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Short trip to Istanbul, 10/13

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Oct 25th, 2013, 10:28 AM
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Short trip to Istanbul, 10/13

My husband and I are staying our first night in Istanbul tonight, and plan to be here another six nights. We flew out of Atlanta about 4 pm yesterday to Rome, where we had a lengthy layover, and so it took us till late this afternoon to check in at the Istanbul Hilton, get settled in, and head back out for an early dinner, which was as far as our ambitions took us today. Tomorrow we plan to get an early start to go and see the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and perhaps the Grand Bazaar. My hope is to see the Hagia Sophia several times during this visit.

Neither of us has been to Turkey before, and we have seen a couple of things that have gotten our attention, like the security guard who greeted our taxi as it approached the hotel, and went around the car with some sort of long baton. My husband thinks it was intended to detect any sort of explosive material.

The Istanbul Hilton has a long and quite glamorous history, and its lobby is that of a grand hotel. Our room is plainer, certainly.

Dinner tonight was at Borsa, a restaurant quite close to the Hilton. It's a restaurant I saw recommended by otherchelebi, a Fodorite who lives in Turkey. Fortunate recommendation! My arugula salad and lamb-filled tortellini covered in a yogurt sauce made for a very good dinner, and my husband enjoyed his lamb chops a great deal!

I'm happy to say that my jet-lag prevention strategy worked today! Morning over Rome did feel like morning, and daytime in Turkey did feel like the day, thanks to changing my circadian rhythms. But even though I got some sleep on the plan, I'm now plenty tired enough for bed at 8:25 pm.

More trip report tomorrow!
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Oct 26th, 2013, 09:05 AM
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Hi smalti.

Great to meet one of the legendary Istanbul Forum lurkers on a what promises to be ...........?
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Oct 27th, 2013, 12:39 AM
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Merhaba, otherchelebi! I have valued your informative and helpful posts on Istanbul threads as I've planned this trip! Thank you for those!


Yesterday (Saturday) started well enough. We planned to go on a day-long guided tour of the city, offered by the organization he's here to meet with. (Later, I'll sightsee on my own while he's in meetings.)

The tour started with the Hagia Sophia, which I've longed to see for over fifteen years now! Truly, this has been the top item on my bucket list since I fell in love with Byzantine architecture (and even more with Byzantine mosaics) a long time ago. Ever since then I've pushed and pushed for a trip to Istanbul, but my husband has always resisted, till this conference was planned--he couldn't very well refuse now!

As our bus turned a corner in the Sultanahmet district, and I first caught sight of the Blue Mosque, and then of the Hagia Sophia facing it, my heart skipped a beat! The two buildings are SO stately, and SO massive, and the sight of the two together is overwhelming! I believe the effect from the road is actually greater than if approached on foot.

Being in a group expedites the tedious process of getting into the Hagia Sophia (or I suppose I should call it the Aya Sofia, as most of the local signs seemed to prefer--certainly the local preference should take precedence for spelling). Once inside, we found the building WHOLLY crowded. We worked our way through the narthex and into the VAST interior.

Photographs, good ones, convey an effect of ENORMOUS space inside this cathedral/mosque/museum, and an effect of the massive, massive dome seeming to float in air, as it's ringed below by tiny windows. The sight I've seen in photos is the one I traveled a long way to see for myself--but it was not quite the sight I saw.
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Oct 27th, 2013, 02:33 AM
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The Aya Sofia was indeed vast. It was filled with light. But it was also about 40% filled with scaffolding. And it was absolutely teeming with visitors.

Scaffolding in an old historic site is nothing unusual--there always seems to be maintenance going on, anywhere we go. But here the sheer amount of framing and draping significantly affected the view, and the crowds and crowds and crowds of fellow tourists made it difficult to see very much or very far.

We climbed a ramp to the upper level--stone walkway going round and round, higher and higher, and got a better view from the upper level. Still the scaffolding hurt the view, but it was possible to see much more. There are not that many mosaics in the Aya Sofia (surprising to me that they were spared and only plastered over when the church was converted to a mosque), and I think most of the mosaics must be on the upper level. I can't say that for sure, though, since most of the mosaics were not available for viewing--probably obscured by the scaffolding.

Reading what I've written, I sound whiny and more than a little disappointed in my experience at the Aya Sofia. That's not the case--I was a little disappointed, I guess, but it was still a tremendous, impressive experience! And I had dreamt of it for so long and idealized it so much that some disappointment was probably inevitable.

The Blue Mosque, now, was indeed a vast, airy, light-filled space. And the walls were covered with light-colored tiles, many of them wholly or partially blue (hence the name, we were told). The effect inside was exactly what I would want!

Before entering, I fashioned a head-covering from my scarf, and we removed our shoes (forewarned, I had brought bags to carry them). After a while inside the mosque, my husband squatted down onto his haunches, there on the floor, as he was beginning to feel unwell (he's an experienced traveler, but not a highly robust person, and travel often wears him down). He was not fainting or swooning, but just needed rest. I had an idea of reading that Muslims find it offensive when non-Muslims sit down in a mosque (and figured it would be doubly so for a woman to sit), so I remained standing as I tried to attend to my husband. He rallied enough to walk outside, where we found him a bench.
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Oct 27th, 2013, 05:19 AM
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Our family too felt a bit disappointed with the Hagia Sofia but when a building is 1000 years old, it always needs repaired.

Hope you enjoy Istanbul and can get out to visit other places in Turkey. The people are wonderful.
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Oct 27th, 2013, 06:23 AM
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As your interests include Byzantine mosaics, smalti, I do hope you have a chance to visit the St.Saviour Chora Church/Museum. This was one of the high points of my visits to Istanbul.

I'm sure you have a list of things to see, but I wouldn't miss the Süleymaniye and Rüstem Pasha Mosques, both the work of the great architect Sinan. You will not find the crowds that fill the Blue Mosque at either of these places.

emily71, you will find that the Hagia Sofia is nearly 1500 years old.
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Oct 27th, 2013, 02:43 PM
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Thanks, emily71! We are finding the Turkish people to be very friendly and welcoming!


Thank, laverendrye! I'm hoping to spend a day at the Chora Church!


Anyway, my husband sat outside in the Hippodrome area, and when we got onto the bus he felt even worse. We pulled the plug on the rest of the tour, so he could get some rest in the room. I stayed with him, not worried, but concerned.

By evening he was feeling well enough that we joined two of his European colleagues for dinner. We ate at the Hilton's little bar and grill, which is out on a balcony overlooking the Bosphorus--the view was impressive! We heard a call to prayer at one point, in the distance.

Later, while we ate, there was some short flurry of fireworks over the Bosphorus, some sort of celebration. G, one of my husband's colleagues, said, "I hate fireworks--they sound exactly like shelling." G is originally from Bosnia, and it occurred to me that she does know just what shelling sounds like!

The other colleague was A; he is G's supervisor. They are both physicians in Britain, but neither is British-born. A is originally from Syria, and as the evening wore on he wanted to talk more and more about US policy toward Syria--he still has family there to think about.

The evening wore down and we went upstairs--our room is quite comfortable!
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Oct 27th, 2013, 05:30 PM
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Enjoying your report, smalti. Keep it coming!
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Oct 28th, 2013, 04:14 AM
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Thanks, Holly! I'm hoping that we get to be a bit more active than we have so far!


Sunday morning (yesterday), I spent a couple of hours at breakfast while waiting for my husband to finish his early meeting--we planned to go out afterward. Normally I don't mind spending a long time in a hotel breakfast room--I love to eat! And I can drink pot after pot of tea--I am the scourge of waitstaff!

(The Istanbul Hilton breakfast has some items I haven't seen in a breakfast room before: halvah, for example, and anchovy-wrapped olives. There was porridge, and I opened the lid, thinking it might be oatmeal. But it was a white, starchy-looking dish--hominy, perhaps.)

Anyway, I'm someone who normally enjoys leisure, but now I was eager to get out and see things! Just waiting for my husband.
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Oct 28th, 2013, 05:27 AM
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Lovely report smalti, thanks, keep it coming... And I agree with you, my first view of the Blue mosque and Aya Sofya ( from the terrace of our hotel ) just took my breath away, stupendous!
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Oct 28th, 2013, 05:58 AM
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I have an Istanbul trip in the tentative planning stage. Probably a long weekend in February. I'm following your report and enjoying it very much.

Thank you!
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Oct 28th, 2013, 07:40 AM
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Some trivia regarding Istanbul hilton:

- Was built mid 1950's to Hilton specs.

- Was the third grand hotel after Pera Palas and Park Hotel.

- Immediately became popular with the older generations of socialites for high tea.

- Currently, still a very popular reception and wedding venue with choice of gardens, terrace, roof and ballroom.

- Self-parking not close and valet not efficient.

- The dark and romantic Efes bar at the basement, now closed, was where Eser told me that she accepted my proposal of marriage after fidgeting for ten minutes hoping I would ask her again and finally saying, "Do you remember asking me something last week?' to which I replied, "No, what was it?"
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Oct 28th, 2013, 07:46 AM
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smalti,

Walk past Borsa and the convention and concert halls to Nisantasi-Tesvikiye area for the liveliest evenings with the upscale residents of Istanbul. Lots of bars, cafes and restaurants.
If you're still around night of the 29th, watch the fireworks from Hilton roof and then walk to Nisantasi for color and possible street fun.

Do not go to Taksim and Istiklal 29th evening as there may be confrontations between those who celebrate the Republic Day and the Islamist police.
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Oct 28th, 2013, 09:27 AM
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Thanks, geetika, stupendous is the word for that first view! (And you're more observant than I--the name is indeed Aya Sofya, or Ayasofya.)


Thanks, ssachida! Hope you'll have a wonderful trip, and I hope you can find something helpful here!


Oh, otherchelebi, what a romantic memory to have of the Efes bar! Thank you for answering a question I was curious about--what is beyond Borsa? I wondered that as we prepared last night to have yet another meal at Hilton!

The food here is good enough, but to rotate among the same few choices of restaurants quickly grows stale.

And thanks for the heads-up about Taksim and Istiklal! G speculated the other night that there was some national holiday underway--she had seen fireworks two nights in a row. And I've seen flags EVERYWHERE! I hope that confrontations will not happen!
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Oct 28th, 2013, 10:17 AM
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So on Sunday, my husband did eventually join me at breakfast. But he could scarcely eat any breakfast himself--feeling sickly. He did rally enough by mid-morning to walk with me to a pharmacy, where we found some over-the-counter remedies for him. (The very-helpful concierge found a pharmacy open on Sunday--most pharmacies were cosed.)

(My loving husband laughed hard on the return to the hotel, when I stopped at a grocery and bought a 5L bottle of water, then carried it to the Hilton. But as I get older and older and older, flying dehydrates me more and more, so lots of water is what I need.)

The morning wore on into afternoon and my husband felt better, but as for going out together, no dice. I finally bailed on him in the afternoon and went down to the Galata Tower area. Wandered around there for a while and got a bit lost--it's fairly crowded, but quite picturesque. The tower itself is impressive. I wanted to climb its stairs to get the view, but needed to move on if I wanted to see the whirling dervishes--and I did want to see them. (The concierge told me that I needed to buy tickets by 5:00 to see the dervishes at 6:15.)

It was nearly 5, and I was having a little trouble finding the Mevlevi Lodge to buy a ticket to see the dervishes. Couldn't hone in on the address, so I started asking people for help. I approached only women to ask for directions, not men.

(Cultural note: There were people at home, people who've been to Turkey, who warned me that I courted trouble if I left my hotel alone. Trouble as in, I risked being accosted, or targeted for pick-pocketing, or even mugging! Surely that risk is something for young women to beware, I said--at 53, I should be largely exempt from targeting. Not necessarily, said my friends--better not to be alone!)

But being alone is inevitable when I tag along on my husband's work trips, when my husband is sickly and I bail on him, when there are not organized spouses' outings. So I was alone on the way to seeing the dervishes whirl, and honestly not sure whether I was taking a chance.
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Oct 28th, 2013, 11:56 AM
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My tongue-in-cheek response to your "people at home who have been to Turkey," recommending that you only ask men, or suffer consequences is possibly "wishful thinking" that they could not practice. I have always only asked women for directions and help wherever I travel in any country and have never been taken advantage of (even when I was buying lingerie for DW).

Pity about your DH. You should have asked for the hotel doctor to get him up and running quickly.
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Oct 28th, 2013, 12:49 PM
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otherchelebi My main source for caution is a woman friend (American) whose husband is Turkish--when they visited his family some years ago, his relatives were highly protective of her. She may have gained an overly high sense of potential danger involved.

From my own experience, when my husband's work takes him to a European country and I tag along, I spend much of the trip sightseeing alone. I've had young men offer to sell me drugs in at least three different countries (but that was before I turned 50), and been approached other times by evident immigrants speaking languages I didn't recognize--most likely trying to figure a way to make some kind of money.

The only times when a strange man's approach has made me really concerned that something violent might be about to happen have been in the US. Usually my fears were groundless (other than the time I was robbed at gunpoint).

But I digress.
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Oct 28th, 2013, 01:27 PM
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So it was Sunday, about 5 pm, and with MUCH help I located the Mevlevi Lodge on a crowded street. There was a "Tickets" sign, but it was behind a locked iron gate. In front of the gate was a folding table at which a smallish young man sat. Guards were behind the gate--the young man was literally under their noses.

A young couple was remonstrating with him, and he seemed blithely unconcerned--something about how he'd sold them tickets for the wrong time--I couldn't follow. When my turn came I asked for one ticket to the 6:15 service. He said, " That's sold out. Tickets for 7:15 only." He tore a small white sheet off a notepad, stamped it and said, " Be back here by 7." I gave him 40 TL (Turkish Lire).

So with nearly 2 hours to kill, I wandered the area some more. But I didn't want to go into the stores, and didn't want to have any tea. I decided just to go back and wait outside the Lodge's gates. I got there, and the folding table and young man were gone!

Oh good grief, was this a con game? Had I given 40 TL to a con man? I couldn't believe it--the Lodge guards had seen everything the young man was doing, and no one had stopped him.

A French couple was coming to the same conclusions that I was. Together we went to the guard and asked, "Are these good for the 7:15 service?"

He gave us a pitying look. "There is no 7:15 service." My jaw dropped.
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Oct 28th, 2013, 01:41 PM
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I was reading along and curious about your experience getting the tickets for the whirling dervish. We were there a month ago and there was some confusion as to the exact time of the show. We got there approximately two hours early and the one and the only show at 4:30 or so was already sold out. I thought I also saw a table out front, but there were signs at the ticket office, Sold Out. guess we were lucky. So sorry you got ripped off.
Did you go into the lodge? I loved it, so peaceful and lovely.
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Oct 28th, 2013, 02:51 PM
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I am sorry that you and others got ripped off and didn't get to see the show.
It's too bad the guards didn't do anything or report it to someone who could.
If you could, perhaps do a separate topic title to warn others.

Hope you spouse feels better today.
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