A Travellerspoint blog

Turkey

A Tour of Istanbul with Fatih Copuroglu

The Topkapi Palace

sunny 79 °F

Wednesday, May 25th, we arrive in Istanbul. Joe May is on hand to give his running commentary on the open decks as we make the scenic sail into the Golden Horn. The spires and minarets of Istanbul shine in the early morning sun.

Istanbul

Istanbul

Today we have a private tour, arranged through Ephesus Deluxe. They've given us a package price for a combo tour of Istanbul and Ephesus. It turns out Ephesus Deluxe doesn't really have guides as such in Istanbul. Instead, they subcontract to local guides in the city.

We meet our guide, Fatih Copuroglu, right outside the customs building, and he immediately makes us feel welcome. His van is designed perfectly for touring, plush and comfortable, with facing seats in the back. As the driver takes us across the Galata bridge and to our first site, Fatih gives us a running commentary, filling us in on the history of Istanbul and Turkey with a real depth of knowledge and passion for the subject. Our first stop will be the Topkapi Palace, hopefully to beat the crowds. Unfortunately, with two ships in port, that's a little hard to do.

Gate of Salutation

Gate of Salutation

We enter the literally palatial grounds of Topkapi, and are immediately awed, which is, I suppose, what the Sultan had in mind.

Fatih is with us every step of the way, pointing out interesting details and features, putting things into historical context, and generally doing everything you ever imagined a professional tourguide would do. First we tour the Harem, the apartments and courtyards for the female members of the palace family. These include the apartments of the Sultan's concubines, as well as the Valide Sultan, the Queen Mother.

Courtyard of the Eunuchs

Courtyard of the Eunuchs

Courtyard of the Sultan Valide

Courtyard of the Sultan Valide

Courtyard of the Concubines

Courtyard of the Concubines

Everywhere you look, the palace is appointed with sumptuous details. The walls are covered with elaborate tile work, the doors exhibit stunning marquetry with mother-of-pearl and tortoise-shell inlay, even the Sultan's horse-path is laid with an intricate design.

Only the Sultan's horse was permitted to tread these paths.

Only the Sultan's horse was permitted to tread these paths.

Privy Chamber of Murad III

Privy Chamber of Murad III

The above is the Privy Chamber of Sultan Murad III. When it was built, he included dozens of fountains in niches on the walls.

The white noise of the fountains provided a sound screen of privacy for the Sultan as he discussed important matters of state, preventing bodyguards and supplicants from eavesdropping.

The formula for the red glaze on these tiles has been lost to history

The formula for the red glaze on these tiles has been lost to history

An example of the intricate tilework from the Iznik region

An example of the intricate tilework from the Iznik region

In its heyday, the palace must have been a sight to behold.

We also visit the treasury, now a museum, and view stunning works of gold an precious jewels. It's a fascinating place I've read much about in fiction, now brought to life.

Strategically placed mirrors alert the Sultan to assassins, unwelcome guests, and tourists.

Strategically placed mirrors alert the Sultan to assassins, unwelcome guests, and tourists.

The Arz Odas1, The Audience Chamber

The Arz Odas1, The Audience Chamber

We exit the Palace, on the way to our next stop. Fatih picks up some roasted hazelnuts for us to munch, and I get excited about seeing simit on the cart, so he grabs one for us, and we all share it. Turkish Lira are the currency here. We're not carrying any, but Fatih has us covered.

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Posted by Zukini 20:45 Archived in Turkey Tagged palace istanbul topkapi Comments (0)

Istanbul - Touring Sultanahmet

sunny 79 °F

Our next stop is the Aya Sofia (or Hagia Sophia).

The Hagia Sofia

The Hagia Sofia

This is another show stopper, and we tour both the ground floor and the upper gallery. The mass of the structure is incredible to behold. Rather than the soaring spaces of more modern structures, you can see and feel the brawn that holds up the enormous dome. The dome itself, although not as tall as the one at St. Peter's, is actually even bigger in diameter. It's hard to get a sense of scale from photos, but the interior is vast. It must have been a most awe inspiring place when it was built.

Inside the Hagia Sophia

Inside the Hagia Sophia

On the second floor, you gain a real sense of the enormous stresses the structure is under, viewing the warped floors, vaults, and columns.

Twisted Columns on the upper level of the Hagia Sophia

Twisted Columns on the upper level of the Hagia Sophia

The other major draw here is the mosaic work, on such an enormous scale and so finely crafted that it appears to be paint at first, the ceiling and walls were once covered by semi precious stones in glittering mosaics that were plastered over when the space was converted to a mosque. Now, some of the mosaics have been restored.

Uncovered mosaics in the Hagia Sophia

Uncovered mosaics in the Hagia Sophia

Detail of the precious mosaics

Detail of the precious mosaics

We also viewed the huge bronze doors, appropriated from southern Turkey, that turned out to be too big to fit in their intended doorway, and the lovely book-matched marble panels that line many of the walls.

A minaret, silhouetted against the blue sky

A minaret, silhouetted against the blue sky

Leaving the Aya Sofia, we view the Hippodrome, which includes the top two thirds of an obelisk relocated here from Luxor by the emperor Theodotus.

The Obelisk at the Hippodrome

The Obelisk at the Hippodrome

Now, it's down to the cools spaces of the Basilica Cistern. Once a major water supply for the city, filled to the top of the vaults with fresh water, it's now a moodily lit underground forest of columns on a shimmering lake. It's both beautiful and atmospheric, and is often used as a venue for musical concerts and weddings.

The Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern

We walk to the furthest reaches to view the Medusa heads, propping up ancient columns. These Roman Medusas were wedged under columns at the very rear edge of the cistern, facing the wall and placed upside down and sideways to nullify any bad luck associated with using them as building material.

A Medusa Head used as a foundation in the Basilica Cistern

A Medusa Head used as a foundation in the Basilica Cistern

Lunchtime brings us to the Pudding House. It's recommend by Fatih, and he laughingly admits that he gets to eat there for free, as long as he brings in customers. We don't mind, and I enjoy a meat-stuffed aubergine, eggplant stuffed with a spiced meat and topped with mashed potato. Mrs. Z decides to eat a bit, and enjoys some kofte, a spiced Turkish flattened meatball. We finish off lunch with Turkish coffee, thick and full of grounds, and apple tea. Restrooms are upstairs, clean, and monitored by an attendant handing out hand towels, so be prepared with a small tip.

We backtrack toward the Mosque of Sultan Ahmed, better known as the "Blue Mosque" because of the thousands of blue Iznik tiles covering the walls. We pass through the refreshing spray of a park fountain on on our way there.

Enjoying the mist from the fountain

Enjoying the mist from the fountain

We've come prepared with bags for our shoes and a scarf for Mrs. Z. Fatih tells us she doesn't need to cover her head, as she's a tourist, but she insists.

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

We enter the beatiful mosque and soak it in. Of course, the attraction here is the Iznik tiles, but honestly, we were able to view them much better in the Palace.

Inside the Blue Mosque of Sultan Ahmed

Inside the Blue Mosque of Sultan Ahmed

Inside the Blue Mosque of Sultan Ahmed

Inside the Blue Mosque of Sultan Ahmed

Nevertheless, we enjoy our visit to yet another of the world's premier places of worship. Fatih seems genuinely moved that we showed such respect for his religion by being prepared to carry our shoes and insisting on covering Mrs. Zuke's head.

Finally, although we certainly have misgivings, we allow Fatih to bring us to Nakkas, a "carpet maker". He's been upfront with us all along about it, and says that we might enjoy seeing the goods even if we don't purchase. We agree to go in. After a brief, but interesting demonstration of carpet weaving, we move upstairs to the showroom. There, with great fanfare and flair, we are shown a dazzling array of hand knotted carpets, wool and silk.

The carpets themselves were amazing. If had anyplace to put them, I truly might have been tempted. We explain that we are very impressed with the quality, but simply are not in the market. Our host is very gracious, not pushy at all, and offers to show us his jewelry and ceramic shop as well. Our eye is caught by the ceramic shop and we go in. The handcrafted work here is just amazing. We buy a quartz glazed plate in an intricate blue design after bargaining just a little. We feel we've paid a fair price for the quality of the workmanship.

It' been a long but amazing day. I'm very impressed with the welcoming atmosphere in Istanbul, and the way Turkey has seemed to successfully combined a 98% Muslim population and a secular government. There's an air of tolerance and openness here that I had not expected. This is a place I would not mind visiting for a longer period of time on a land-based tour. Fatih has done an outstanding job, and I'd recommend him highly if you're looking for a tour in Istanbul. You can reach him at fatih @ copuroglu.com.

We skip dinner tonight, and relax on our balcony. Tonight, the Princess Theater is featuring "Movie Night" with a presentation of "Little Fockers". The production show, Motor City, is being held in the smaller Vista Lounge.

Next up, Kusadasi and the ancient ruins of Ephesus.
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Posted by Zukini 21:23 Archived in Turkey Tagged istanbul blue_mosque hagia_sophia hippodrome basilica_cistern aya_sofia Comments (0)

Kusadasi and Ephesus

sunny 90 °F

It's Thursday, May 26th, and the Star Princess is making a noon stop in Kusadasi, the jumping-off point for the ruins of ancient Ephesus.

The port of Kusadasi

The port of Kusadasi

We have a relaxing morning, and meet our tour guide from Ephesus Deluxe at the cruise terminal. Her name is Gülçin, which means "person gathering roses", but she tells us to call her Rose. I'll do that here as well, since it's a pain in the neck to type those Turkish characters. We again have a van setup for touring, and off we go to the ruins at Ephesus.

Rose is a little soft spoken, so we have a hard time following her commentary as we travel. We pass some of the beach resorts, and pass through Rose's hometown of Selçuk. It takes about 25 minutes to get to Ephesus, and it is beastly hot. When we arrive, souvenir vendors are trying to sell guidebooks at ridiculous prices (30 Euros but they'll bargain down to 10). We decline.

The site is again astounding. It is another complete city that was abandoned due to malaria and a change in the course of the river, very much like Ostia Antica. Even the layout of the city is similar, with a government district, a commercial district, and a necropolis. Although the city dates back to the 2nd century BC, most of the ruins here are from the later Roman occupation.

Clay pipes, still waiting for the plumber to show up.

Clay pipes, still waiting for the plumber to show up.

As we are lead around, we start to get a real sense of how the puzzle pieces of history all fit together. The selection of cities on this cruise really emphasizes the cross pollination that has occurred in this region.

Overlooking the center of Ephesus

Overlooking the center of Ephesus

Of course, Ephesus has a lot of significance to Christians. Nearby is the "House of the Virgin Mary", believed by many to be the home where Mary was taken to live by St. John. The ruins at Ephesus also contain what is believed to be the tomb of St. Luke.

Trajan's Fountain

Trajan's Fountain

The scope of the city is quite large. It contains both an Odeon and the much larger Great Theater, so you can imagine the throngs of citizens that once filled them.

The Odeon

The Odeon

The Great Theater

The Great Theater

The ruins are fascinating, but the heat is punishing. Rose tells us about each area we visit, then runs off to a shady spot while we explore. A couple of standouts include this sculpture of Athena Nike. Look carefully at the folds of her gown on the left side...that was the inspiration for the trademarked Nike "swoosh".

Athena Nike

Athena Nike

At the Temple of Hadrian, the now familiar Medusa stands guard.

Temple of Hadrian

Temple of Hadrian

Another popular spot is the men's latrine. It was engineered with running water under the seats, to carry waste away, and running water in the trough in front of the seats, for washing...the sponge. The sponge, on the stick. That you would share.

The Latrine

The Latrine

The big signature structure here at Ephesus is the iconic Library of Celsius. This is largely restored and reconstructed, but still is an imposing facade.

Library of Celsius

Library of Celsius

Just beyond, in a covered structure, are the Terrace Houses, which require a separate admission fee. These are essentially Roman insulae transplanted to the hills of Ephesus, and they are in an astounding state of preservation, with many of the frescoes and mosaics still intact.

The Terrace Houses

The Terrace Houses

The painted walls are still intact

The painted walls are still intact

Our last stop is a short visit to the remains of the Temple of Artemis, once one of the 7 ancient wonders. Now, it is a lone pillar in a neglected field of rubble and grass.

What's left of the Temple of Artemis

What's left of the Temple of Artemis

At the Temple, we're approached by two rival booksellers, both trying to sell us the same book. Fortunately, a tour bus pulled up at that moment, so we were able to escape. Rose asks us if we want to shop for leather work or carpets. We decline, and she sits in the front seat and ignores us for the ride back to port. I can't say I was crazy about her services, especially contrasted with Fatih the day before.

We visit the buffet for the first time since our illness tonight. It's a very early dinner, before they even really changed over from lunch. We then head up to the Lotus Pool, which is deserted.

Tonight's entertainment choices are Motor City in the Vista Lounge, "The Black Swan" in the Princess Theater, and "Toy Story 3" at MUTS.

Overnight, we'll wind our way across the Aegean for our stop in Piraeus, the port for Athens.

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Posted by Zukini 21:25 Archived in Turkey Tagged ruins turkey ephesus kusadasi Comments (0)

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