Day two. Once again, we have breakfast on the hotel's rooftop terrace, but this time Rick convinces me to sit on the upper level so we can have a better view of the Bosphorus. I have been reluctant to sit there previously, because of an ominous notice that warns "Beware. Crows will attack." It's irrational, I know, but I still suffer from the lingering symptoms of a bird phobia that has plagued me since childhood. Fortunately, breakfast occurs without any crow incidents. Then it's a quick getaway for the Topkapi palace, the residence of the Sultans of the old Ottoman Empire.
Comparisons to the Alhambra are unavoidable. "It's like the Alhambra squared!" I say. The opulence is over the top, although the architecture and grounds are perhaps less impressive than the Alhambra's. We decide to tour the harem first, while the crowds are still relatively thin.
One of our guidebooks tells us that "harem" means "private" in Arabic. Another book says that it means "forbidden". Taking an average of the two, I decide it probably means something close to "off limits". The harem was protected and administered by eunuchs. What these poor boys had suffered doesn't bear thinking about, let alone writing about here. (Of interest, the eunuchs were obtained from elsewhere, since Islam prohibited the practice of castration.)
We learn that the mother of the sultan, the "Valide Sultan," was one of the most powerful people in the empire. Clearly a great deal of ruthlessness must have been required for the role, and some even took the harsh measure of having the sultan's half-brothers strangled to avoid challenges to the throne. Yes, Virginia, there really are evil stepmothers. I recall the story of the mother of the sultan of Grenada, who, with her son in tears over the fall of the Alhambra to Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, said "Cry like a woman for what you failed to defend like a man!" Don't come crying to mama. Suddenly, it all makes sense.
At least the harem girls had nice digs! We admired the views from the terraces before moving on to the treasury. Even though the crowds are still relatively thin, tourists are already becoming testy in the heat of the sun. A young couple having their photo taken at a viewpoint gets a dressing down from an older tourist. "It's not your turn.....that's very rude." "Come on, forget it" says her embarrassed husband. But no one dares to complain about the pretty little girl posing to have her photo taken, whose equally pretty mother counts "bir, iki, uce..." Maybe now I will remember these numbers.
In the treasury, we see riches beyond belief. I think about my mother, who read an article about these treasures to me over the phone the night before our departure. I wish she could see this. The "Spoonmakers diamond", at 86 karats, is likely the largest diamond we will ever see, although not the largest diamond in the world. The Topkapi dagger is perhaps the most famous piece, its hilt studded with massive emeralds. A pair of gold candlesticks brought back from the tomb of Mohammed during WWI weigh 48 kilos each. A jade tankard is inlaid with gold and encrusted with diamonds, rubies and emeralds..did someone really drink from this? A bowl of glittering jewels makes me imagine a sultan stretched out on a divan, running his fingers through emeralds and rubies like King Midas fondling his gold. The wealth is mind-boggling, but it's worth keeping in mind that the extravagance of some sultans eventually crippled the empire. (Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take any photos inside the treasury, but you can find images for some of the treasures online.)
By the time we have filed past all the glass cases of the treasury, it is time for lunch. We have one of our most expensive lunches ever in the terrace restaurant on the grounds. To make matters worse, it wasn't even particularly good. But speaking of food, this might be a good time to mention that in its heyday, the palace's kitchen had 800 staff preparing meals for the 4000 people who lived on the grounds.
At lunch, we realize that Rick's sunglasses are missing from his breast pocket. We have chased an identical pair through various locations in Europe before they finally sunk to the bottom of the Aegean Sea beside a dock in Ermopoulis. This replacement pair is almost new. The most likely explanation is that they have popped out of his pocket as we shared the earphones to our audioguide. (Yes, we share an audioguide, because all these little add-ons add-up!) We retrace our steps and inquire at the lost and found. No luck. Bad luck. Never mind.
On to the Sacred Trusts. We see a small casket containing "the beard of the Prophet", and other cases with the tooth of the Prophet, the footprint of the Prophet, the Prophet's mantle and the Prophet' s sword. Unbelievable? Maybe not, since Mohammed is a figure from relatively recent history (circa 600 AD). But the "Staff of Moses", which is handsomely displayed in a larger case, requires a bit more credulity. I recall a heated debate with Wally about whether or not a certain podium we had seen in Corinth really was the place where Paul the Apostle preached. (I am still convinced that it was.) I can only imagine what Wally would have to say about this room! We could round out our "relic tour" by travelling to Selcuk to see the house of the Virgin Mary, and perhaps even to Loreto in Italy, to see a different house of the Virgin Mary, that actually FLEW to Italy (via Croatia). Care to meet us there Wally?
We tour a few more opulent pavilions, then decide it is time to move on to the Grand Bazaar. First, though, we make a pit-stop at the hotel to use the washroom and check to see if our bag has arrived. No joy on the baggage front, but Rick's sunglasses are on the bedside table. Well, it could happen to anyone.
We make our way to the Grand Bazaar and wander through the labyrinth of stalls, where everyone wants to sell us a leather jacket, or a carpet, or a pashmina, or antiques, or frankly almost anything you could think of. All the languages of the Tower of Babel are bouncing off our eardrums. Rick's maple leaf hat is attracting a lot of attention. "Where in Canada are you from?" asks one vendor. "Halifax? I love Halifax. Everything is so old". Which is kind of funny, coming from someone who lives in Turkey. "I didn't like Montreal though" he says. "Too cold. My moustache froze." I know the problem.
Next we make our way toward the Spice Bazaar (aka the Old Bazaar), passing through a discount clothing area where the fashionable long overcoats favoured by many Muslim woman are incongruously displayed side by side with strapless prom gowns. The overcoats interest me. They come in many styles and colours and must be a bit of a fashion statement since they seem mainly to be worn by young women.
In the Spice Bazaar, we are approached by a group of teenage boys who have apparently been given an assignment by their English teacher. They interview us by turns..."Where do you live? Is this your first visit Turkey? Do you like Turkey? Would you suggest your friends to come here?" They refer to a rumpled cheat sheet and read their questions in halting English. Rick's interviewer is much more proficient than mine, but even with him we have to play "guess the question". At the conclusion, they take our photograph. We take theirs too.
Rick wants to buy some peanuts, but each time he asks for them he is shown pine nuts. "No no" says Rick, "Not pine-nuts, peanuts." "Yes, yes, these are peen nuts" the shopkeepers respond, with puzzled expressions. Eventually, we find delicious salted peanuts for 10 lira/kilo, buys a half kilo and then see them at another stall for 7 lira/kilo. We convince ourselves that our peanuts are larger and fresher.
We are now too tired to walk back to the hotel and have not yet figured out the tram system, so we decide to take a taxi back to the hotel. This is a big mistake. I will write this up in a separate blog so that anyone searching for Istanbul Taxi Scams can find the story. In the meantime, suffice it to say that we left the cab with 70 lira less than we had when we we got in!
Back at the hotel, we spend an hour trying to get information from Turkish Air about our bag. We want to tell them that they have confused the number of the lost bag with the number of the found bag, but this is not an easy thing to communicate to agents whose English skills are limited. Eventually I plead with the desk clerk in the lobby to speak with them for me. "Why call them?" he says. "When they find your bag they will bring it." I explain the confusion and he tells me I should speak to them myself. "But I don't speak any Turkish" I say. "They speak English very well" he says. "One hundred percent they speak English". "Not today, they don't," I tell him. It dawns on me that this grumpy "night desk clerk" has been the subject of several negative reviews of the Side Hotel on Trip Advisor. Finally, he reluctantly agrees to phone the Turkish Air baggage line for me, asks if anyone there speaks English and is surprised when they tell him no. He sets them straight about the bag tags. Or at least, I assume he does. (Personally, I think the reviewers on Trip Advisor were a bit hard on the guy, and by the way, the Side hotel is very nice.)
By the time I get back to the room, it is too late for us to make it to Venge restaurant, where my friend Julide (originally from Istanbul) had kindly made a reservation for us. Instead, we wander down the street and have a good meal of grilled sea bream at a local restaurant. At least we have finally managed to stay awake long enough to have dinner!
Aisling was dropped into the water at noon yesterday. We've been in Marmaris since Friday night, but spent our first three nights at the "Domino Palace" in Marmaris town- a nice place and a great deal at 10 pounds per person per night, including a very good breakfast (total bill for three nights was 90 euros!).
With perfect timing, a massive thunder lightening and rainstorm began to unfold just as we were boarding the dolmus for Yacht Marine on Saturday. We dashed through the parking lot in the pouring rain and reached the marina office just as the power went out. Fortunately, the power came back on within minutes, but the rain continued for most of the day (a big nuisance for Rick, who had lots of outside tasks to do before the launch, and whose comfortable rainsuit was in the missing duffle bag). It's been overcast with periodic showers since then, but at least this has kept the temperatures cool while we work. Today started off sunny, but as I write this I can hear more thunder rolling in the distance.
Onboard, we found things in reasonably good shape. It will likely be a while before we get all the dust cleaned up, but the engine seems to be working well, the fridge is cleaned and operating, the water tanks are full, the propane is hooked up and our berth has been made up with clean sheets that smell only slightly musty. I even managed to cook our dinner onboard last night. If only Turkish Air would find our bag, we'd be deliriously happy.
We have lots to tell you, especially about Istanbul, so I made a start in the blog that follows this one. You may note that it has taken me two full pages to cover what Rick has already described in one paragraph. For those who know me well, this will not seem at all strange.
More to follow...
Dusk was already falling as we emerged from our cab onto the sidewalk of Istanbul's historic Sultanahmet district. Groggy, jet-lagged and worried about the two large duffle bags that had gone missing enroute, we cheered up considerably when we stepped onto the tiny balcony of our room in the Side Hotel, which overlooked the Blue Mosque on the left and the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofia) on the right. Hello Istanbul! But the enticing sights of the old city would have to wait until morning. We tumbled onto the bed intending to have only a short rest, and slept soundly until 8 the next morning.
After the traditional Turkish breakfast on the hotel's rooftop terrace overlooking the Bosphorus (bread, cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumber and a boiled egg), we are off to the tourist office to collect maps and plan our day. By 9 a.m., the courtyard outside the Hagia Sophia is already jammed with tour buses. As we study our map and discuss priorities, we are approached by a pretty blonde woman who smiles and says "Do I detect British accents"? (You're kidding, right?) She tells us that she has lived in Istanbul for three years and is a jewelry designer. Would we like to have a cup of tea with her? Perhaps visit her shop and see her jewelry collection? We decline politely but take her business card; later we realize she is actually a tout for a carpet shop. We are well familiar with this routine by now, but it is unusual to see a British woman playing this role.
We approach the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii) without realizing that we are walking through the site of the ancient Hippodrome. Who could blame us for being distracted by the magnificence of the mosque, with its six graceful minarets? In the courtyard we are welcomed by yet another new friend. "Where are you from? Canada! Vancouver? Don't worry, I am not a tour guide; I am not looking for your money." He shows us the entrance where we remove our shoes and place them in plastic bags to carry with us. Although it is not required, I pull my scarf over my head. Visitors are welcomed here, with no admission charge, but only Muslims may enter during the five daily prayer times. Inside, the huge dome of the 17th century building is supported by four massive columns. The mosque's 260 windows fill the interior with light, but a massive chandelier suspended over the prayer area is also illuminated. The intricate tiles of the building have lots of blue, of course, but also other colours....green, yellow and red. The red and blue carpet is damp underfoot and smells faintly of wet dog. It is a lovely building, but the exterior is perhaps more impressive than the interior.
In the courtyard, our helpful friend is waiting, and is sorely disappointed when we do not accept his invitation to visit his ceramic shop. Similarly disappointed are the retired schoolteacher who wants to sell us leather jackets and the elderly guide with clacking false teeth who promises to show us the Topkapi Palace in half the time usually required. In fact, dodging the hoards of entrepreneurs wanting our business requires considerable dexterity and a lot of patience. We stay firmly on course for the Hagia Sophia.
I have been waiting to see the Hagia Sophia for three years. It does not disappoint. Any attempt to describe it will inevitably fall short, but I will try. The cathedral's majestic dome soars above the wonders beneath. One can understand why the emperor Justinian is reputed to have said "Solomon I have outdone you!" as he stood in the finished cathedral. Designed by mathematicians for Justinian, and finished in 537 AD, the first dome tumbled in an earthquake around 560 AD, but the replacement has stood the test of time. ( Engineers will be interested to know that the dome is 31 meters in diameter and 55 meters above the floor at its highest point.) Justinian would have been sad to know that his glorious cathedral would be sacked by Latin Crusaders in 1204, and converted to a mosque when Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453 (at which time, all mosaics other than the angels were covered and the minarets were added). Finally, the building was made into a museum by Ataturk. In this, it shares the fate of many of Turkey's Greek Orthodox churches. Only a few thousand Greek Christians remain in Turkey, among them the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, who stubbornly clings to tradition in "Constantinople". The Turkish government clearly wishes be would move on and recently added to his misery by closing the Orthodox seminary.
Nonetheless, we must be eternally grateful to Ataturk for having the vision to order that the Hagia Sofia's mosaics be uncovered and the building's glories shared with the world. Too numerous to describe here, the mosaics are intricate works of art in the Greek style. Byzantine Emperors and their families are given prominent billing, along with Christ Pantocrator, the Virgin Mary and archangels. We place our thumbs into a hole in the "weeping column", which is said to cure ailments and grant wishes. (This would be a perfect opportunity to wish for the safe return of our bags but unfortunately, this does not occur to us until later.) We climb the stairs and wander along the gallery, which provides a closer look at several mosaics and a bird's eye view of the enormous church beneath us. As we leave the building, a mirror above the door reflects the mosaic behind us, showing the Virgin Mary and Christ Child being offered a miniature of Constantinople by the Emperor Constantine and a model of the Haghia Sophia by Justinian.
We are on a roll. Next on the agenda is the Archeological Museum on the grounds of the Topkapi Palace. For nearly three hours, we explore its massive collection of artifacts. Most memorable is the "Alexander Sarcophagus", an incredible marble work of art taken from the necropolis of Sidon in ancient Syria (now in Lebanon). The delicate carvings, some still bearing traces of the original paint that decorated the sarcophagus, depict scenes from the life of Alexander the Great. (Because of this, the sarcophagus was for a time thought to be the tomb of Alexander, but it isn't.) The collection of sarcophagi goes on and on, and now we realize that the sarcophagi in the fields at Kekova Roads were small potatoes in the world of sarcophagi. The treaty of Kadesh, (the oldest recorded peace treat) is out on loan, too bad, but there is a good photograph of it in the display case. I watch another tourist take a photo of the photo and wonder if she realizes it is not the real thing. There are numerous other ancient inscribed tablets, most smaller than a pocket notebook, that were the every-day documents and records of previous millennia. I stand by a coin collection that spans the centuries, zeroing in on those from the time of Christ. It is mind-boggling to think that these are the coins described in the "render unto Caesar" story of the New Testament.
The tour of the museum takes much longer than we expected and we are famished. We take a break for "Doner Kepab" sandwiches, then decide to brave the Turkcell store to get our internet stick recharged. A visit to a Turkcell store is generally guaranteed to bring on a dangerous attack of culture shock, and today is no exception. We watch helplessly as the agent tries all our phones and Sim cards, each time cheerfully announcing "Blocked!" "Blocked!" "Blocked!". Due to the language challenges, trying to determine the reason everything is blocked is an exercise in futility. We decide that the simplest solution is to buy a new Sim card for the stick, but for some reason even that does not work. The agent finally refunds our money. Disheartened, we wander down the street to a smaller Turkcell operation, run by a cheerful husband and wife who have limited English but an abundance of kindness. They offer us candy and even part of their lunch, and find a friend who speaks English. He returns to the first Turkcell store with us, diagnoses the problem and eventually gets our internet stick up and running. Our cellphones are still blocked but we will sort that out another day.
We return to the hotel, where we discover that Turkish Air has delivered one of our bags. Only one? Oh oh. This is not good news. We call Turkish airlines and a representative tells us "We are searching for your other bag." We will hear this line a lot in the days to come.
Rick goes off in search of a bottle of wine and when he returns we have a glass on the balcony and admire our view. After snacking on some peanuts from Rick's knapsack, we realize that we are too tired to get back on the street. Tomorrow night, we will definitely find a nice restaurant. We are sound asleep by eight o'clock.
For me, one of the joys of writing is coming up with the title. It takes me back to my days as a student editor on the university newspaper at Acadia. For this blog, there were options. The Good, "the Bag" and the Ugly? Culture Shock ? Baggage-less on the Bosphorus? Let's go with that.
Getting to Istanbul was another of those multi stop trips that involved a circumnavigation of North America (sort of), before making our way across the pond. All in the pursuit of the elusive Business class Aeroplan tickets, so we can take extra bags of boat gear that we may or may not need. Make sense? Well it used to, but we are now thinking that its time to travel light.... we will see how that goes. The itinerary was Halifax to Philadelphia to Chicago to Frankfurt to Istanbul for 3 days and then on to Dalaman and finally a 1.5 hour drive to Yacht Marine in Marmaris and the boat. Honestly, I have lost track of the length of the travel time but my guess is over 24 hours. Somewhere on the long journey from Halifax to Istanbul, two of our bags were lost. One showed up the next day. One didn't.
This was the first time I have lost a bag since our trip to Dubai in 1989. That bag ended up in Karachi and did finally make it back to Dubai before we left. (Luckily, my brother Rob wears the same size shirt as me so by borrowing his clothes I probably ended up being better dressed than I would have been if my bag had arrived.) This time my lost bag seems to have disappeared into thin air. We have personally searched the lost bag section at Istanbul airport and even called US Air in Philly to see if they had a record of it. They did. Their tracking showed that it was scanned in Halifax, Philly and Boise Idaho. What? Boise? US Air even called Boise while we were holding on Skype but Boise had no record and no bag. Then we also asked them to check their system for the location of the bag that did arrive and they said it went to Myrtle Beach. So much for technology. Turkish Air also searched the lost bag lists in Frankfurt and Chicago...no record.
The bag will be missed. It had lots of boat gear in it: anodes, a Makita Grinder, a dinghy cover, outboard covers (all new) my favorite Leatherman Charge knife kit; bolts for the barbeque, waterproof grease; my spring jacket, my rain pants and rain jacket, snaps for the bimini, my new lazyjacks (oh no!!) and god knows what else. It will all become sadly apparent as we start to get the boat ready for the water :-(. The saga is continuing.
Enough about troubles that we have no right to complain of. On to the sensory overload of Istanbul......... the call to prayer from 6 directions at once( see mosques below), the scent of body odour, grilled meat, roasted corn and chestnuts, the traffic, the pestering guides and carpet sellers and the cab driver who took us for a ride and made 50 lira disappear. The mosques (wow x10), the Aya Sofia, the Istanbul Archeological Museum and the Ottoman treasures in the Topkapi Palace. The boats on the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara. The fish in the ancient underground cistern. The hustle and bustle of the grand bazaar. The aching feet and calves after walking for miles on old cobblestones. That's not all we saw, but those were things that affected the senses. It was the whirlwind "Rick and Bonnie do Istanbul in 3 days" kind of tour, which is not unusual for us. We got raised eyebrows from friends who told us we needed at least a month to give Istanbul justice. They were probably right, but we both felt we walked away with a good taste for the city. Especially after our dinner at the Four Seasons Sultanhamet, where we celebrated our wedding anniversary on our last night in Istanbul. Memorable.
We are finally in Marmaris, with only two days to get Aisling ready for the launch. This morning it poured rain with spectacular thunder and lightening. Aisling is sitting in a big mud puddle. Even though we were given a launch date of May 29th, they don't do launches on Sundays so Monday will be the day. But we're not complaining.
In the meantime, if anyone comes across a bag with a set of lazyjacks inside, size Slocum 43, please forward it to me, care of Yacht Marine.