Showing posts from March, 2014

Topkapi Palace, the Bosphorus

So I woke up today and set the clock forward one hour (again [AGAIN]). Sigh.
Today the big plan was the palace of Topkapi! I couldn't have asked for a better day to spend sightseeing: gloriously sunny, but cool, and the crowds were blissfully small. When I walked in, at about ten or ten thirty, I only had to wait in line for my ticket for about ten minutes. When I walked out, at one o'clock, the queue to get in had tripled in size! Good timing!
It's hard to overstate just how immense Topkapi is. Although the core of the palace was built I believe in the 15th century, a great deal of the most iconic buildings are additions and expansions from the 16th and 17th centuries. They kept adding new pavilions and annexes, to the point where it became a small city housing up to 4,000 people and covering a huge expanse of land on a hill.
Topkapi is a palace built in the Eastern fashion: whereas Western palaces like Versailles are enormous buildings with gardens all around, I've noti…

Aya Sofya, the Basilica Cistern

Today I woke up, as all y'all did, with the clock set one hour forward, and went down to find that breakfast hadn't even been set yet! That's how I found out that Turkey decided to postpone the hour change to tomorrow, because of today's local elections, and I had in fact woken up an hour early! I had trusted my iPhone to switch automatically, and in fact it did -just not to Turkey... Ah well.
I started my day with the big prize: Aya Sofya, the great 6th century basilica, later converted to a mosque, later still turned into a museum. All I have to do to get there from the hotel is go up a slope, walk around the Four Seasons and make a right. It's been a glorious day, sunny, not a cloud on the sky, rather cold but not overly so.
There was a sizable queue at the basilica already at about 9:30 or so, but it advanced pretty fast. Unlike at the airport, international queuing law applied and I only had one lady in a hijab push me aside to cut ahead! Progress!
Once inside, t…

Byzantine Musings: I

-- The streets of Sultanahmet are overrun with cats, who walk up and down the pavement like they own the place (and who's to say they don't?). Some are cute; many look ready to claw my eyes out. The hotel has two or three house cats, all of whom look lovely.

-- It's true that the call to prayer wakes you up, as I experienced today at 5:45 (or 4:45... more on that in the next entry), but it didn't bother me much as I went right back to sleep. Honestly I was more concerned about the poor muezzin, who upon hitting the higher notes sounded like he was on the verge of passing out...

Landing in Istanbul

I'm in Istanbul! One year after my Japanese oddysey I'm once again out and about, so I'm coming back to the blog to make sure you don't miss a thing!
The flight from Orly to Ataturk airport, which takes three hours, went without a hitch. Things got interesting once in Turkey. When I landed I was directed to a little visa shop, where you literally just fork over 15€ to get a visa, and then I made it to Passport Control... where I found a massive queue between my passport and the border guards charged with letting me into the country. Hundreds of people, Disneyland style. As soon as I took my position the cultural differences became apparent, as queuing seemed to be largely optional -groups of ladies in their hijabs and niqabs would just merrily elbow their way straight ahead, regardless of how many people they had to trample to get to the front of the queue. It was like one of those awful nature documentaries, where these ladies were the lions and the French tourists fro…