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Frances and John in Istanbul, September 19-24, 2014


The first thing I should say about the Golden Horn Hotel is that it was not the same Golden Horn hotel described in Rick Steves Istanbul guidebook as "Recently rennovated and decorated with new stylish funiture and textiles-- some rooms have views of the sea and the Blue Mosque".  No, that is the Golden Horn Sultanahmet; we were in the Golden Horn Sirkeci. 

When I booked the room on the internet I thought I was getting a stunningly low price for a highly rated hotel. Fortunately I discovered this error when I tried to arrange a car to pick us up at the airport a few days before we left Boston.  "We have no record of your reservation sir, came the polite reply". 

Anyway, the Golden Horn Sirkeci was just fine.  As you can see the room was a bit over the top with multiple roof lights and a reflective ceiling; and the view from room 510 was not of the Blue Mosque but of a service duct liberally sprinkled with pigeon poop!  But the hotel was perfect for our needs.  The bed was comfortable, the air conditioning worked and they did send a limo to pick us up at the airport, a much appreciated service when arriving in a strange city.

The bedside phone was worth a photo we thought!

In addition to having a great location, in the middle of the old city on the European side and not far from the tram stop, the roof restaurant was wonderful; and a very good breakfast was served.

Here is Frances on our first morning with a part of the panoramic view, including the 208 foot conically topped 14th century Galata Tower visible, just to the right of her head.

It is possible to climb the tower and enjoy the view.  However, we were content with the view from our elevator accessible breakfast room!

 Here I am on the roof top just outside the restaurant.

The mosque is Suleyman the Magnificent; and just behind the dome of the mosque you can see one of the white horn shaped towers and some of the support cables of the Golden Horn bridge;  an attractive cable stayed bridge.

One of my guide books said that the place to start your tour of Istanbul is the Galata Bridge. That bridge crosses the Golden Horn between the new town and the old town and is lined with restaurants and coffee shops

We headed out from our hotel with every intention of going straight to the Galata Bridge, but before we got there we saw a car ferry just about to cross the Bosphorus Straight to Asian Istanbul.

For a few Turkish Lira we bought round trip tickets and took the 20 minute ride over.

When we arrived in Asia we got off and then straight away got back on and rode back to Europe!

View from the Bosphorus ferry.

Lots of new construction in Istanbul as evidenced by the tower cranes.

So tousled from the ferry ride we strolled over to the Galata Bridge and as instructed in our guide book found a coffee shop where some guys were playing backgammon and some others were sucking on a hookah.

Yes, tousled was the right word! 

Part of our mission that Saturday was to find a Roman Catholic church in this secular Islamic country so that Frances could attend Mass on Sunday.

We were looking for St. Anthonys in the New District about half way down Istiklal Street between the  "Tunel" and Taksim Square.

This gave us a chance to ride the funicular (Tunel) from the Golden Horn shoreline to the top of the hill at the start of Istikal Street and then walk along the street with the busy crowd and along the way take a look at the fine stores and also a number of impressive embassy buildings. 

We went all the way to Taksim Square, scene of "The Tragedy of May 1, 1977".

We found St. Anthonys and the time of the English language Mass and decided we would take a taxi from our hotel on Sunday as it would take too long to get there on foot, and by funicular.

Later on Saturday evening we walked up the hill from our hotel to Gulhane Park, adjacent to the Topkapi Palace. 

Lots of people were out enjoying an evening walk.

We never did find out why, but in Istanbul there seemed to be a lot of cats wandering around and just outside Gulhane Park we came across this "cathouse"!

We also went a little further up the hill to the core of the old city, a beautiful area with the Hagia Sophia (photo) on one side, the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque) on the other; fountains and gardens in between and the Turkish Art Museum and the Hippodrome nearby.

As evening approached we heard the call to prayer sounding out from the minarets.

In Florence with her siblings, Frances had attended Santa Maria Novella the first Sunday and the Duomo the second Sunday.  I did not accompany her on those two visits but gathered that the services were somewhat routine and at SMN our contingent did not appreciate being hustled out of the church before having a chance to look around and enjoy its beauty. (Some of us went back later to this wonderful 13th century Gothic church)

In Rome, Frances attended the audience at St. Peters and joined the nuns in the Convent for Sunday prayer.

We did not know what to expect in Istanbul.

So I went with Frances, and am happy to say it was an amazingly vibrant English language Mass. There was tremendous congregation participation, well delivered readings, good music and a surprising number of black faces. (See photos to right and below).

Near the end of the service the priest announced "African choir practice times" and "Next Sunday will be an African Mass"; Frances said to me, "I want to come!", and so did I, but by then we would be back in Winchester"

There has been a church on this site since the Franciscans constructed one in the 13th century.  But it was rebuilt in the 17th century and the current St Anthonys church was built in 1912; the same year as our home in Winchester.

So compared to most of the ancient buildings we had been visiting in Florence, Rome and Istanbul, this church was almost new!

I wanted to go on a Bosphorus River cruise from Istanbul to the Black Sea.

This would be a full day trip and I was OK with that. Sadly however, on the day selected we discoverd that the summer schedule had just ended and now there was only one cruise per day and that left half an hour before we arrived at the cruise dock.

However, the Turyol ferry and cruise line ran frequent shorter cruises up the Bosphorus past most of the local sights and under the two Istanbul area bridges across the Bosphorus Straight.

So we took the shorter cruise.

Off we went snapping photos along the way and trying to follow the mixed Turkish and English guide commentary. 

Also following along in our guide book.

Most of the seats along the side of the boat were full but there was plenty of room on the inside and room to move around.

This photo shows the fine Bosphorus Bridge; the Turkish flag,  a lifeboat and one of several pairs of boots hanging down from the upper deck.
Another flag photo and another mosque!

The convenient tram that ran through all the main tourist attractions in the old town and passed near our hotel at the "Gulhane" stop also had a station called "Sirkeci".   At Sirkeci there were also a subway station and a main line station. 

We were pleased to learn that the main line station was the original terminal destination for the famous "Orient Express".  Nowadays while there are connections to stations all over Turkey and into all European destinations, a train called the "Orient Express" only runs here once per year.

In recognition of the storied history of the Orient Express, there is this little old steam train memorial at Sirkeci.

Another day, another breakfast on top of our hotel roof.  This little corner table had the most complete and panoramic view.
Among other things you could see the cruise ships in the New District Harbor area.

We had wanted to tour the Topkapi Palace in the morning but arrived to find a very long line of tourists with the same idea.  In part this was because it was a Monday when some of the other major attractions were closed. In addition there were several cruise ships in town.  

However in the area just inside the outer Palace wall we found "Hagia Irene", dating back to the time of the emperor Constantine (of Constantinople fame). The church is so old it hosted the second Ecumenical Council in AD 381. 

It is a dark building now, almost devoid of tourists, and pigeons fly overhead (see the net); but I felt awed by its age and was happy that our small entrance fee would help maintain this wonderful structure.

We would not have visited if the Topkapi Palace had not been so busy.

We formed a plan to come back to the Topkapi Palace later in the day when, (we hoped), the tourists and tour ship folks would have gone away.

Till then we would look at some other sights in the area.

Muslims talk of themselves, Jews and Christians as "People of the Book". 

This English language notice outsice one mosque was part of an attempt to show the relationships between these three religions.

There was also a family tree showing (in my view somewhat dubious) relationships between folks in the Bible (Old and New Testament) and the Koran.

The Hagia Sophia museum was not open on Monday but we planned to return on Tuesday. 

Here is the fountain I mentioned earlier.

We spent an hour or so wandering through the aisles of the impressive and massive Grand Bazaar. Said to be the worlds first shopping mall!

There was also a fine Spice Market near the waterfront where I know Frances regrets not lingering longer and buying some saffron.

Of course after walking the aisles of the Grand Bazaar we needed a rest and lunch.

Frances snapped this photo in the mirror by our table.

The Basilica Cistern was constructed during the Byzantine Emperor Justinian's reign in the sixth century AD. It held about 27 million gallons of water and covered an area equal to two football fields.

As a water engineer who spent much time between 1986 and 2002 planning and constructing water storage reservoirs in and around Boston, I can appreciate the work that went into building this water reservoir using materals which from an engineering  point of view are primitive, but with these old materials they created  a wonderful facility that lasted and an aesthetic marvel.

For comparison, during my time at the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, we built several water storage structures of reinforced (or prestressed) concrete with capacities of about 20 million gallons and the largest, the Norumbega Reservoir, located in Weston on the ridge overlooking the Boston Basin, includes three compartments with a total capacity of 115 million gallons.

This Byzantine Cistern had a brick ceiling and 336 columns many of them recycled from earlier Roman ruins.

I hope Norumbega lasts as long and is open for tourists in the year 3400!

Another view of the Basilica Cistern. The metal rods above the columns are not original!

Fairly late that afternoon we went back to the Topkapi Palace and took turns lining up in a by now much shorter ticket line than we saw in the morning.

Here is Frances standing in the Palace above a Bosphorus side cafe we decided to hit later on after we had finished our Palace tour.

 I have seen many fine chess boards but nothing to equal this one in the Palace.

Sadly, we did not see people playing chess in Turkish cafes, but we did see plenty of backgammon games.

We visited the Sultan's Harem in the Palace where it was seriously explained that the harem was not a place for hanky panky. Instead it was part of a system to ensure that future Sultans would be qualified for the job of leading the country. 

We were told the Sultan's mother had a lot of power in decideding which four of the concubines would become the sultan's wives and this was part of a weeding out process to determine who would provide a suitable heir (and who would be the next sultan.)

But with hundreds of concubines in the building, I suspect mother did not know everything that went on in the harem!

I don't recall which part of the harem this is but it was very nicely constructed and decorated.

OK we are getting close to the restaurant and close to a very nice cream cake!

Notice the way they allowed they built the roof around the trees.

On Tuesday our plan was to get up early and visit the Blue Mosque, then the Hagia Sophia and, if we had time, the mosque of Suleyman the Magnificant. Quite an ambitious program. 

When we woke, it was raining. 

But we still had our umbrellas from the rainy day in Florence, so we headed out as soon as we could and were two of the first few people of the day to get into the Sultan Ahmet (Blue) mosque.

This mosque is regularly used for prayer (at least five times every day), so I had to wear long pants, remove my shoes and Frances had to use a head scarf.

This photo shows why tourists call it the Blue mosque.

A beautiful and amazing structure and an architectural wonder.

Here is my sweet bundled up wife in the blue mosque with headscarf (and is that a halo I see around her head?)

After the Blue Mosque we headed straight across the square to the Hagia Sophia said to be "the greatest architectural triumph of the Byzantime Empire" and "one of the most important and impressive structures on the planet"

By now the lines were a little longer but still reasonable. 

One of the most astounding things about the history of the Hagia Sophia (aya soh fee yah - meaning Divine Wisdom, in Greek) is that for 900 years it was the "eastern Vatican" of the Orthodox Patriach of Constantinople; then since 1453 it was a mosque; and then in the 1930's in the early years of the Turkish Republic it became a museum. 

Given the tension between Christians and Muslims today, what amazes me most is that some of the paintings and mosaics of the Christian period have been uncovered and restored..

Here is the mimber (pulpit) one of the Islamic additions to this originally Christian structure.

The Mosaic of the Virgin in the South Gallery of the Hagia Sophia.
One of four massive winged seraphim at the base of the main Hagia Sophia dome.

On our way from the Hagia Sophia to the mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent, along a road skirting the University, I came across these mannequins.

They seemed to be just begging me to join the line.  So I obliged.

This is what youngTurkish women will be wearing in Fall 2014. 

So our third mosque of the day was the mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent.

Constructed in 1550 this mosque is a bit off the tourist track and so did not have any wait to get inside.

While Suleman was no doubt magnificent he is said to have fallen under the spell of a Ukrainian slave concubine, Roxelana, who became his wife and became the first of the "power behind the curtain" women who are said to have ruled the Ottoman empire for 150 years!

Nearing the end of our time in Turkey, on our last evening, we went down again to the Galata Bridge and this time dined at a fish restaurant on the  West side of the bridge.

We sat inside to get out of the wind that had become gusty and cold.

While there we watched the sun set.

My beautiful wife and companion in Italy and Turkey at the the last dinner of this vacation.

They brought a platter full of freshly caught fish to our table and asked us which one we wanted for a dinner for two. 

They cooked it while we ate an appetiser; brought the grilled fish to the table, filleted it and served it.

Absolutely perfect!

In the background the sun is setting......

.......   over the mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent.
And then it was dark and time for us to go back to the Golden Horn Hotel (Sirkeci!)

Next day we took a taxi to the airport and got a direct Turkish airlines flight from Istanbul to Boston. 

Ten hours; a long but good flight.

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