Istanbul - 16th April
Map of Istanbul
Arrived at a reasonable time but I was just completely whacked after
travelling non-stop for goodness knows how many hours. Let's see; waited
at the train station at Varsity Lakes from 7:30 till the train left at
7:48 on Monday 16th, then arrived at airport and had to wait until the
plane left at 2:50am the next day. Flew to Singapore and had to disembark
wait for an hour and then re-board the same plane. Then on again to Dubai
where we arrived later than scheduled and had to be rushed through
security and check-in and then flying again to Istanbul, arriving at (I
think) 6:00pm on the 16th. So far that's 20 hours flying and 7 hours
training and waiting. Getting out of the airport was a bit confusing but
easy enough; then by metro and (crowded) tram to near the hostel took
about an hour. Finally, the directions to the hostel were not particularly
good so I spent about 45 minutes walking around trying to find it. I
eventually dropped my bags at 8pm bringing to an end ~ 30 hours of
Can't say the hotel's what I expected. It's much more
run down than I thought and the double bed is two single beds pushed
together, so if I slept in the middle I'd slide down between them. It's
also smelly and smaller than it ought to be. Still, the shower is a good
pressure and most welcome. The power points aren't what I expected, so
it's lucky that I brought a range of adapters. Everything works just fine
and there's a good wifi here. It's unfortunate that the signal doesn't
reach to the upstairs dining area, but that's life.
Istanbul - 17th April
Nice breakfast. Very basic,
just boiled eggs, luncheon, bread (good), tomatoes, and free tea and
coffee. Unfortunately the last two items are almost undrinkable - the tea
is absolutely foul.
In the afternoon I wandered up to the two of
three main attractions in this town. First to the Hagia Sophia. Quite
impressive, but it would be better if it was a little bit refurbished. I
don't mean that the frescoes should be repainted or anything like that,
but it would be nice if the place was cleaned, some of the stonework
repaired, and maybe some of the environs given a bit of upkeep too. I
doubt that there's any value left to be gained archaeologically from
leaving it in this condition (in fact, repairs might lead to some valuable
discoveries; there's no evidence of any other research that's would be
interrupted by it.
Interior of the Church of Holy
Plan and section of Hagia Sophia
Frescoes in gallery of Hagia
Second, the Sultan Ahmed mosque.
The interior I thought was also quite impressive: the decoration made it
prettier than the Hagia Sophia, but it wasn’t as magnificently
proportioned. The courtyard was unimpressive, with a very second rate
Sultan Ahmed Mosque
Mosque plan and section
Walked around for a while a bit
aimlessly and found myself down near the Bosphorus, and had a look around
the Little Holy Wisdom. A very human scale church - now apparently a
mosque. Tut tut, such insensitivity. From there I went to the shorelines,
but I have to say they could do something better with it: it was very
Other things were closed by the time I got there so home
and relaxing a bit more, but I'm really quite recovered from yesterday and
the day before. You know, a good shower really helps a lot. I drank some
tap water to discover, while I had time, whether the water was going to be
a problem. I write this a day later and there's nothing to report, so
Istanbul - 18/04
Went to the Topkapi gates but they were blocked by soldiers, so
instead I went for a walk up the main street around here, the Divanyolu
Caddesi. It was an interesting enough walk as far as the University. On
the way back I took a detour down a side street as far as the ocean again
- and it was exactly the same as before. Walking past the fish markets I
was pestered by people who obviously thought that a tourist would be just
in the mood to carry around some raw fish as he went about the city
Spent a pleasant couple of hours in the Starbuck's
on this main street. They do seem to be the only people who know how to
make a decent cup of coffee around here. Everyone else burns it and makes
it with all water. The cappuccino is an
espresso grande with (bad) froth
on the top. Blecchh.
Dinner at the Turquoise next door. Had a
delicious one, Gevuc, I think it's called, followed by Baklava of course.
Istanbul - 19/04
Plan of the Topkapi Palace
Gates of the Topkapi Palace
Made it to the Topkapi (Gun Gate) palace today. I trudged through the
exhibitions of jewellery, but I can't say I was very excited by it. I
preferred the bizarre exhibits of the beard of the prophet, which he
apparently cut off after he took Mecca, and distributed amongst his
friends. The pieces were reassembled gradually by the Ottomans. You know,
I actually doubt this. There were also rehafted swords said to have be
longed to Omar, Uthman, Ali; fabrics belonging to (hazrat) Fatima; and
various other oddities. Unfortunately, it was not allowed to photograph
Photographs could be taken of the rooms of the harem
and other pavilions of the Palace. But eventually one brilliantly and
unrestrainedly tiled room begins to look much like another. It really is
true that sometimes less is more.
Tiled walls in the Topkapi Palace
Fancy exterior decorations on a
Topkapi Palace building
Much more generally impressive was the Archaeological Museum. I was
particularly struck by the following items
1: The display of
Mesopotamian cuneiform texts, including some really nice pieces from Early
Dynastic times (not so labelled) and from the Akkadian period. Good stuff.
The cylinder seals were too small for my camera to focus on so I used my
iPhone (also as a magnifying glass) and I hope they turned out ok.
Thracian burial votive plaques which displayed a dedication or a reference
to 'the hero on horseback' . I hadn't heard of this before, but apparently
it is the source of a common icon on the plaques or stelae. A horseman,
generally riding to the right, approaches an altar, and behind the altar
there is a tree which hides a snake. Occasionally, there is a dog who
follows the horseman. The icon is not explained, but it must surely refer
to some myth.
3: Early Byzantine art, which didn't seem so very
different for the later stuff. There was a nice series of Good Shepherd
statues which showed Christ carrying a sheep over his shoulders. Another
interesting plaque showed a scene of Jonah being swallowed by the 'Whale."
But this creature looked very much more like a crocodile.
Dinner at the Turquoise again, and still satisfactory. Awful coffee
again and I went out to find better at about 11pm, but things were mostly
shut, which I thought rather unusual for one of these Oriental countries.
Istanbul - 20/04
Another long walking day; but I spread it out so that it wasn't too
painful. After my standard breakfast I walked off to Starbucks again and
from then up to the Grand Bazaar. It was an interesting enough place but
it seems to be almost entirely directed at the tourist traffic, since
there wasn't much there I could imagine natives wanting to buy. I was also
struck by the repetitive nature of the shops. Just how many shops selling
lamps, rugs, watches, tea, T-shirts, pottery, and other such bric-a-brac
can a finite market support? The market was interesting, however, in being
almost completely indoors.
A display of bowls in the bazaar
To the Suleimaniye Mosque. It's a very massive mosque. I think that
although the Blue Mosque may face the Hagia Sophia across the courtyard
and has often been seen as the 'answer' to that Roman masterpiece, yet for
sheer beetling front, the S M has it all beat, and is really the one that
can confront the Roman work on its own terms.
Plan of the Suleiman Mosque:
(1) mosque, (2) mausoleum of
Süleyman, (3) mausoleum of Hürrem, (4) Koran recitation school, (5) public
fountain, (6) elementary school, (7) first (evvel) madrasa, (8) second
(sani) madrasa, (9) remains of medical school, (10) hospital, (11)
hospice, (12) guesthouse, (13) Sinan's tomb with domed sabil and empty
plot of his endowed school and residence, (14) the janissary agha's
residence, (15) third (salis) madrasa, (16) fourth (rabi) madrasa, (17)
bathhouse, (18) hadith college, (19) madrasa near the palace of Fatma
Sultan and Siyavus
From there I visited the aqueduct of Valens. This took me forever to find
since none of the maps I have correspond tolerably with the actual streets
on the ground.
Dinner at the Turquoise again. That'll be the last
time. It hasn't been as impressive the last two times as it was on the
Istanbul - 21/04
Exhausting afternoon with very little result. Went to the Otogar to
see about getting s ticket for Bergama overnight on the 23rd. The first
difficulty was in getting to the place: the link at Aksaray was entirely
non-obvious. There are no signs at all to tell you how to get from the
tram stop to the light rail stop. I haven't seen anything this crap since
the Beijing metro to airport fiasco at Dengshikou! And when I got to the
supposed place of buses, there was no signage again, so I wandered around
for ages (it seemed) until I found a ticket office where no one spoke
English. Well, I eventually got my ticket but I don't feel satisfied at
the efficiency of it.
I'm writing this in a cafe in Istiklal
Caddesi having arrived by funicular from Katabas. Again, not terribly
impressed. This is apparently the main street, that all tourists must see,
but it's just a bunch of shops going down a hill. I dare say the nightlife
is pretty good, but for me that's irrelevant.
Saturday crowds on Istillal
Leaving the shop, I went past the Galata tower and considered going up
it for the view, but the queue was too long and my spirit failed.
High quality buskers at the base
of the Galata Tower
In any case the walk down the hill and across the Galata Bridge supplied
all the views I could want.
On the Galata bridge
At the end of that bridge I found the Spice Market, which was not
Novak cleanly different from the Grand Bazaar - although there were, of
course, rather more people selling spices and sweets. I bought some and
will consume same later.
In the spice market
Today was a bit of a strain. The streets and trams and trains were more
crowded than I have ever seen before - and I've been on the trains in
Bombay and Beijing at peak hours. OK, the Bombay train was worse, but the
streets were much less crowded. And anyway, it looked like half the people
in the streets and most of those in the shops were tourists. You know, I'd
really hate to be here in the high season.
I'm relaxing now in the
Starbuck's on Divanyolu. Thank goodness for bland, standardised,
homogenized, ... reliable, high quality international franchise foods.
And now after a wander up and down my little street I'm back in the
Turquoise. I had intended to give another of the locals my custom, but
they were mostly just the same or were too busy. (I had a couple of
amusing conversations while I was walking.) This place is pretty full too,
and the service is a bit erratic.
Istanbul - 22/04
Couldn't be bothered doing too much today. Down to the Gulhane park
and lay around reading Sense and
Sensibility, and watching the Turks taking the sun. It's surprising to
see the young people walking around and being affectionate to each other.
One expects that girls wearing the scarf and very modest clothes would
behave somewhat differently, but they are about the same as the girls who
walk about parks in Australia.
Café at the east end of Gulhane