Monday, 12 April 2010

Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque and Cistern

We set off early for Topkapi Palace, hoping to get there before the rush. There were already some tour groups in the first and second courtyard, but Simon had the idea to go straight to the far end of the complex, where we were the only visitors.

The palace is vast and was developed over centuries, on a commanding site overlooking the Golden Horn. Many of the buildings feature ornate filigree work and tiles, with distinctive niches. Pools and fountains, now dry, once provided humidity and small fountains inside the window frames ensured a cooling breeze.
We bumped into Sophie, Carl and Tilly in the treasury, admiring the gem-encrusted weapons and medals, and again outside the Harem. By lunchtime it was very crowded, and we left for lunch at the world-famous Pudding Shop, once the start of the hippie trail but  now a rather ordinary self-service restaurant. Our plan to visit the Blue Mosque was foiled by prayer time so we explored the monoliths in the hippodrome. When we did make it into the Blue Mosque it was hard to see past the lighting grid to the cupola above.

After a brief visit to Sultan Ahmed's tomb, we descended into the Basilica Cistern, an astonishing space below the city filled with towering columns. The giant carp were a surprise, as were the Medusa heads that hold up two of the columns. Emerging into the sunshine we decided to find a rooftop bar and have a drink - an expensive choice but the view from the Sultan Pub was impressive.

We had been invited to dinner by the family of Nefise, who used to be Sophie's au pair. Sophie had confirmed that we would meet at her hotel at 6 before dinner at Nefise's house, so we took a brief walk round the park and then went in search of some baklava as a gift for our hosts. We easily found the Barcelo Hotel by tram, and took the tram again to Nefise's, changing to the main line train for the final leg. The trams are crowded but frequent and good value at TL1.50 per journey.

Dinner at Nefise's was lovely; her mother is an excellent cook and her father insisted on driving us back. Some friends dropped in, too, and one of them entertained us by reading our coffee grounds. And tomorrow Nefise has offered to show us all her Istanbul.

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