Thursday, 11 July 2013

Istanbul the Old Beauty

Domes and the sea. 

How sad to see the news of late from Turkey. And yet also inspiring, it is heartening to see people rise up and say “No, this is not what we want. We want and demand something different.” Mind you that is the history of Turkey. Forceful, powerful, inspiring leaders that do great things and then forget who  they are and how they got to be where they are and become part of the problem. And good for the Turks that they consistently do not put up with it.  I am not in any way trying to simplify the complicated social and political  history of Turkey but you have to admire a people that don’t take anything lying down. 

Meadow grass and tulips
Last year, at the end of April, Bryan and I visited Istanbul with our dear friends Sharon and Shaun. Here is a link  to that Trip. I knew as I boarded the plane home at the end of that short holiday that I wanted go back. Now, please bear in mind that I am not a well-travelled person. I know that there are a great many places that I should visit for the first time before I revisit a spot but  the heart wants what the heart wants and this heart wanted to go back to Istanbul.

Crumbling Beauty
I recently blogged about our wedding on the occasion of our 25th anniversary. We don’t usually celebrate wedding anniversaries, actually we usually forget altogether. We have the delightful (?) distinction of NEVER remembering on the day. We always remember that it's coming up some time soon but ALWAYS forget at the crucial moment. Telling? Well I don’t know but I think that if we have made it through 25 years of marriage without contemplating slitting each other’s throats while bringing up children, moving continents and suffering the losses one does in the course of a life - then we are pretty solid. Anyway, we decided that 25 years of marriage really was an occasion to celebrate. I insisted that we go to Istanbul again. So for a few days at the end of April and the beginning of May we spent three glorious days in the warm spring sunshine in the charming and romantic city of Istanbul.

Domes and Sea at sunset.

Domes and Water and Boats and ferries and ships and tugs and and and....
We saw beauty everywhere. The spring flowers at their best. Tulips, violets, daisies, daffodils, forget-me-nots, and baby’s breath. Meadow grass, strewn with delicate flowers, and oh so many more pretty, plant things. Everything growing green and fresh and new. The ancient, historical buildings. Crumbling walls, stained leaning wooden houses, cobbled streets, alleys, avenues. Walking up hills and down again. The promise of a view of water at every turn. Fishing boats, tugs, ferries, pleasure boats, and tankers - chugging, gliding, bobbing, hooting, honking, the life of a city with water as its centre, water as a cultural divide, two continents together, East meets West. The sea playing with the light, sparkling  shimmering, breeze whipped and salt scented.  Seaways so busy and yet calming to watch. The freshest of fish. A fisherman with a cigarette in the corner of his smile, admiring his catch of silver shards of sardines dripping wet, wriggling and fresh - still on the line.

Fresh salads.

Squirming fresh fingers of sardines

And fresh Juice!
When we last we visited  Istanbul, old family friends Nikkiforos Metaxa and Vassiliki Papageorgiou were in Greece so we missed seeing each other. This year we met up and had a lovely meal in the oldest Greek restaurant in Istanbul tucked away in the spice market.

Nikiforos and Vasiliki

Nikki and Vassiliki gave us a few pointers and we set off around the city hunting down recommendations mainly of the mosaic and tile variety. Bryan was determined to do this using every available type of public transport so we got about via the by now familiar trams and we tried out the buses this time too. Bryan dragged me off to use the world’s 2nd oldest tunnel train in the world after London’s Underground and my first ever ride on a funicular, yes you may break in to operatic song. Istanbul has two.The Tunnel" inaugurated in January of 1875. How historical is that? We also used the more Modern  Kabataş-TaksimFunicular. There is still one form of transport hat we have missed. The cable car, but never fear there is always next year.

In the spice souk district beautiful tiles in a Mosque

Tiling details
I even allowed Bryan to follow his sense of direction to get us to and from destinations . That took a lot of sucking it up on my part let me tell you. It was worth it. On our adventures we came across, quite by accident, the ingenious and delightful Panorama 1453. What a gem. Considering that it was built only in 2009 it is a bit old fashioned, but oh my word, what a treat for museum lovers. The 360% view of one of the fiercest battles of the Constantinople siege, the event that gave Sultan Mehmet II his title of Fatih (the Conqueror), should be on your list of things not to miss. Terribly nationalistic in nature and consequently wonderfully grand. I loved the whole experience. I loved the soundtrack, the models, the amazing painted dome. I felt like a 10 year old child on a school trip. It was just so cool.

Under this dome there is magic! Panorama 1453


a model of the real thing to give you a taster.

Have a peek at it here Panorama 1453
We worked up an appetite and we  walked our meals off. Good trade-off I think. We did not revisit the big tourist attractions. There is plenty to do and see in Istanbul without repeating oneself.  Although we did stay in the same hotel that we stayed in before. This got us a room upgrade on arrival. YAY! It was a lovely gesture.The staff were, down to the last man, the same staff as last year and that was charming. We received the same care and attention and  the same delicious breakfasts that set us up for our hitting the streets for a lot of walking days. I definitely recommend staying there Click here to book; Best Point Hotel Fatih and his staff will make you feel most welcome.

Humble Hotel with a Huge Heart

I desperately wanted to visit the Mosaic Museum which was closed for renovations last year. This museum alone was worth the trip. The most splendid mosaics. Here is the blurb that I cribbed for the internet:

The museum hosts the mosaics used to decorate the pavement of a peristyle court, dating possibly to the reign of Byzantine emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565). It was uncovered by Turkish archaeologists from the University of St Andrews in Scotland during extensive excavations at the Arasta Bazaar in Sultan Ahmet Squarein 1935-1938 and 1951-1954. The area formed part of the south-western Great Palace, and the excavations discovered a large peristyle courtyard, with a surface of 1872 m²,entirely decorated with mosaics. It was at this point that the Austrian Academy of Sciences, supervised by Prof. Dr. Werner Jobst, undertook to study and preserve the famous palace mosaic and to carry out additional archeological examinations (1983-1997) within the scope of a cooperative project with the Directorate General of Monuments and Museums in Turkey.

and what they found had me spellbound.

Mosaics in situ since around AD 550.

Mosaic Museum

Mosaic Museum

Once again the trip was not enough and we have promised to visit again. If I could become a cobble in  a street of Istanbul I would be happy.

I absolutley want to be buried under this fellow. I love the idea of become fertilizer under his paws.
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