All Good Things…

Oh, can it be?? Today is the last day of our scheduled sightseeing during our wonderful tour of Turkey.  Before telling you about today’s sites, here’s a story about last night’s farewell dinner.

Our group went to a very tasty fish restaurant for our farewell dinner. Great food, great wine and lots of fun.  Afterwards we straggled back to our bus.

 You know how sometimes you just get an odd feeling about someone? I was walking and got a creepy feeling about a young guy walking behind me, so I step suddenly off to the right, whirled around and stared directly into his eyes. I must have startled him or looked menacing or both (I hope I looked menacing and not just like a crazed squirrel) because he took a wide step around me. I still had that creepy feeling and looked quickly to see where Mary was. She was just getting into the bus

As I watched, I clearly felt what this kid was going to do. Faster than anything I’ve ever seen before in my life, he slipped his hand into Bill Chew’s front pocket and lifted his wallet! Slickest thing I’ve ever seen in my life! And it seemed like slow motion. Bill sent up a hue and cry and I grabbed the kid. If I’d been thinking I would have grabbed his clothes or just body checked him into the side of the bus, but it happened so fast. Anyway, I grabbed his arm, but he squirmed away – whoever he is, he’s got a nasty scratch on his arm.  What we didn’t realize at the time,  was when I grabbed him he dropped the wallet. Whether by accident or because he thought he’d been caught I don’t know.  Ender and our driver (who could easily play linebacker for any NFL team) took off running after him. Holy moley – those guys can run!!  Needless to say, they didn’t catch the kid, but Bill wasn’t hurt and his wallet -picked up by two passing Turkish men who brought it to me – was recovered.  A great ending to what could have been a real bummer for  Bill.

Other than that, we’ve had no issues at all with crime in Turkey and never felt unsafe. Now though I  appreciate my ‘creepy’ radar more than I did.

Now, onto today’s sites… one of the biggies – the Blue Mosque. I’m sure you’ve heard of it because the Blue Mosque is one of the most famous religious buildings in the world. It is because of the (mainly) blue Iznik tile work in the interior that it is called the Blue Mosque. I think the French originated that term.  It is striking.

The mosque was built between 1609-1616 and received a very negative response because in its opulence it incorporated six minarets. This bordered on sacrilege because the mosque in Mecca had six minarets.  This affront was dealt with most expediently by adding a seventh minaret to Mecca. 

The mosque is gorgeous outside and inside. 
Each of those minarets has two or three balconies and I never found out what they’re used for.

Inside the underside of the domes are painted. They used to be stained glass windows but I guess 17th century stained glass didn’t hold up. This mosque was designed with over 250 windows. The domes are beautiful painted though.

It was difficult to get decent photos in the mosque because of the lighting, but I did my best. Here’s a photo of Mary trying to get a nice shot.  


The famous blue tile is found on some of the mosque’s walls (not the ceilings or domes) and it is beautiful.

This abulations fountain (left) is now decorative but the minbar (right) is still used  by the imam during Friday prayers.. I’m sorry that the photo of the minbar is so poor (it is the slanted piece in the background). It is, of course, also from the 17th century and is beautifully carved marble.

The Blue Mosque is an active mosque with regular prayers. It was wonderful to experience it.

 Within walking distance of the mosque is Topkapi Palace. 

Topkapi Palace was the home from which the Ottoman sultans ruled for 400 years. 400 years!  Having only a few hours to explore the huge palace was scarcely long enough to scratch the surface. I could spend several days here and hope that someday I’ll be able to do just that.  There was too much to see and not enough time to absorb what I was seeing and I know I missed 98% of the palace. But I’m thrilled with what I did see and here are my highlights…

The entry to the Palace is called the “Gate of Salutations” and leads to the first of three courtyards.   
The first courtyard is open to everyone, but the others have restricted access,with the third being restricted to the sultan and his family and maybe one or two persons permitted inside on business.

The viziers (or members of the imperial council) would meet to discuss matters in the Divan. It’s pretty clear from where our meaning of ‘divan’ originates, isn’t it? 
There was a room in the upper wall of the divan that the viziers could not see into – that was the sultan’s room. So they never knew if he was listening to their conversations.  
This was the age of beheadings so I’m guessing everyone was on their best behavior.

Because I knew I wouldn’t be able to see everything at the Palace, I had to pick and choose. I chose not to go to the Treasury because jewels are jewels and while I’m sure they were spectacular I was interested in seeing the more unique offerings of the Palace. I found what I was looking for in the “Privy” and, NO, it’s not what you think!

The Privy has some of the most holy relics of Islam on display. In fact, Muslims make pilgrimages to this room. Photos were not permitted so I tried hard to capture in my mind the treasures I was privileged to see.  For me, the most powerful item was Moses’ staff.  The walking stick that Moses carried…the stick that assisted Moses in carrying down the 10 Commandments, that parted the Red Sea.   The other thing I remember most is the Prophet Mohammed’s cloak (mantle). You can’t even go into that room, but you look through an open door into a separate chamber. As an indication of the importance of this relic, passages of the Koran are read live, 24 hours a day over the gold chest that stores the cloak. It certainly added to the atmosphere to have the Koran verses continually chanted while seeing this important artifacts.  Oh,  but I did kind of smile to myself because there were about 20 vials all labeled “Prophet Mohammed’s beard” because it reminded me of how we save the hair from kids’ first haircuts. Interesting.

After the Privy, I went to the Baghdad Pavilion. It was built in 1639 to celebrate someone’s (Murat IV?) capture of Baghdad. Anyway it has gorgeous blue and white tile work.

I also popped into the Circumcision Room – no explanation needed here! 

and to the Revan Kiosk (the Chamber of the Turbans).

The Chamber of the Turbans was built in 1635-36 and is where the sultan’s turbans were kept. Is this like having a separate closet just for your hats?? Anyway, it has beautiful marble decorations and blue tiles and is one of the last examples of classic Ottoman architecture.   

Walking the grounds of the Palace, I saw the Breaking Fast Pavilion where the sultan supposedly broke his fast each day of Ramadan. It overlooks a beautiful view of the Bosphorus and city of Istanbul (though I’m pretty sure there was not a cruise ship in his view!)    

Like I said, I didn’t see much of the Palace and one of the things I missed was the Harem. Yup, harems were for real!  In fact, the last concubine left the Palace in 1909.

 World War I brought an end to the Ottoman Empire.

Today’s sightseeing is over…our tour with SmarTours has come to a close. Riding the bus back to the hotel, different folks departed at different places. Eve, Leroy and Elaine got off at the Spice Market to do some last minute shopping. Mary and I rode back to the hotel, where we very sadly said goodbye to Ender – the guide extraordinaire.

But we weren’t done. After Mary and I had a cup of tea, we decided it would be fun to walk to Taksim Square.  Taksim Square might sound familiar as it was the site of some newsworthy protests in Turkey 3 months ago. Since it is only 10 minutes walk from our hotel we thought it worthwhile to visit.

It is a beautiful city park – in the middle of all the hustle and noise of Istanbul sits a lovely oasis of trees, fountains, a children’s playground.  There is a tea man who walks about with cups and a thermos of tea to sale. Wonderful, shady, green and relaxing.


 It was this little park that incited the demonstrations three months ago. The authorities decided it would be a good idea to replace the park with more shopping.  Oh, just what is needed….more shopping.  You can see why the protests ensued.
Part of Taksim Square is also a large paved square…kind of an big, ugly, concrete pedestrian way and that is where the protesting took place.  Here are a couple of photos of that area as well.


 And with our walk back to the hotel, Mary and I brought our sightseeing to a close.

When Elaine, Eve and Leroy returned to the hotel the five of us celebrated our trip with a picnic dinner in Eve and Leroy’s room. Then it was time to think about packing up…tomorrow morning we leave for Brussels!

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