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Monday, 27 May 2019

Istanbul day two

I woke up late and we didn’t get out to see about our laundry until 9.15am. We went around the corner to a small store down a funny flight of steps but when the man opened the door the smell of cat piss was strong. The hotel staffer told us that the guy who runs to laundry looks after local cats. He also told us there is another laundry elsewhere in the old town, and we left our cloths in bags for that shop to pick up. They charge 13TL per kilo for the service.

We sat down for breakfast at 9.15am. I had fetta cheese, and a yellow cheese that probably doesn’t have a name, some cold French fries, bread, potato salad, sausages cooked in a kind of delicious tomato sauce, tomato and cucumber salad, and a boiled egg. I also had hot tea with milk with the meal. At 10.20am we left the hotel and entered the Topkapi Palace where the Ottoman sultans used to live before WWI. The tickets were 60TL each for the palace and 35TL each for the harem, where the sultan and his family dwelled.

There were a lot of buildings to visit and at 11.13am we sat down and had a Coke and a latte. There are a range of different buildings in the complex, from a library to a council meeting room and from a reception room to a garrison. The place is guarded now by police or soldiers wearing uniforms who carry automatic weapons. As usual for this part of the world there are scanners for bags and bodies at the front gate. At 12.30pm we bought some books and a shoulder bag at the souvenir shop.

The harem is probably the most interesting part of the complex. The name with its connotations of oriental opulence and decadence doesn’t really reflect the use this part of the palace was put to. In fact, it was merely where the sultan and his family lived. There are many rooms, including a bath and a mosque. At 1.15pm we sat down in an external courtyard to rest on a bench. The space faced the west and had views of other parts of the city. At 1.25pm we left the harem and headed toward the exit of the complex.

We stopped by the hotel briefly then headed out along Akbiyir Street to get some food. As usual there were a lot of men touting restaurants and at 2.15pm we sat down at the Babylonian Pub Restaurant. We ordered a mixed grill, which is mainly grilled chicken, beef, and lamb. It also comes with rice and a pizza-type bread. They gave us a complimentary mezze to start which was half a kind of chilli and tomato dip and half a dip made from yoghurt. This came with pita bread. I had two Efes beers and we also ordered a small bottle of water. They gave us two baklava to finish the meal with and this was also on the house. The tab came to 237TL (A$56) which, as usual for this country, was cheap.

We asked the guy who had introduced us to the place where the old town of Istanbul was located at the time of the sultans and he told us it was where we were sitting. He had bought the shop from a man who had been born in the building, he said. I took what he said as close enough to the truth to be credible. The touts on Akbiyik Street are not as pushy as their counterparts in Petra and they generally keep their sense of humour if you refuse their approaches. If you decline and walk on they will leave you alone whereas in Petra often as not they will keep throwing out cheeky lines even after you have gone past them.

In Istanbul touts also deal with people from many different countries. The multicultural nature of the city was underscored for me when I heard our guy at this restaurant touting his services to a party of Iranians who had been walking along the street and who had stopped when he had talked with them. They were from Isfahan, he got them to disclose, and they eventually sat down to order food. They were a family group with six members, including at least two children that I could see. Later, a young couple aged in their late twenties or early thirties, a man and a woman, who were from Macedonia, sat down at a table near ours.

We left the restaurant at 3.20pm. I headed off to the currency exchange kiosk and changed US$460 into 2670TL. I got a bunch of 200TL notes and some smaller ones. The big ones are inconvenient for some stores and they prefer it if you use smaller notes. A 200TL note is worth about A$50.

Then I stopped by the convenience store and bought two Efes for 30TL before heading back to the hotel. The table where we had been sitting had taken some sun later in the meal but the day still wasn’t really hot. At 4pm my phone said that Istanbul was 22 degrees Celcius and in the morning it had been very mild, in fact a bit chilly, compared to what we had come from in Amman and Jerusalem.

The laundry came back at about 6pm and I paid the deliveryman 78TL. Then at 6.30pm we went out and headed southeast toward the shore of the Bosphorus. We then turned and walked northeast on the promenade and passed many people who were taking time out of their schedules to be with friends and family. A fisherman who had come out of the water walked along on the raised parapet flanking the promenade and met up with a group of friends at 7.03pm. Another man was sitting in the shade of an umbrella with a fishing rod propped up on a stand next to him. He wore no shirt and behind him was a laden motorbike.

At 7.10pm we turned back the way we had come and later crossed the main road to get into the back streets where the restaurants and our hotel are located. The street where we crossed is the only opening for a long time, evidently, and some cars do U-turns there, which causes all sorts of problems for cars coming the other way. When the light turned green for us we scampered across the carriageway because cars coming on the cross-street do not stop to let you pass if you are on foot. We got back to the hotel at 7.45pm and then 10 minutes later sat down in a Korean restaurant where we ordered wonton soup and a salad made from tomatoes and cucumbers. The meal came with complimentary side dishes containing pickles. The tab came to 61TL and after paying we went up the hill toward Hagia Sophia.

In the square near Divan Yolu Street two young women came up to us and gave us some biscuits. They had evidently picked us out as foreigners because one of them spoke in excellent English. The other was mute the whole time. They give biscuits to outsiders because it is Ramadan  and it is a time for giving for Muslims. We initially didn’t know what they wanted and didn’t show any emotion on our faces. We were both waiting for the punchline when they would ask for money for a charity or something similar but it turned out to be perfectly innocent in the end.

When we had left the two girls we headed up the street and mingled with the massive crowd of people out to enjoy their evening with food and drink. The sweet shops on this street are fabulous and we sat down in a bakery after ordering a piece of gileki dilim, which is a kind of strawberry cake with chocolate. The bakery was called Cigdem. I had a Coke as well and the tab came to 23.5TL. At the end of the lit area we turned around, crossed the road and the light rail tracks, and headed back to the hotel.

On the way we stopped at a convenience store and bought half a watermelon, which the man behind the counter sliced up for us and put into plastic bags. The fruit cost 30TL and when we got back to the hotel we asked the guy at the front desk if he could put some of the slices in the fridge as the rooms do not have this kind of appliance in them. We went up to the roof at 9.55pm and my friend ate watermelon while I drank a Bomonti Fabrika beer.


Above: The Sebnem Hotel, where we were staying, off the eastern end of Akbiyik Street, which is very central and is located only about three minutes’ walk from Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace.


Above: A building inside the Topkapi Palace compound.


Above: Wildflowers on the lawns inside the compound.


Above: A couple of tourists sitting on the plinth of an inscription from Sohum Castle. The castle had been built on the Black Sea by Abdulhamid II and the inscription was brought to Istanbul during the Russo-Turkish War of 1876 (Wikipedia says the war took place in 1877-78). As usual with inscriptions in the palace compound, it was in Arabic.


Above: Inside a building built by Ahmed III for books. The exterior of the building is made entirely of marble.


Above: The columns in several of the cloisters are made from differently-coloured stone.


Above: Inside the imperial council hall where ministers met to discuss matters of state.


Above: The flagstones in the harem, where the sultan and his family lived, are hexagonal, as the flags in the main temple at Petra had been.


Above: The bathhouse in the harem. The basins are marble and were installed in the 16th century.


Above: Imperial hall built after 1585. This room is located inside the harem.


Above: A war-like symbolic design on one of the palace buildings.


Above: A cloister and passageway inside the harem.


Above: A hooded crow inside the palace compound.


Above: Just outside the palace walls you can see the Bosphorus to the southeast.


Above: Kids skylarking on the shore of the Bosphorus.


Above: A man with his shirt off fishing on the shore. His motorbike sits behind him on the promenade.


Above: This spear-fisherman came out of the water with a fish, then walked along the parapet next to the promenade until he met up with his friends.


Above: Ferries and container vessels ply the waters of the Bosphorus in significant numbers.


Above: People out late at night on Divan Yolu Street during Ramadan.


Above: Cake shop window on Divan Yoku Street in the evening after dark.

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