Leah and Pete headed back to Seattle a few days ago, so now it is just Colin and I for the rest of the month in Turkey. Before they left, we got in more of old city, starting with Topkapı palace.
We had walked through the gardens surrounding Topkapı palace before, filled with tulips, herons and large green parrots (yes, parrots!), but that was just a drop in the bucket. Inside the pay-wall is an expanse of buildings including multiple mosques and an iconic tower which I can see from the window in our new apartment. We paid the extra lira to see the harem, but I warn you it is overrated – you see one spectacularly painted ceiling dome, you’ve seen them all. However, it was neat to imagine life there as a chosen concubine, with a dozen eunuchs at your beck and call and the powerful queen mother to fear and flatter. We also saw some ridiculously large jewels in the imperial treasury, including the Spoonmaker’s Diamond which legend says was once sold for three spoons by a poor man who found it in a garbage heap.
Next day we visited the archeology museum, which had a very impressive collection of statues and plunder from Egypt, Rome, and what is now Turkey. I have never seen so much marble in one place. I learned that most of it was originally painted in bright colors, as they had a partial full-color reproduction of the beautiful Alexander Sarcophagus. My favorite were the sarcophagi covered in drunken, frolicking cherubs who were engaged in such activities as spanking goats with sticks, riding other cherubs like horses, and amorously kissing cherub-sized but anatomically adult women. Whoever was buried in those must have known how to throw a party.
We finished that day by a quick peek inside the active Blue Mosque, then a quiet beer underneath Galata bridge where we watched the above sunset. There are a few places to get cheap beer in the city, but mostly we pay tourist prices and drink in touristy (and scenic) places like this. Many Turkish people don’t drink, so you can tell that you’re at one of the better restaurants in Istanbul if it doesn’t have a liquor license. For beer Efes is pretty much what you get. Colin is out on the deck right now with a can of Efes Extra (“strong beer”) which I think tastes like they spiked it with Raki, but he’s making do.
Now that it’s just the two of us, Colin and I are taking it easy for a few days. We moved into a new apartment up the street from the old one, which is a little smaller but has a spectacular view of the old city including the palace and Hagia Sophia. Yesterday we spent half the day on the deck, but went out to buy groceries and check out the May Day rally in Taksim Square. They hadn’t allowed a rally there since 1977 when some right wing nutballs fired guns into the crowd and killed a bunch of people. This year the police force was impressive, and they blocked off all the side streets of İstiklal as well as two major roads on either side. We didn’t go inside the fence but hung out with the water cannon / tear gas launching tanks, whose guns kept moving unnervingly back and forth across the crowds. Then we got Dürüm wraps with chicken and french fries inside. I’d call it the equivalent of the fast food burger except there was also a Burger King next door.
It’s the 4:57 call to prayer. I now know they vary the time because they are going by the sun’s position instead of by timezone, and each city does their own calculations (we got a pamphlet from the Blue Mosque). With the facing of our new apartment we get an impressive cacophony of songs from a dozen different mosques in the old city. Today we checked out the financial district and a modern mall shaped like the death star. Tomorrow we’re planning to take the tram way to the end and check out an old fort and the old city walls.