From the Slightly Bizarre to the Grand Bazaar

Jet lag got the best of me yesterday, so we spent a fairly restful day around the apartment doing laundry and napping.

We did emerge from our cocoon in the late afternoon to venture over to Sultanahmet for a late lunch/early dinner. Sultanahmet is a UNESCO site that features a plethora of historical and cultural sites, including the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia, all of which make it Tourist Central.

We went in search of the Harab’be Cafe, ranked #1 on Trip Advisor, only to discover that the small cafe wasn’t serving food because the chef was in the hospital.  No problem. We strolled down the street and ducked into a restaurant right before the light rain turned into a downpour. We watched the rain and enjoyed a delicious lunch. Appetizer: grilled calamari, bread and olives. Entree: grilled eggplant and tomatoes with lamb-beef medallions and pita bread (me). Something that looked like gulash, but wasn’t. (John)

Today we ventured back to the Dolmabahce Palace, constructed during the reign of Sultan Abdulmecid (1839-1861).

The Sultan moved in in 1856 and the Palace was inhabitated by five more Sultans and the last Caliph in 1924 before Turkey became a secular republic in 1922. Mustafa Ataturk, Turkey’s George Washington, lived in the palace off-and-on up until his death there in 1938. The Palace was used as a Presidential House until 1949 and was converted to the museum it is today in 1984.

Dolmabahce rivals any European palace I’ve ever visited. It contains 285 rooms, 44 halls, 68 toilets and 6 Turkish baths. The chandeliers are breathtaking.

What I found most intriguing was the harem, the living quarters of the royal family. Each of the Sultan’s wives had her own four-story apartment complete with kitchen, Turkish bath, bedrooms, nursery, etc. The Sultan enjoyed the most luxurious digs, with magnificent views of the Bosphorous. His mother got the apartment right next to him with equally grand views.

In between the apartments of the Sultan’s wives and the apartments of the Sultan and his mom, were ceremonial rooms. The big ceremony seemed to be the circumcision of the Sultan’s heir. The circumcision wasn’t preformed until the heir was long past infancy — five or six by the looks of an 19th-century photograph I saw of one young prince recovering in an elaborate ceremonial bed still on display in the palace.

I found the female tour guide’s scripted focus on this aspect of royal life sadly telling and slightly bizarre. I left the tour with little information on the daily lives of the women who birthed the princes, was told virtually nothing of historical significance, but I learned more than I wanted to know about the 30-day celebration over the clipping of a foreskin. It was–and is–a man’s world in this neck of the planet.

From Dolmabahce, we ventured to the Grand Bazaar — one of the largest and oldest covered shopping areas.

Dating back to 1455, the Grand Bazaar now consists of more than 61 covered streets and 3,000 shops. The minute we entered, the sales pitches began. My all-time favorite was from a young man who said in perfect English “I want to sell you something you don’t need.”

No truer words were ever uttered! I saw absolutely nothing that I needed, but quite a few things that I would like to have!

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