Wednesday 20 August 2014

Turkish Delight: Sightseeing

View from Kennedy Street,the coast of Sea of Marmara

Theodosius Obelisk and the Yilani Column

Konstantinus Obelisk and Yilani Column

The Hippodrome. These tables and chairs have been installed here by local government.People bring their food and do Iftaar here.
Tram crossing the Sultanahmet area. On its way to Kabatas
Nurosmaniye Mosque, First Look
Inside Nurosmaniye Msoque
Nurosmaniye Mosque. Exterior
Breakfast View: Exhibit A

Breakfast View: Number 2

Breakfast View: No. 3
Blue Mosque: From the Courtyard

Fountain inside Hagia Sophia Premises

Inside the Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia: Another View
(I traveled to Turkey for vacation during first half of July,2014. Following is an account of my experiences en route to Istanbul and onwards. This is the third installment of the series, including sightseeing done during my second day in Istanbul. I hope you enjoy it)

Thursday, 3rd July, 2014

I was informed the day before, that breakfast would be served from 7-10 am on the top floor. My room was present on 2nd floor and the “top” floor was the fourth floor. So I took the stairs and reached the designated area. As soon as I reached the place, I was spellbound by the view of Bosphorus and the ships from that vantage point. It was such a perfect backdrop for breakfast that I forgot all about the breakfast itself. Took a few pictures of the surroundings and Blue Mosque, which was hardly 500 meters away from there. That view alone was worth the expensive hotel bill. Turkish breakfast typically includes three necessary ingredients: Olives, Honey and Cheese. I picked three different types of cheese, black and green olives and small packs of honey, which I ate with toasts. There was option for coffee but not tea (the kind that we have in Pakistan, black tea with milk).

After the healthy breakfast, I had two major objectives for the day apart from sightseeing. I had brought along some clothes for my nephew and sister who live in Germany, and I was supposed to send those items to Germany via courier. The other major task was to find an iPad-to-Camera connector, as I could not shift any photos from my camera to the device without it. I had bought a knocked-down version of the connector from Lahore but it failed to work when I tried it in Istanbul. Aside from these tasks, I wanted to sightsee as much as possible. On the previous visit, I had tagged along with friends who were loathe to visit any place that had an entrance fee, which restricted our options very much. I had seen two documentaries (The Ottomans and Byzantium: A Tale of Three Cities) in the intervening year, after which I cursed myself that I had been in such a magnificent place and had squandered the chance to visit it just to save a few pennies.

I left the hotel to find a suitable electronics shop in Sultanahmet or Grand Bazaar (Kapali Çarşı) area. During the morning shower, I had noticed weird texture on my nose and I realized that it was sunburn because the Ultraviolent (UV) index in Istanbul can cause sunburns. Passing through the Old Bazaar (Asirlik Tatlar ve Sanatlar), my first stop was a chemist shop, from where I got a sunscreen. Afterwards, I wandered around the place, stumbling upon a cemetery where tomb of Sultan Mahmud II was present. I found that most of the graves were built in a particular style that was uniquely Turkish, and one doesn’t see such graves in the subcontinent. During this walk, I reached the magnificent Nuruosmaniye Mosque (Nuruosmaniye Camii). It was commissioned from the order of Sultan Mahmut I beginning in 1748 and completed by his brother and successor Sultan Osman III in 1755. After doing a photo shoot of the interior and exterior of the mosque, I went back to Sultanahmet. Volunteers (or ‘Ask Me’ Volunteers as they call themselves) had started to descend upon the area, gathering in the Hippodrome area and the green belt between Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.

I decided to visit Blue Mosque and venture inside its main hall. On my last visit, I had managed to come here twice, but had not gone inside, due to stupid reasons. This was my chance to rectify that, so I went in. The mosque was built from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. It is one of the most memorable parts of Istanbul’s historic skyline. It was majestic, beautiful and haunting. There were dozens of tourists, as amazed as I was, from the experience of being inside that wonderful place. I spent almost twenty minutes inside the main hall and emerged from front gate (Gate A) of the mosque. There was some kind of ceremony going on there, with a lot of volunteers present. I walked towards the ceremony to find that Mayor of Fatih Municipality, Mustafa Demir had arrived at the ceremony and some local official was giving a long speech. I spotted my friend Doğukan sitting near the Mayor, so I approached him and sought his help in finding the nearest DHL office. He directed me towards the road next to Basilica Cistern. It took less than ten minutes to reach the DHL centre and send the clothes to my sister. It later transpired that I had made a blunder in that regard. I had sent the items using “DHL Express” which is a faster but expensive way to send items, and that I had declared the cost of items to be too high, which resulted in my sister having to pay some Euros as insurance!! In my defence, it was only my second day in Turkey and I had yet to master the language, and it was my first experience with sending anything to a different country from Turkey.

Hagia Sophia was my next destination. There was a long queue for visitors and it cost 30 Turkish Lira to enter the place. Hagia Sophia (from the Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία), is a former Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica (church), later an imperial mosque, and now a museum (Ayasofya Müzesi). From the date of its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931. It was then secularized and opened as a museum in 1935, under the Kemalist government. I had read about its history but my interest in the place was piqued by the documentaries that I had seen and the fact that I had learnt a few basic things about Greek Orthodox church from my lovely Greek friend. She lamented that “It used to be decorated with gold, diamonds etc. and amazing pieces of art” but it had been “Ottomanized” under the Muslim rulers. It is still considered the holiest site for Greek Orthodox christians.It was named after St. Sophia, patron saint of Byzantium/Istanbul. I discovered that only the “Muslim” part of the church was open to general visitors (but I secretly longed to meet the Greek Orthodox priests or members of the church). The first thing to capture my attention upon entering the building was a gold-plated fountain (Sadirvan) in the courtyard. It was built in 1740AD.

The interior portion was baroque, and a weird mix of Christian symbols and Arabic/Islamic calligraphy. I walked to the upper portion of the building for some photography. I was feeling hungry so I ventured out to find something to eat. I wanted to eat something from the Turkish cuisine, but vegetarian in nature. I walked along the tram line from Sultanahmet, crossed the Çemberlitaş station, Beyazıt station and finally decided to sit down at “Izmir Restaurant”. I wanted to taste Turkish Pizza (called Pide), so I ordered a margarita pizza. The server brought few pieces of bread and a mixture of crushed-tomato-and-onion paste. I was flabbergasted for a while, thinking that they had misunderstood my order. I had finished three pieces of bread when the REAL pizza appeared: P. It dawned on me that I had mistook the appetizer for the meal, and had killed at least half of my hunger already. In addition, the pizza was exactly like the ones that I’ve had in Pakistan, so I was slightly disappointed. The meal was not too bad, so at least I had a full meal after all the walks since morning.
On my way back, I enquired about the phone connector from a few shops and it transpired that I had to go to Apple Store Zorlu Centre in Beşiktaş if I wanted the accessory. I had acquired a map of the tram from a volunteer and the tourist information centre in Sultanahmet guided me about which trams to take. I was supposed to change three trains to reach Zorlu Centre. I was desperate enough to get that connector so I decided to give it a go. Took the tram from Sultanahmet, disembarked at Kabataş, and took the Füniküler to Taksim and then the train to Gayreteppe. It involved changing trains, walking (in my case, running) on the escalators and walkways and finding enough room to stand in the trains. It was time for offices to close, so the trains were full of people. After Gayreteppe, one has to walk almost 1.5 Kilometers to reach Zorlu Centre, which is a very modern mall. I had previous experience of Apple Stores in the US so I expected similar customer service. I didn’t have to wait for a store employee to find the connector for me, but during the billing process, his iPhone got stuck! On top of this, he didn’t even know English too well. It was not a disaster in anyway, but I realized that even Apple Stores worked in Turkish ways :P. On the return trip, I lost my way(because the “M” for Metro trains and Metro Buses looks so similar), but eventually reached Sultanahmet without much trouble.

In the hippodrome area, I noticed a specialized Childcare room for all the families that had camped there for Iftaar time. I realized that Turkish government cares for its citizens much more than our government does for us, as I have never seen such facilities at any public place in Pakistan. I also found a father-son duo playing football who included me in their game for a few touches. My new friend from Mexico had told me about Cappadocia so upon reaching the hotel, I looked at ticket prices offered by Turkish Airlines from Istanbul. I was delighted to hear that I could get a discount price return ticket to Cappadocia in 200 Liras. I submit my details online and the ticket was reserved. The only catch was that I was supposed to get the ticket within the next 12 hours. My options were, either go to the airport or find their nearest office. With help of the internet, I found that Turkish Airlines had an office near Taksim. I left the hotel immediately and took the tram to Karakoy, and boarded the Tunel train. I found my Mexican friend in the Tunel and we talked about my ‘adventures’ of the day. She had to meet one of her friends at Fatburger,so I proceeded on my own and walked through Isteklal Street to Taksim. Google Maps and other maps mentioned the location of the Airline office near Divan Hotel. I walked on the Cumhuriyet Caddesi for half an hour, without finding the place. By 10 pm, I was extremely exhausted by the search so I took the train back to my hotel. It was a long, but enriching day.

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