do) but all that’s taken care of. We hope. Will find out tomorrow morning I guess.
We weren’t really hungry but felt compelled to go out for a nice meal; we’ve had better Turkish food in Cologne than we’ve had here and we know it’s because we just haven’t chosen right. The lunch stuff has been decent enough but not great, just a notch or 3 above fast food really. For dinner, laziness and frugality kicks in: the free food in the lounge was good enough so why go out and pay if you don’t have to and are already tired? That logic played out tonight most of all, and we ended up staying in again.
We have really enjoyed our stay in Istanbul. The hotel we stayed at was amazing. They deserve every one of their 5 stars in their rating. We have not stayed at a hotel this nice before and likely won’t again for awhile, it was just such a good deal this time around if would have been foolish to pass it up. The location turned out to be great, despite some reviews saying it was bit far away from everything. It wasn’t for us. 20 minutes away by easy-to-use public transportation was perfect. Plus it put us closer to 3 great neighborhoods we got to explore and we love doing that. The best part, however, may have been the steam room. Probably the best steam room I’ve ever used, with a nice bucket of cold water right outside it to cool down quickly. Everything about it has been very top notch.
We loved visiting the mosques and learning more about Islam. One of the reasons we wanted to come here was to get a better understanding of how another part of the planet developed. We’re well versed on the Christian impact of the Western world. It was valuable to get another perspective. At each mosque we went into was very open and accommodating to visitors, as long as you were willing to follow some simple rules. (Like take your shoes off, no big deal.) We also really appreciated seeing multiple churches-turned-mosques and were impressed that the conquerors didn’t feel the need to destroy, simply repurpose. The Hagia Sophia is the greatest example of that.
Thanks largely to Ataturk, Turkey as a republic has developed since the 20’s as a progressive, secular country, despite being 98% Muslim. Their current leader, Erdogan, is trying to undo that and there’s a lot of unrest because of it. It will be interesting to see which direction it goes over time.
This is the first place we’ve visited where we saw hardly any other Americans around. Yes, the state department issued a warning to visitors early this year, but it was geared specifically to a region in the southeast portion of the country; Istanbul is essentially on the opposite side, both geographically and from an ideology perspective. But Americans have stayed away, and it’s been interesting to have the locals actually thank us for being here in a very sincere way; more like “thanks for not being afraid.”
It’s also been highly amusing to watch people’s reactions to Dan. Apparently, there aren’t many Asians traveling here – although we’ve seen more than Americans for sure – or maybe it’s Asians who speak perfect English they’re not use to. They don’t know what to make of him at any rate. He’s gotten asked a lot: You’re from China? Japan? They never get it right, and are probably wondering where the rest of the clan is. The Chinese in particular hardly ever travel alone we’ve noticed, so Dan running around with another white guy – they just don’t know what to make of that. So that’s been entertaining all by itself.

It’s been a great stay but we are ready to go. We’ve done everything we wanted to, and the temperature got hotter each day we were here. I think the high on Monday was 82; today was 92. Pretty humid, too. We’re ready to get out of that and to lovely highs of 69 in England. Tomorrow night I will be writing from Dover. Will see you then.

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