The Day of the Palace Venture

Originally published 4 September 2011.

Hey there everyone! Hope everyone’s doing well and enjoying life! =) Andrea, Dan, and I are livin’ it up Turkey-style these days! Friday was our second and last full day in Istanbul, and we decided to go to the Topkapi Palace—boy are we glad we decided to devote the day to it! After breakfast we walked over to the palace, and instead of taking the guided tour, we did our own using our guidebook to do dramatic readings from. It was quite the experience! And just for grins we peppered our day with show tunes—or songs from various Disney and Rogers & Hammerstein movies. =)

It was really big and right on this cliff overlooking the Bosphorus Straight, and of course it was quite the exorbitant and beautiful, and it seemed to go on forever! There were mosaics on the walls and marble on the floors, and basically it looked like a palace right out of Aladdin! This is indeed a whole new world—we don’t see this kind of stuff every day! =) One of the more interesting things about the palace was the influence of both European and Asian architecture. Istanbul actually does straddle Europe and Asia, and the Bosphorus Straight is the dividing line, so I thought it was really interesting to see both kinds of building styles all over the place, even in the same structure! The thing that looked most European to me were the windows—white outer walls and wooden shutters. The Asian influence was apparent in the decoration and the curved roofs on some of the buildings. Interesting to me. =)

Probably the coolest thing in the palace was something quite surprising. An exhibit about ancient weaponry! Wish we could have taken pictures, but it wasn’t allowed in that exhibit. There were swords literally twice my size, maces, guns with mother of pearl for decoration, horsehair somethings (we thought those were a little weird), archery equipment of all sorts, daggers, everything you could think of! Some of the stuff was made over a thousand years ago—and maybe a couple of thousand years ago—and a lot of it was gifted to the sultan of the time from Russia, Iran, China, France, and other places of power. It was really interesting to see the various materials they used and the ways the weapons were made. There were curved swords and squiggly swords and bows with various types and sizes of arrows, etc. There were a couple of displays of armor, too, as well as ceremonial garb—very elaborate!

We ate a snack and decided we needed to definitely see the Harem. It was sort of a palace community within the main palace—and just so you know (because I didn’t know this before!), “harem” means “private.” It was the private living quarters of the sultan’s family—his mother, his wives, his “favorite”, and all their kids, along with their servants. I always just thought it was a play place for the Sultan, but apparently it was more than that alone! The mosaics and carpets and things in the harem were quite elaborate as well, and I thought it was interesting that ALL of the ceilings were domed with paintings at the top (frescoes).

Fun fact about Istanbul: there are cats EVERYWHERE! No telling what diseases they have, but people just let them roam around! There was even one in the gift shop, asleep on a shelf, right on top of some pretty cloth thing that was for sale. I took a picture, and one of the store attendants walked right in front of me when I did it—and she didn’t even act like there was anything abnormal! I got a kick out of it because we’d been talking all about the plethora of cats all over the place. Haha!

So, after five hours exploring the palace grounds (the guidebook recommended only three!), we set out for the Cisterns! One might not think much of a water-gathering place, but these folks knew how to make it something special! Dan was a bit skeptical, but Andrea and I had heard great things about it, so we told him it was a requirement and that he needed to protect us in the depths. We were all certainly pleasantly surprised by what we saw! It was a bit tacky-touristy in the entrance, but once we got back into the bowels of the Cistern, we loved it! The columns were very Roman looking (built of course by the Byzantines!) and SO elaborate! A lot of them were brought down from other buildings and places, so they didn’t all match, but they looked REALLY cool in the dark cave-like place surrounded by water and carp fish with yellow lights shining on them. One of the special columns had a tear-drop design carved into it, and the two most famous columns were the Medusa heads! One was upside down, and the other was on her side. There were a couple of different legends written about Medusa’s origin in Greek mythology, but no real reason why she was included in the Cistern. =) Just for the cool factor! Pictures didn’t turn out too well because of the darkness on the Cistern, but if you google “Cistern Turkey” and clock on images, you’ll get some pictures from people with the right equipment. =)

So that was actually the highlight of my day! And then we ate some non-authentic (and quite disappointing!) Turkish food. They brought out French bread instead of pita, and gave us a more expensive appetizer that we didn’t order. Oh well. Live and learn—you learn all sorts of things when you travel!

And then came the Grand Bazaar! We didn’t buy anything, but we knew we needed to go for the experience! We didn’t realize it was all inside—I think we were still picturing the whole Aladdin thing with the outside street vendors and people haggling and such everywhere. It was really cool to say we’d been there, but not exactly what we expected! The only thing we bought was ice cream right outside of the bazaar. It looks more like gelato, but it’s really pliable and stretchy—kind of like cheese on pizza, but WAY better-tasting! It was VERY good!

So then it was time to trek back to the hotel. The walk back that evening was down hill, but it seemed so much longer than the walk away from it that morning! Our show tune soundtrack helped us through, though! Haha. Once back to the hotel, Dan went to get something to eat and Andrea and I ended up having to have some strong words with the hotel attendant to make sure we had our *promised* shuttle ride to the airport the next morning. And a bit later, we had to have some stronger words with the same guy and another hotel manager about the cost. Interesting the way business works around here. Don’t stay at Hotel Buyuk Keban. 😉

And then it was bedtime! And wake up time was 3:00 a.m.! Shuttle came for us, we got to the airport on time and got through security with minimal difficulty (my bag got searched!), and got breakfast at a little place in the terminal. There were some communication issues with getting my breakfast heated and getting cream or milk for my coffee, then for payment—credit cards are accepted, but sometimes not! And then we got on the plane and set out to Adana! Randi picked us up at the airport around 7:30, and we started right in!

For pictures, click here!

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