Friday 31 May 2019

Istanbul day six

I got up late and finished breakfast by 9.55am then rested in my room. By 11.35am I was in the lobby waiting for my friend to emerge from her room. We left the hotel at 11.50am and headed west. The wind was from the west at about five knots. We got to the Grand Bazaar at 12.15pm and wandered around for a while then ducked into a carpet shop where my friend bargained the dealer down to 1000TL on the price of a woollen Kurdish carpet.

After she made this purchase we sat down at 1.25pm at a cafe and ordered cappuccinos (32TL) then at 1.45pm left the bazaar and headed down the hill toward Eminonu and Sirkeci. At 2.30pm we queued at the entrance to the Balkan Lokantasi Restaurant to order some food, which we did at the front of the shop. We chose eggplant stuffed with rice, a spinach dish, Brussels sprouts, and chicken cooked with potato and carrot. It came with two dishes of rice. We also bought a Coke and a bottle of water. The tab was 41.5TL, which was very cheap. After eating, at 2.55pm we went into a camera store and my friend bought an SD card reader and a spare SD card (156TL).

We went across the road at the bottom of the hill and sat down in Sirkeci Station for five minutes, then headed across the main road (Kennedy Street) toward the ferry dock. We had a look in a bookstore there and decided not to sit down in the cafe next door, then crossed the road again and at 3.30pm caught a cab after getting the driver to agree to start the meter once we got into his well-worn Fiat. He drove us south around the headland on Kennedy Street.

I tried using my Turkish by saying the name of the street the hotel is located on but the taxi driver did not understand me, so we agreed to go to Ayasofya because everyone knows how to pronounce that. He dropped us off close to the destination and the fare came to 15TL. We got back to the hotel at 3.50pm and at 4.35pm I went out to change some more US dollars into lira (US$500 came to 2820TL).

At 6.20pm we left the hotel, and entered the Blue Mosque’s garden 25 minutes later. A man came up to me at the entrance and told us that the mosque was closed to visitors at that hour. He then asked me where I had come from. I told him I was from Australia and he said, “G’day mate,” and asked me if I had brought any Vegemite with me to Turkey. He told me his family operated a gift shop and I didn’t say anything but my travelling companion said we didn’t want to see it. He then asked why we were so angry and we proceeded ahead, ignoring him.

You get this sort of treatment often in Istanbul. When touts don’t get the reaction they want they can get aggressive. It’s the same with stores that try to sell you the usual kinds of tourist tat and that then put signs in the windows of their shops telling passers-by not to take photos. In any case they are likely to harass people walking by their shops then get upset if they don’t manage to get any money out of you.

It’s all very well to have little oases where tourists can get the kinds of things they usually want, like fresh food and beer and fridge magnets. But if you are going to get angry when tourists show that they are tired of the constant hassling then you are often going to be disappointed. It seems that being disappointed is a specialty of the Turks. Israelis are like this too: very short and unfriendly-sounding. There is very little charm on offer in these countries, and if you are a tourist you are generally expected to do one thing and one thing only: give away your currency as fast as is humanly possible.

After leaving the grounds of the Blue Mosque we walked into a set of demountables that had been set up for a book fair. A diesel generator was roaring away next to the Egyptian obelisk that one of the Roman emperors had transported from that country to Constantinople, when the city was still called by that name. Many of the books on the tables people were walking past were religious ones and all were in Turkish as far as I could see. Outside on the square hundreds of people were waiting for fasting to end so that they could eat. They were sitting at tables that had been set up on the thoroughfare, or else on the grass in front of the mosque.

At 7.40pm we sat down at a restaurant and ordered a sejuk pide, a mix kebab, and two glasses of red wine. I also had a beer, and the tab came to 195TL. The wine came in enormous balloons and was quite good. We got back to the hotel at 8.35pm.

Above: The Grand Bazaar entrance near the light rail line.

Above: Inside the Grand Bazaar.

Above: The window of a gold vendor's shop in the Grand Bazaar.

Above: North of the Grand Bazaar inside an arcade with shops in it. This window shows children's clothes.

Above: On the way down the hill from the light rail line toward Eminonu.

Above: Sirkeci Station.

Above: The lawn in front of the Blue Mosque where people wait until the fasting ends.

Above: Hagia Sophia seen from the south side.

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.

Wednesday 29 May 2019

Istanbul day four

This was a big day and we probably did too much. It started for me at 9.37am when I went up to have breakfast. About an hour later I went upstairs again to the roof to have more coffee after my travelling companion emerged from her room.

After eating we went up to Hagia Sophia, which was built in its current incarnation in the 6th century AD. At 11.20am we joined the queue for tickets and 17 minutes later we were in the compound. There are a number of large doors that you can use to get inside the building, which is no longer used either as a mosque or as a church. There are three main spaces inside the shell: two cloisters connected to the nave by doors, with the altar at the end of it. There were hundreds of people in the nave and in the aisles taking photos of the enormous ceiling and the space beneath it. The roof in the middle is hundreds of feet above ground.

We went up toward where the altar used to be. The nave faces slightly south of true east. There are round green granite columns, round red porphyry columns, and white marble columns that are square in shape. Each column is a single piece of rock carved to its final shape. The walls are lined with cut stone in green and pink hues. There is also a separate room formed by a golden grille that is called Sultan Ahmet I’s library. The building represents the power of the empire to construct an edifice to hold thousands of people who would all have been able to breathe oxygen in the space.

Some of the flagstones in the place might be crazed with age and wear but the basic structure is still sound. Outside it was 29 degrees Celcius but it was a good 15 degrees cooler in the interior. At 1.05pm I sat down to rest while my friend went up to the gallery. Then we went to the shop where I bought some fridge magnets and a notebook (51TL) and at 1.40pm we left the compound.

Ten minutes later we sat down in a cafe near the Istanbul Archaeology Museum to have a plate of sweets, a Coke and an orange juice. This came to 42TL, which was a bit steep. At 2.10 we went into the museum and used the toilets, then entered the Tiled Kiosk which is made from marble and limestone. Here there are Islamic objects, mainly ceramic dishes and bottles. After looking through this building we left it at 2.50pm and went into a building closer to the entrance and looked around at the exhibits there. In it are many objects, especially from Mesopotamia, but the curation is not very good. The amount of information available for each item is pretty basic and we thought that they did a better job in Jerusalem.

After looking around this building at 3.35pm we sat down in the cafe on the site and ordered a Coke and a small bottle of Evian water, which came to 31TL. As we were sitting there a woman came up to the counter and the sales clerk asked her where she was from (he had asked me the same thing) and she answered, “From the earth like you.” He was a bit puzzled by this response and told the woman that the information was requested from the system in his POS terminal. She told him then that she was from Belgium and he laughed. We then went to the museum shop and bought some literature (62TL) and left the compound, heading to the main street where the light rail runs.

We stopped in at a restaurant at 4.10pm. I ordered an Efes beer and we also ordered eggplant kebab and some pomegranate juice. The meal came with mezze and bread. The dip was made from black olives. The tab came to 103TL but the meal took ages to arrive. At one point Grace Jones was singing ‘Sweetest Taboo’. The waiter kept putting us off, telling us that eggplant takes a long time to prepare but we sat there for almost an hour before getting up and paying.

We got in a cab down the street at 5.05pm and the driver quoted us 10 Euros to get to our destination, on the other side of the Golden Horn near Taksim Square. He stopped along the way to duck into a shop, I was not sure what for, and left us with the key to his Fiat. Then he came back and we continued on the journey. On the way as he was driving he kept taking the battery out of his Samsung phone and fiddling with the SIM card, which was unnerving. We arrived at our destination, or close to it, and I gave the driver 70TL.

We got out of the cab and asked a group of men walking on the street where the Pera Museum was located. They told us to turn around and go back the way he had come from, and we arrived there at 5.25pm. We paid (20TL each) and walked up the stairs to the second floor, which is where the main permanent exhibit is on display. Here they have a lot of 18th and 19th century European style paintings, some by locals who had studied in Europe and other by Europeans who had travelled to Turkey to make their art. After we had looked around all the floors, in the shop we bought two postcards (10TL) and at 6.25pm left the building, then walked along Mesturiyet Street until we arrived at a print shop. Here, we looked through the items for sale and picked out a few, then paid (120TL for four prints) and left at 7.05pm. The proprietor spoke good English and was very pleasant.

We walked further along the street and then went into a cafe at about 7.10pm, and ordered what was called a “green juice” and a cappuccino (27.5TL). ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ in a cover version was playing at one point on the stereo.

We left the shop and turned back the way we had come and tried to flag down a taxi. The driver wanted 60TL, which we thought was excessive; the proprietor in the print shop had told us it should only cost about 20TL to get from there to Sultanahmet Plaza. A security guard working at a hotel who was standing on the pavement asked us in English where we wanted to go and we told him. Then he made a call on his phone and told us to wait there. A taxi came along about three minutes later on and the driver confirmed that it would cost 30TL to get to our destination, so we got in his Renault and thanked the security guard.

We got to a street near Sultanahmet Plaza at 7.35pm. When we arrived back at our hotel we rested for a while then went out to the Korean restaurant near it, arriving there at about 8.40pm. We ordered kim chee soup, beef with chillies, and mixed veges. I also had a beer. The meal came with complimentary pickles and we also had two bowls of rice. The tab came to 156TL and then we returned to the hotel.

Above: Inside one of the cloisters at Hagia Sophia, looking through one of the enormous doorways toward the nave.

Above: The ceiling of Hagia Sophia is hundreds of feet above the ground.

Above: Tourists inside Hagia Sophia, which means "Holy Wisdom".

Above: The altar in Hagia Sophia with a local cat sitting in front of it. The cat was lame.

Above: One of the square marble columns inside Hagia Sophia.

Above: A cross carved into a column in Hagia Sophia.

Above: In the Istanbul Archaeological Museum there is the Tiled Kiosk, which contains a lot of ceramics like this dish from Canakkale with a ship as the design.

Above: In the museum there is a sculpture garden with lots of carved stone items like these.

Above: Votive statuettes from Arabia, 4th to 1st century BC. 

Above: Representation of the buried for use on a grave, 1st century BC to 1st century AD, from Yemen.

Above: Limestone Egyptian altar, late dynastic period, 712BC to 332BC.

Above: In the Pera Museum, this painting of Karl Fredrik von Breda by Yusuf Agah Efendi, oil on canvas, 1794-1796.

Above: Graffiti in Pera.

Tuesday 28 May 2019

Istanbul day three

The day began badly with some differences of opinion between the two of us. My friend went off to have a Turkish bath and a massage and I stayed in the hotel. At 1.45pm I sat down to have a cheeseburger and a Coke in a restaurant on Akbiyir Street and at 2.13pm my friend came back to the hotel, where I was by this time waiting for her to arrive. I was relieved when she appeared. She had not eaten however and so we left the place and walked up to Divan Yolu Street and went into a restaurant we had seen the day before where they display food in the window.

This form of retail display seems to be standard for Istanbul restaurants of a certain kind. You can pick out the dishes you want to eat, then you sit down at a table inside and have your meal, and then after finishing it you pay for it. Her meal came to 65TL.

Today was different in one respect to the previous day because we saw two enormous police trucks with water cannon nozzles placed on top of them. The trucks were standing at strategic locations near Ayasofya Square with their engines running. There was also a black police vehicle of the kind we had seen the day before roaring along the road next to the Bosphorus.

After the meal we walked along the street and at 3.20pm I saw a man standing near the light rail stop wearing a black T-shirt with “Winter is coming” printed on it in black letters. Five minutes later we entered a sweet shop with the obligatory front display and asked about the goods in the window. The guy behind the counter gave us a small slice of alwar (sesame roll) to try and he also said they sell sujuk (Turkish delight). We went upstairs but the menu they had on the table there didn’t have the same sweets that were in the window, so we got up and left. We walked back up the hill a bit until we got to another sweet shop, and looked at the window display and ordered a selection of sweets, then sat down outside it at a table that had been placed, with others like it, on the pavement. The selection we had chosen included Turkish delight, and there was also a cappuccino for me (38TL). The food came on a plate with two knives and forks and there were nine pieces of sweet on it. It was very sweet indeed and was too much to eat so we got the remaining pieces as take-away.

At 3.50pm we entered the Basilica Cistern and paid for two tickets (20TL each). Downstairs the cavern the Romans built in the time of Justinian I (about 500AD) is pretty spectacular and the Turks heighten the drama by piping in a kind of ancient music so that you feel as though you are in a Fellini movie. Both locals and tourists use the place. We wandered around along the concrete walkway that has been constructed to support visitors and took photos, then at 4.20pm we came back out onto the street via the exit. This brought us to a different street from the one on which we had used to enter  the complex. We headed back toward the hotel and sat down in a beautiful cafe we had seen earlier and had a Turkish coffee and a rose tea (10TL) before getting back to the hotel at 5.17pm.

After resting for a while we left the hotel again at 7.30pm and went into a carpet shop because the tout on the street had given us directions the previous day (which had turned out in the end to be wrong) and he said now that we had promised to go inside to look at the goods on display. We relented and went upstairs to where another man, who had good English, talked to us about the silk carpets including how much work goes into making them and where they come from. The price he asked was high (25,000TL, about A$8500) so we said it was too expensive. He had got us talking about the Australian economy and he seemed to know something about it but the objects on his floor, which another man had unrolled to show us, were just to dear for us to think about. On the way there I had changed more US dollars into lira, and this time it had been US$600 being equal to 3465TL.

We left the store at 8.10pm and went on our way, heading back to the same place my friend had eaten at at lunchtime. We had three dishes with lamb, potato, eggplant, and minced beef predominating. The meal was with two types of rice, one of which was plain white rice and the other of which had been prepared with a kind of tomato sauce. We also got a Coke and an extra bottle of water (a large one), plus a bottle to drink at the table with the meal. The place was full of families breaking their fast, and we also asked the staff working there for the standard plate of salad (cucumber and tomato, grated carrot, and chopped iceberg lettuce) that the other diners were enjoying. The whole lot came to 90Tl, which was very cheap.

After eating we headed further along the street until we came to a cemetery containing marble graves belonging to statesmen of the Ottoman court. Each grave had a plaque on it telling visitors who had been buried there. One of the plaques had “H1335” printed on it but when I got back to the hotel I couldn’t work out what this date referred to as, using the Muslim calendar, it would have placed the construction of the grave in the middle of the 20th century.

We asked some people standing on the steps leading to the street what the things we saw inside the walled enclosure were and eventually came across a youngish man who spoke good English and who was able to help us to understand what we were seeing. Inside there is also a cafe so people go through the space behind the high walls that are on the street, to enjoy a meal in the evenings during Ramadan.

We left the place and walked down the hill toward the hotel but I had the call of nature so we ducked into a cafe at 9.30pm and ordered a piece of cake so I could use the WC. The cake was called “velvet cake” and was made with solid cream with red layers interspersed between them. It cost 18TL. After eating this dessert we walked further and went into some side streets where the touts were busy securing customers for their stores. One of them got annoyed with me when I refused his entreaties and asked me why I was angry. I said I was not but wanted to add in my reply to him that it is impossible two walk 50 metres in Istanbul in some areas without someone calling out to you because they want to get money from your wallet. We got back to the hotel at 10.30pm.

Above: Inside the Basilica Cistern off Sultanahmet Street, Istanbul.

Above: The concrete walkway is visible in this photo along with the marble columns supporting the vaulted ceiling that still supports the street above.

Above: This column has a different design. It is called the "weeping column" because of the eye motif used on it.

Above: The courtyard where we had Turkish coffee and rose tea, near Hagia Sophia square.

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.