Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hustle, bustle, and tranquility.


M
y second full day in Istanbul started out with a lot of hustle and bustle and ended with a smidgen of tranquility.

After breakfast, I made my way back to the Grand Bazaar following my instincts since the maps I had were pretty much useless. At the Bazaar, I did my souvenir shopping - fending off one shop keeper after another! I finally managed to get the gifts that I had wanted to bring home with me. One thing good about coming during off-season - the prices are far more reasonable and the sellers more desperate to seal the deal so even though you still have to haggle, it's a lot easier.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Taksim.


W
hen I was reading up on things to do and see in Istabul, Taksim was always mentioned. Taksim is a neighborhood on the European side of the city known for its restaurants, shops and hotels. It is considered the heart of modern Istanbul and for some reason, the tourist books encourage you to visit the place so I put it on my itinerary.

I decided to head to Taksim after my visit to the Dolmabahçe Palace because according to the guidebook, I could get to Taksim via funicular from the Kabataş tram station. Exiting Dolmabahçe, I walked back towards Kabataş. For the life of me, I could not see the funicular - I was expecting to see an above ground cable car. Following the signs, I was led underground instead. Huh?? I bought my token and followed the signs to the funicular. Where the heck is this funicular? A single train came, it said Taksim on the front, the doors opened and so I got in. Am I in the funicular? Maybe, we start below ground and somehow surface. Nope. Less than five minutes later, the train came to a stop, the doors opened and everyone exited. The sign with an arrow pointing to the right said Taksim Meydanı ("may-dah-nuh" which means "square in English"). The crowd was going in that direction so I followed suit.

Ottoman Opulence. The Dolmabahçe Palace. Part 3.


A
fter touring the the Selamlık and the ceremonial halls, I exited the Palace on the side of the building that fronts the Bosphorus.


Ottoman Opulence. The Dolmabahçe Palace. Part 2.

The construction of the Dolmabahçe Palace was commissioned by Sultan Abdülmecid. The European style Palace was built between 1842 and 1853 at a cost of five million Ottoman gold pounds - the equivalent of 35 tons of gold. The Palace served as the official residence of several Ottoman Sultans in the 19th and early 20th centuries. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early part of the 20th century, the Dolmabahçe Palace remained empty till Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first president of Turkey, took up residence there. Atatürk stayed in the palace until his death on November 10, 1938.

Ottoman Opulence. The Dolmabahçe Palace. Part 1.


W
hen I planned my return trip to Istanbul, there was only one place on my "must see" list and that was the the Dolmabahçe ("Dol-mah-bah-chay") Palace. I had seen the palace from the outside as Lei and I did our boat ride up the Bosphorus but we never had the time to actually visit it. When I mentioned the Dolmabahçe to a friend of my who had been to Istanbul, his comment was that if I thought Versailles was opulent (which I did), the Dolmabahçe would take my breath away. Would it really? Hard to imagine as Versailles had always been the epitome of palatial splendor to me. This was the day I would find out how well the Dolmabahçe would measure up.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Today is Sunday.


I
n searching for a hotel to stay in in Istanbul, I decided to settle on a small hotel in Sultanahmet so I would be near all the major tourist sights. I emailed Hotel Kybele which was where Lei and I stayed back in May. They had rooms but wanted 80 euros for a single - a little pricey for me considering this is off-season. Then, by chance, I stumbled onto the website for Hotel Poem.







Adhan.


A
dhan is the Islamic call to prayer that is called out by the muezzin in the mosque, sometimes from a minaret, five times a day summoning Muslims for fard (mandatory) salah (prayers). Living in the US, I don't hear the adhan being called on a daily basis so the first few times I do hear it (no matter where I am in the world), it's jolting - especially the early morning adhan which is recited before the sun rises. But like every other thing of habit, you soon get used to it and you don't even notice it.

Istanbul. Rediscovered.



I
fell in love with Istanbul the first time I set foot on it's streets. It's a friendly city, full of history, culture and great food. Getting around is easy and it's safe (as any other metropolitan city is safe). I can't explain it except to say that it feels like home to me - a place that I can see myself living in.

The graphic image that opens this posting is the official logo for the city. You see it emblazoned everywhere - from park benches to vendor food carts.

I flew out of Kayseri this morning enroute to Istanbul. As before, I was sad to be leaving Cappadocia - there is something about this part of the world that has enchanted me.

On short leg trips, I like to sit on a window seat so I can look at the world below as we fly by.