Bergama Theatre Bergama Trajan Temple Dalyan Lycian Tombs Kaprulu Kanyon Afrodisias Tetrapylon Demre Beach Ortahisar Volcanic Plug Goreme Sunset View Yoruk Turquoise Treasures and Volcanic Vistas draw Travellers to Turkey
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Sunday, 27 April 2014

Topkapi Palace Paradise

Topkapi Palace: Harem Gorgeous Tiles
Topkapi Palace: Harem Gorgeous Tiles

Topkapi Palace Paradise

Our first day focuses on the seat of Ottoman power and paradise, the Topkapi Palace - if we can ever leave the delights of our present-day palace!  The Topkapi Palace is the first place you should visit in Istanbul.  The highlights are the Harem, Divan, Bagdad Pavilion and the Treasury filled with jewels and spectacular arts. 

Note: hover mouse over photo for caption.  Click any photo to start slideshow with larger images.


Sirkeci Mansion Modern Delights

Sirkeci Mansion: Breakfast Buffet
Sirkeci Mansion: Breakfast Buffet
Day 2: We had a slow start this AM and took our time munching through a very big breakfast with a large selection of food, both hot and cold dishes. They had a hot cheese and veggie dish that was salty. The breads were very fresh and must come from a bakery. The small roll with sesame seeds on top is the best bread so far. The coffee was very strong but smooth.
It was cloudy and cool so we'll do the outdoor sightseeing and Bosphorus boat trips on our second visit to Istanbul at the end of this trip.  The hotel sold us a TRY 85 museum card, which is good for only three consecutive days.  It was a short 10 minute walk to Sirkeci Station to get the transit card.  Our hotel was right off the tramway, which is a great service.  Each trip is very low cost (and lower with the transit card) but there are no transfers.
Topkapi Palace: Official Sahlep Seller to the Sultan
Official Sahlep Seller to the Sultan
We left at c 1100h and took the busy tram to the Sultanahmet stop then walked to Topkapi Palace.  Be sure to try the sahlep drink outside the Topkapi entrance.  This aromatic drink – made from wild orchid root, milk, honey, cinnamon and vanilla – is only available in the winter (October to April).  It costs TRY 5 at Topkapi but elsewhere in Turkey we had it for TRY 2 or 3.  Delicious!

Turkish Origins

The Turks are not from Turkey!  They are from Central Asia.  They are believed to have originated from the Xiongnu, the "Northern Barbarians" – the bane of the Han Dynasty and cause for the Great Wall!  The Turks migrated gradually westwards and invaded Anatolia and defeated the Byzantines near Lake Van (East TR) in 1071.  After the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, their dynasty became known as the Ottomans (Osman in Turkish) and ruled for 624 years.  At its peak the Ottoman Empire stretched from Algeria to Mecca, from Hungary to Iraq including Romania and Crimea.  The Ottoman Empire disintegrated as a result of supporting Germany in World War I.  This led to the emergence of the new state of Turkey as well as independence for the various other states. 

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace: Gorgeous Iznik Tiles
Topkapi Palace: Gorgeous Iznik Tiles
The Topkapi Palace was begun in 1453, just after the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople, and renamed it Istanbul (see "Polis" section)Wow, what a place! Unless you are museum-adverse person, you could spend a full day here. Six hours was barely enough time. The palace is arranged around four treed and grassy courtyards.

Topkapi Palace Harem

The harem is an extra TRY 15 (but included in the Museum Pass) and it was the most interesting part of Topkapi Palace. Go there first, well after visiting the Divan or council building. The magnificent tiled walls are lined with cushioned seats, which led to the use of the word divan (couch) in our language. The tiles are always geometric shapes with lots of turquoise and blue colours. Islamic artisans used mathematical precision to produce symmetry and repetition. The depiction of the human form is considered idolatry. The doors are inlaid mother of pearl and wood.

Topkapi Palace: The Sultan's Bedroom
Topkapi Palace: The Sultan's Bedroom
The harem is the living quarters of the palace.  It is also a maze of beautiful tiles and inlaid wood.  It was the sultan's mother who ran the palace and sometimes even the country. She controlled the Sultan's his wives (maximum four) and decided who should be his four favourites, even who and when he had sex. The rest of the women in the harem were only servants and did not have sex with the sultan. The main purpose was to ensure there was a male heir. 

We did not go to a restaurant to eat lunch because we knew we had limited time.  So we took a rest on a bench in the outdoor Courtyard of Favourites with its view of Galata Tower in Beyoğlu. Fortunately, we had some snacks like halvah: it was delicious but very similar to what we can get back home.

Topkapi Palace Tulips & Jewels

Topkapi Palace: Harem
Topkapi Palace: Harem
After the harem we toured the Fourth Courtyard with its gardens full of tulips.  The Turks introduced the Central Asian tulip to Europe, and today Netherlands is the biggest cultivator.  The Bagdad Pavilion has an interesting fountain pool.  We left the jewel and other treasury rooms to the end because there were too many people lined up.  The lines were shorter at the end of the day. This is another must-see definitely spectacular arts, crafts, weapons and jewels.

We stayed at Topkapi Palace all day and were the last ones out at 17:00h!!!  Then we met some PhD students (Turkish lady and Iranian man) in the courtyard and had a long conversation.  The guards had to come and kick us out.  Then we made the long walk back to the Sultan Ahmet Parki with its colorful cascading fountain in between Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) and the Blue Mosque.   

Antiochland Restaurant

Antiochland Restaurant: What a Meze
Antiochland Restaurant: What a Meze

From there were walked up Yerebatan Street to the Antiochland Restaurant. We had another good meal. The Anatolia is up Ticarethane Sk. about one long block from Divan Yolu, the main street with the tramway.  In fact I recognized the Divan Yolu intersection from one of my sister's photos from her trip five months earlier.  The restaurant provided a better type of pitta bread.  The meze (small appetizers) was particularly delicious.  We had a long discussion with the waiter about the herbs and spices used.  We also met and talked with the chef/owner.

We also talked with our neighbours at the next table who sounded British but were from Sweden.  One is a teacher and the other arranges music group cultural exchanges.  They flew down for 5 days – it is only a three-hour flight!!  They said they will connect with us on Facebook. 

We walked down a steep road to our hotel because the walk back to Sultanahmet stop was longer and we would still need to take the tram which would take even longer.  Moreover, sometimes it is so busy that you do not even get a seat on the tram. 

Last  Post: Merhaba to Turkey (Day 1)
Next Post: Hagia Sophia Dome-ination (Day 3 AM)

Friday, 25 April 2014

Merhaba to Turkey

Wow, we finally got to Turkey!

This site is about Turkey, about their people and their culture, what are best places to visit, and why you should visit those places.  It tries to make connections between what you see there and how it is relevant to you or your travels to other countries.  That is because Turkey has played a pivotal role in both the history and culture of our world.

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sofia was a famous Byzantine Church

Next Post: Topkapi Palace Paradise (Day 2)

Merhaba – Welcome to our Turkey Blog

Mt. Edith Cavell, Jasper National Park
Mt. Edith Cavell, Jasper National Park
Our passion for travel started with doing our first ten-month trip to Europe and then moving to the gorgeous turquoise lakes of Rocky Mountains, our weekend playground.  The travel bug took root very firmly.   Then we did a three-year Round The World (RTW) trip and worked seven years in Europe.

We missed out Turkey during our three-year round-the-world (RTW) trip and we wanted to see if it lived up to expectations.  During our RTW trip travellers overwhelmingly said Turkey and Ireland were their favourite countries in Europe and that the people are so friendly (hmm, must be related).  Plus there is a lot to see and do from archaeological sites to turquoise waters and beaches. But what makes a trip most memorable is talking with the people and learning about their culture. We met so many kind and helpful people during our trip.

Turkey is a Big Country With Lots to See

So if you haven't gone to Turkey then make it your next destination.  Needless to say a lot of pre-trip planning helped make this trip a success.  Some practical suggestions can be found in the Getting Started page.  It is always difficult to choose which places to see.  Even though we had 31 days, there are always choices to be made.  See our Itinerary page for suggestions as well as our actual itinerary.  For additional places we considered during our preliminary planning (some of it was three years ago) have a look at the More Places page.  For recommended reading see Books & Links
Note that Turkey is a very large country: it is 12.5% bigger than the Texas; 70% of the size of the province of British Columbia, or virtually the same size as France and Great Britain combined.  It is essential to manage your expectations and limit the number of places to visit and especially avoid travel to many distant places (in the same trip at least).  
Note that we have added captions to the nine photos at the top of the home page.  This will provide additional information about the photo when you place your mouse over a photo.  When you click these photos it will (eventually) bring you to the relevant web page.  But when you click on a photo in a post, it starts a slide show of the photos in that post.  The main advantage is that the photos are shown much larger.


Sirkeci Mansion Host: Ceyda
Sirkeci Mansion
Host, Ceyda
Day 1: Our plane arrived 35 minutes late and it seemed like so did 10,000 people who were waiting to go through passport control.  We learned that 14 million people live in Istanbul – the fourth-largest city in the world!!  It took an hour to drive 22 km to our hotel in the Sultanahmet area. 

Hotel Ilkay & Sirkeci Mansion

Once at Hotel Ilkay, we sipped delicious apple tea while listening to an orientation from Ceyda (pronounced Jay-da).  Now this is a novel idea – having several "tourist facilitators" who orient you, answer your questions, give directions, and even provide maps, public transit passes, et al.  Who needs the tourist office?
Sirkeci Mansion Bedroom
Sirkeci Mansion Bedroom

Ceyda showed us our room in Hotel Ilkay and offered an upgrade to their sister hotel, Sirkeci Konak (Mansion) at no extra charge.  Originally we had said no but once we saw Sirkeci we realized we would get a much larger and prettier room in a fancier hotel. 

Sirkeci Mansion Host: Damla
Sirkeci Mansion
Host, Damla

Ah, the joys of travelling off-season.  Trip Advisor says Sirkeci costs in Turkish Lira (TRY) 464 (or EUR 157, CAD 240) in high season!!  We helped ourselves to a small serving tray of Turkish Delight that awaited us on our bed above.  

At Sirkeci, we had another long chat, apple tea included, with Damla (meaning “water drop”) and other tourist facilitators in the “living room” (see left) decorated with gorgeous stained glass and pottery pieces.  It was like a museum.  We talked about all kinds of topics until it was well past supper time.

We finally left for the Anatolia Restaurant near the Blue Mosque.  Good food and another great discussion with the waiter, who turned out to be a part owner.  His in-laws live in Seattle WA and he travelled there as well as Victoria BC on a recent trip.


Wow, no one told us how beautiful it was to walk in Sultanahmet at night.  There were food stalls and lots of people in the central park with views of all three mosques and the fountain beautifully lit up.  I could not hold the camera for a time exposure shot (no tripod) but the tablet did an ok job.  Then I remembered I had a video capability so I took a movie with my new Nikon D7100 – wow, great feature.  It was 23:30 h by time we got back.  Another typical day for the travelling duo.