Friday, March 11, 2011

Of pleasures and palaces

street art-literally- near Galata tower
We woke up "on vacation", a wonderful feeling wherein all the possibilities of the next two weeks are on the edge of your consciousness, waiting to happen. Even when you are 'retired', there's the same anticipation and refreshing feeling of things 'different'.

T's brother and sister-in-law (from now on referred to as C & S) were arriving later in the day, so we got up and had a very nice breakfast in the hotel's breakfast room.  It was a typical Turkish breakfast: bread, jam, honey, yogurt, sliced cucumbers, tomato wedges, white cheese, black olives, and hard boiled eggs.
my çaydanlık

The preferred morning drink is çay or Turkish tea.  When I first arrived in Turkey it became important that I master the art of making tea and having it available for when someone would drop in.

a couple of my tea glasses
Tea is typically prepared using two stacked kettles (çaydanlık) especially designed for tea preparation. Water is brought to a boil in the larger lower kettle and then some of the water is used to fill the smaller kettle on top and steep several spoons of loose tea leaves, producing a very strong tea.

When served, the remaining water is used to dilute the tea on an individual basis, giving each person the choice between strong (koyu; "dark") or weak (açık; "light").  Tea is drunk from small glasses to enjoy it hot in addition to showing its color, and sweetened with lumps of sugar.

As C & S wouldn't be arriving til evening, we decided to walk along Istikal street, and discover old landmarks and revisit places we'd gone years ago as well as discover where things were - in daylight.

We did manage, along the way, to find a computer guy who got my laptop to work fine at his place of business, because he had unprotected wi-fi.  Still the idiot computer continued to be stubborn in hotel (and all subsequent hotels) so I found myself letting go of my frustration with it and I began to refer to it as "my little door stop".  I figured I'd go on vacation from my computer as well. 

I started keeping a journal on paper again and was amused by the novelty.  However, I can't tell you how glad I was to have printed out all relevant emails, confirmations, and tickets (along with receipts!) that I had arranged before we left on the trip.  Several times, they became VERY important to have to hand.

Hüseyin Aga Camii
We walked from Taksim Square to the Galata tower, taking in the sights and sounds (I have too many pictures of the buildings along the way, as I was fascinated by how lovely so many of them were!)

Along the way we went inside to see St Anthony of Padua Cathedral (link is a cool 360 photograph- not mine) and we also, just to be ecumenical, stopped to see a small but lovely old mosque Hüseyin Aga Camii built in 1597. We hunted up the locations of a few places to visit the following day and then we took the little tram from Galata all the way back up to Taksim Square.

lightly battered shrimp- very yum
We found a very nice Chinese restaurant, full with a lot of locals, where we had lunch.  The food was made by a real Chinese chef and was wonderful, though the decor was seemingly an afterthought.  Still, the prices were reasonable the food delicious, and so for me "Life was Good."

C& S arrived safe and sound and best of all with no problems.  They checked in and then we all went for a short walk, then on to dinner at Haci Baba restaurant. (if you click the link, we sat at the middle table next to the window!
end of tour downpour

We all made an early night of it and we off and running shortly after breakfast to visit Dolmabahçe Palace.  We decided to walk, as C& S expressed a need to stretch their legs after 19 hours in an airplane.  So walk we did from our hotel to the Bosphorus!  Then we walked the whole of the Palace tour.  When we finished it was pouring rain, so we decided to visit the little clock museum and the 'crystal palace' which turned out to be a (newly opened to the public) lovely Victorian solarium in one of the houses in the palace grounds.

Were it  not for the rain we might have missed both!  The clock museum was filled with amazing treasures, both Ottoman and European, gorgeous unique clocks (at least one of which took a whole lifetime to build) very nicely displayed.
Kamondo Staircase

From the palace we made our way to the Metro and took the T1 from Beşiktaş to Karaköy. Originally we'd thought of continuing on the metro and taking the second oldest underground rail line, Tünel, (1875; after the London underground in 1863!) but we took the amazing (and iconic thanks to Cartier-Bresson's photoKamondo staircase (1870) instead,  finding yet another little piece of art nouveau tucked away in the city.

We made it to the Galata tower again, (from the other direction this time) and C & S went to the top.  (as T is not fond of heights and I'd been up there already years ago, we stayed below in a little cafe and had a glass of fresh pressed orange juice..)

tea at the Pera Palac
From the tower, we decided on a short walk to the venerable Pera Palace Hotel, there to have our version of "tea".  Two of us had lovely cocktails whilst those of us with real brilliance decided to try the profiteroles.  (and, oh my, were they amazing.)

I was one of the brilliant ones. (see my profiteroles with incredible chocolate sauce, below. They were so good, I have nothing to compare them with!)

profiteroles to die for
We sat in the main salon and listened to classical music and took in the ambiance.  SO cool.  The room had enormously high ceilings making for a rich and wonderful musical sound.

I could imagine myself in an Agatha Christie novel, and expected to see Hercule Poirot step into the room at any moment.

We decided, since we were so close- even though we were pretty well walked out- to go across the street and see the Frieda Kahlo/Diego Rivera exhibit at the Pera Museum.

It was there that I had a little senior moment, as when the lady was about to sell us the tickets, she asked if any of us were students or over 60, and three hands went up, whilst I started to say I wasn't 60 yet... only to remember that in fact I was creeping up on 62!!  Ah the irony!  The last time I was in Istanbul, I wasn't even 50!!  Of course I took a great deal of crap for the rest of the afternoon, from the three hand raiser "over sixties" on that boo-boo.

The exhibits were wonderful but we were totally blown out of the water with the Scenes from Tsarist Russia  exhibit offered from the State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg , with paintings from the 19 century, in the period of Russian realism.  It was stunning.  (it also shined a spotlight on the life of the average man and what it meant to be a serf!  Almost makes you understand the Russian revolution.)

After that we all knew it was time to take a little rest before we went out for dinner.  Thankfully.  We all napped well for a couple of hours.

We opted to walk back to Istikal street and search out a place for dinner.  Dinner ended up not so special - and fairly expensive as "we" decided to listen to the "very nice man" who walked along side of us and directed us to his restaurant.  [Reminder to self: NEVER eat in a restaurant where there are no other people...really.]  T and I had misgivings but we figured it was probably going to be a good lesson early on in the trip for C & S.  It was.

After dinner we walked around a bit and took in the lights and made our farewells to Beyoğlu.

The next morning we were packed and ready to check out by 9.  Our transport showed up on time and swept us off in comfort to Sabiha Gökçen International Airport on the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus.

And a fine welcome to Asia it was!

Tomorrow I'll write a bit more about the next leg of the journey, but I'll close with a few more pictures from our time in Beyoğlu.
Galata neighborhood

T, C & S walking past a tobacco seller
hanging out my hotel balcony in the rain

Santa Ottoman Hotel

Galata tower at night
Memorial (with Atatürk) Taksim Square
Dolmabahçe in the rain
more Dolmabahçe in the rain
the Palace guard
the Bosphorus
newly restored ceiling in Pera Palace Hotel

Taksim Square at night

Young Turks protesting politely
side street near our hotel
we're having fun!


  1. Oh, it's just breathtaking! I've never been to Turkey, but seeing these images makes me want to visit! You certainly are taking in the sights! Such fun!
    One question: Is the 'Palace Guard' a real person or a statue? It looks like a life-sized statue, but I can't tell for sure.

    Looking forward to reading your next instalment!

    Hugs and quiches from Kitty xx

  2. Hi Kitty!

    The Palace guard is an actual soldier- with a sort of changing of the guard thing that goes on in certain places on the grounds at certain times of the day.

    I almost got run over by a group of them marching silently along a pathway, on their way to change guards somewhere.

    I was lagging a bit behind the family, as I was contemplating a giant yew tree in the garden.

    Unlike the Buckingham palace guards, these guys do crack a smile and T said they were all grinning after I jumped about 2 feet off the ground to get out of their way when I finally heard DID hear them coming!

    glad you're enjoying "the trip".



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