Thursday, 30 May 2019

Istanbul day five

I finished breakfast and was back in my room at 8.43am then I went out toward Sultanahmet Street and arrived there by 10.10am. Five minutes later I went into a cafe where with my travelling companion I had had sweets on one occasion before and ordered a cappuccino. It cost 16TL and I left the cafe at 10.30 and walked up the hill, intending to go to the cemetery the two of us had visited before. There was also the Press Museum up the street to have a look at.

I went into the site where the graves are located and took some photos then came back to the street and took a photo of the sign at the entrance. A man called out to me and in response I told him I had seen the graves.

He spoke good English and told me his name was Selahaddin. He said he had been to Australia before and told me a family member of his farms wheat in Wagga Wagga. I told him I had been there before. He then took me to a Roman cistern nearby where the entry is free and we got to the building in short time. We got in the lift to go down to the basement but I got a call on my phone from my friend and told him I wanted to go back to the street. The man however insisted on taking me to his shop to see his carpets, so I dutifully followed him down the street. We turned off the main drag and entered a side street where there are restaurants and he waved at two female tourists sitting at a table outside a cafe. He told me that he had sold four carpets to them.

I still had to get back to my hotel but the man was very persistent and we walked along until we got to the same street where the Basilica Cistern entrance is located. He showed me his shop and we went down the steps. I told him to his back that I had to go back to the hotel – this being about the fifth time I had said the same thing – but he just said something in rapid Turkish and ignored me. I turned around and made toward the shop entrance just as another man entered through the door from the street with his hand out. “Why you don’t stop?” he asked me as I went through the door, ignoring his outstretched hand. I got to the street at 10.50am and remembered how Selahaddin had called me “brother” at first when we had met and I was still a prospective customer.

Back at the hotel we got ready to go out, with plans to see the Dolmabahce Palace this day. We left the hotel at 12.40pm and the guy on the front desk phoned for a taxi for us, which this time charged according to the meter. We arrived at the palace entrance at 12.50 and the ride only cost us 23TL. We paid for the tickets and got inside the compound after picking up an audio device and leaving my NSW driver’s license as security.

Inside the compound there are rhododendron trees and rose bushes that are surrounded by grass and the place is opulent in the European style. It was built in the middle of the 19th century and six sultans lived there until the Ottomans were extinguished by WWI. Now, peacocks, a sort of wild bird that looks like a large quail and that has black spots on its white plumage, and a bevy of colourful roosters and hens, live in the compound. I presume the guards only stay there during working hours. To complement the avian theme of the place, a fountain in the middle of the front lawn has a device on it that is carved from limestone and is shaped like a group of swans.

A group of people nearby talking like Americans were quite loud with their comments and I heard one of them say, “Could you imagine living here?” Inside you are not allowed to take photos and frankly I would not have liked to have lived there during the life of any of the resident sultans.

There are chandeliers, red carpets, gilded mirrors, parquet floors, heavy furniture, and moulded and painted ceilings. You put on blue coverings over your shoes to protect the carpets. The place is dripping with European luxury. In one room the chandelier was from England, the fireplace from France, and the vases from Japan. The same room also had a large Chinese vase on a table in its centre that was sitting on a ceramic ewer.

Another room was for prayer and it had small desks that you have to sit on the floor to use but the style of the room was still European. The room was a mosque for people working in the palace and for visitors. The glass chandelier in the room however was from Italy.

We then went up what is called the crystal staircase because the balustrades are made from cut glass. The floor upstairs at the landing has a complicated intaglio design inlaid into it. The rooms often have paintings by European artists who lived in Turkey, including French and German and Italian men. Back downstairs, the grand ceremonial hall has fluted pillars but the roof is not as high as the one in Hagia Sophia. We then went to the gift shop and I bought a book for 35TL and a book of postcards for 15TL. At 2.30pm we entered the harem after putting on another set of blue booties. The most interesting area in this building is the sultan’s apartments, which have hallways that are populated by European-style paintings that depict scenes of war.

We also saw the sultan’s mother’s apartments. At this point we met with a very nice guard whose name was Nyazi and who accompanied us through the rest of the harem telling us about the different rooms in his terrible English. His English was not the only thing that made his conduct differ compared to how Selahaddin had behaved earlier in the day: Nyazi was warm, hospitable, generous with his energy and time and asking for nothing in return for the information he gave us.

The rooms often had ceramic heaters and our guide pointed out that the carpets in some rooms were made near Izmir, in Anatolia. I told him the word “weaving” and used my hands to emulate the movement of the machinery used to make rugs, and he took the word in with a degree of satisfaction. He told us that the sultan’s mother was the boss of the harem and pointed out that her apartments are located between the sultan’s apartments and the apartments of his wives (four were permitted under Islam). Concubines lived on different floors, including in the basement.

One room was filled with dark wooden furniture that had come from Japan. It had screens that were made by inlay of what looked like mother of pearl on a black lacquer background. There was also a Chinese embroidered screen in the sultan’s dressing room. We left the building at 3.05pm and sat down in a cafe and had drinks: a bottle of orange pop and a bottle of water, which came to 10TL. The crystal pavilion was closed and since Nyazi had told us the palace compound didn’t close until 5pm (the guidebook we had brought with us said it closes at 3pm) we headed to the Painting Museum which is in the same compound.

We entered the building at 3.40pm and paid the ticket price (20TL each). Most of the paintings in the building were made by Europeans living in Turkey in the 19th century and there is a fantastic collection of Orientalist works if that is the kind of thing you enjoy seeing.

We left the building at 4.20pm and made our way along a long cobbled path to what had been signposted as the exit but then had to turn back the way we had come because before going out we still had to pick up my driver’s license. After getting through the turnstile near the gift shop (which we used as the exit) we walked back to the street entrance and at 5.08pm got in an empty cab that appeared out of the heavy afternoon traffic, after getting the driver to agree to a price. He took us to Mesrutiyet Street and the trip cost 30TL.

At 5.20pm, on a nearby street, we sat down in a restaurant after ordering food at the front of the shop, as is often the way in this country. We had eggplant stuffed with minced beef, green beans, and sardines with rice. I had a Coke and the tab came to 52TL, which was reasonable for street food, which this was. At 5.38pm we arrived at Istiklal Street and I asked an older man walking there the name of the thoroughfare. It was very busy with pedestrians and is otherwise only used by a tram that goes down the middle of the street, as well as by the police, who drive up and down it as they drive up and down Divan Yolu Street on the south side of the Golden Horn.

We headed north and then turned around and at 6.05pm went into a cafe and ordered an iced latte, a beer (Efes), and a brownie that arrived heated up with bubbling chocolate sauce. I ordered another beer after a while and then we got to talking with the staff about Turkish baths (hamam). They gave us directions to get to one and after paying for the drinks and the cake (93.5TL) we headed up past a large group of uniformed police and turned off the main drag into a side street, that changed direction at a corner, and went downhill. Google Maps came in handy in this instance. The place we had been aiming for had no vacant timeslots so we turned around and went to another one we had passed a bit earlier. In the laneway as usual there were lots of cats. People sat on chairs in the street, talking.

The hamam we entered was substandard and we left after paying and having the service (I waited in the foyer watching TV) then at 8.12pm we headed back to Mesrutiyet Street. We went into the Yunus Emre Teras Cafe at 8.27pm and sat down at a table overlooking the city and ordered a Coke and an orange juice. I paid (22TL) and then we went to the street and hailed a cab. The driver agreed to use the meter so we got into his Hyundai at 8.40pm but he didn’t understand any English and so stopped at a hotel to ask the guy at the front door to translate for us. We told the hotel staffer where we wanted to go and he told the driver, who took us to Eminonu, which is just on the other side of the Galata Bridge. Here we got out of the cab after I paid the 10.25TL shown on the meter with 15TL, telling the driver to keep the change.

We walked around for a while in the busy streets with their numerous restaurants and other shops, then headed along the light rail tracks toward our hotel. We got back to Hagia Sophia at 9.10pm and then walked to our street and sat down in a restaurant. The meal we ordered was simple. It comprised a rocket salad (which turned out to have no rocket in it but plenty of tomato), an Adana kebab, and some water. This restaurant serves no alcohol. The staff also brought us a complimentary mezze which was a spicy vege dip that came with flat bread. The tab came to 72TL and I left some change in the envelope when we left the premises. We got back to the hotel at 10pm and my laundry was ready to pick up, which cost 26TL.

Above: A cemetary with a cafe inside the compound that people use regularly. The attitude toward the dead is in stark contrast to what applies in Western countries.

Above: The swan fountain out the front of the Dolmabahce Palace on the north side of the Golden Horn.

Above: The Bosphorus seen from the palace,

Above: The side entrance to the palace, fronting the water.

Above: The harem.

Above: Floating mines in the palace compound, near the Painting Museum.

Above: On Mesrutiyet Street.

Above: On Mesrutiyet Street.

Above: On Istiklal Street. The tram is coming down the middle of the thoroughfare.

Above: The view from the Yunus Emre Teras Cafe, looking northwest.

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