Saturday, April 26, 2014

Istanbul Part 2

Sun 2/2/14

Journey today:
Topkapi Palace
Aya Sofya museum
Bosphorus cruise
Taksim Square

Our last day in Istanbul today before going back to KL tomorrow. We started off a bit late today at 9.30am. Our first destination today was Topkapi Palace. Burak provided us with a radio receiver so we could listen to his explanations within a few hundred metres range. This was a good arrangement, so perhaps next time Burak could use it for the whole trip.

A bit on Topkapi taken from Wikipedia: It was originally called the New Palace (Yeni Sarayı) to distinguish it from the previous residence. It received the name "Topkapı" (Cannon Gate) in the 19th century, after a (now lost) gate and shore pavilion. It was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for approximately 400 years (1465-1856) of their 624-year reign. The Topkapı Palace is among the monuments contained within Unesco's Historic Areas of Istanbul. It now contains important holy relics of the Muslim world, including Muhammed's cloak and sword. Boy, people back then were really huge in size, judging from the clothes on display. At its peak, the palace was home to as many as 4,000 people, and covered a large area with a long shoreline. It contained mosques, a hospital, bakeries, and a mint.Construction began in 1459, ordered by Sultan Mehmed II, the conqueror of Byzantine Constantinople. There was also the Imperial Harem which contained more than 400 rooms for the sultan's mother, the concubines and wives of the sultan; and the rest of his family, including children; and their servants.

Topakapi Palace
view of Marmara Sea from Topkapi

From Topkapi, we walked to the Aya Sofya museum, also known as Hagia Sophia which means Holy Wisdom, also a Unesco Heritage Site under #356 Historic Areas of Istanbul. It was originally a Greek Orthodox church, then converted to a mosoque during the Ottoman period, and finally a museum in 1935 after the formation of the Republic of Turkey. This is the only place in the world where one can view the depiction of Mary and Jesus Christ the child side by side with the calligraphy art of the words Allah and Muhammad.

A bit of interesting history taken from Wikipedia: It was constucted in 537 and served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral until 1453, except from 1204 to 1261, when it was converted into a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin empire. In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, who ordered the main church of the Orthodox Christianity converted into a mosque.

The interior surfaces are sheathed with polychrome marbles, green and white with purple porphyry, and gold mosaics. Hagia Sophia is famous for the light that reflects everywhere in the interior of the nave, giving the dome the appearance of hovering above this. This effect was achieved by inserting forty windows around the base of the original structure. Moreover, the insertion of the windows in the dome structure lowers its weight.

Aya Sofya facade
Mary and Jesus; Allah and Muhammad side by side

Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) museum

From the Aya Sofya museum we then walked to the Dubb Indian restaurant for lunch. Ah yes, we were having Indian meal for lunch. We had curry chicken, spicy panner, dhal, white rice, salad and Indian yogurt.

After a hearty lunch, we made our way to the ferry docks near the Galata bridge at the Golden Horn area on the Europe side for the Bosphorus cruise on our private boat. This was an Optional tour so we had to pay an extra USD60. But I thought it was worthwile for the scenic view of both side of Istanbul – the Asian and European side. There was sun, but the weather was cold and breezy.

On our cruise along the Bosphorus Strait between the Marmara and Black Sea from the Galata bridge we passed by Galata Tower (or Karakoy), Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace, Ciragan Palace, Ortakoy neighbourhood on the European side near the Boshporus Bridge; turning back passing by Beylerbeyi Palace, Uskudar neighbourhood on the Asian side and back to our starting point. The cruise took about 1.5hours.

Bosphorus cruise!

We were supposed to pray at the Mosque of the Ayyub Al Ansar which was supposed to take only about 15 mins drive from the pier. But the traffic jam was really bad so we had to divert to a much smaller mosque – Mahmut Efendi Camii which was built in 1540, also by the famous Mimar Sinan. So all was not lost.

Mahmut Effendi Camii, by Mimar Sinan

After solat, we made our way for an early dinner at Bodos Balik (seriously) at Sultanahmet area. Since I was still full, I didn't eat much. After dinner we were brought back to our hotel and it was free and easy time for those who wanted to do last minute shopping at Taksim Square area. Tonight my mom joined us as she still had to buy some Turkish coffee and desserts for souvenirs. Liza also did hers for some last minue T-shirt shopping. Back to the hotel, we packed our bags with the plethora of souvenirs – luckily we could fit everything in our luggages! Tomorrow after breakfast, we would check out at 8am as we would be visiting Ayyub Al Ansar Camii that we missed today, then saying goodbye to Turkiye, sob sob.

Bodos Balik!


Monday, April 14, 2014

Istanbul Part 1

Sat 1/2/14
Happy Federal Territory day!

Journey today:
Bolu - Lake Sapanca : 134km (1 hr 50 mins)
Lake Sapanca - Istanbul: 137km (1 hr 37 mins)
Total journey: 284 km (3 hrs 27 mins)

View Larger Map

Bolu - Lake Sapanca - Istanbul

We departed early to Istanbul at 7am. Farewell Bolu, perhaps we'll meet again and I'd have the opportunity to take more pictures of you. On the bus, Burak announced that we'd be stopping by at a rest area by the Sapanca Golu or lake on the way to Istanbul where we could buy a locally made chocolate which is only sold there. However, we couldn't really go by the lake area as it was separated by a railway track.

Scenic mountainous Bolu view

Sapanca Lake otw to Istanbul. Can't cross over, there's a railway track
We also passed by the city of Izmit which was struck by earthquake in 1999 at 3am when its residents were deeply asleep. The city was badly destroyed, but it has risen up from the ashes to the lovely city we saw today. Burak mentioned that he volunteered as an interpreter for rescue missions at that time. The Sea of Marmara accompanied us along the journey from here to Istanbul.

city of Izmit

We arrived Istanbul at around 9.40am, so it was still early. The traffic condition was good, no congestion. Let's look a bit at the wonderfully rich history of Istanbul. Excerpted and summarized from Wikipedia:
History of Istanbul  begins around 660 BC when Greek settlers from Megara established Byzantium on the European side of the Bosphorus. Byzantium officially became a part of the Roman Empire in 73 AD. When Constantine the Great became the emperor of the Roman Empire in September 324, he re-named Byzantium to Nea Roma or Constantinople as a Christian city. On 11 May 330, Constantinople became the capital of the Byzantine Empire or Eastern Roman Empire.

Constantinople's ruins are still preserved in good condition in modern Istanbul

Constantinople's Aquaduct

In the mid-14th century, the Ottoman Turks begantaking smaller towns and cities over time, cutting off Constantinople's supply routes. Finally, on 29 May 1453, after an eight-week siege (during which the last Roman emperor, Constantine XI, was killed), Sultan Mehmed II "the Conqueror" captured Constantinople and declared it the new capital of the Ottoman Empire. Hours later, the sultan rode to the Hagia Sophia and summoned an imam to proclaim the Islamic creed, converting the grand cathedral into an imperial mosque due to the city's refusal to surrender peacefully. By then, the city was known as Istanbul. Mehmed II urged the return of those who had fled the city during the siege, and resettled Muslims, Jews, and Christians from other parts of Anatolia.

 In the early 20th century, the Young Turk Revolution deposed Sultan Abdul Hamid II. The final Ottoman sultan, Mehmed VI, was exiled in November 1922; the following year, the occupation of Istanbul ended with the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne and the recognition of the Republic of Turkey, declared by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.


The first destination today is Spice Bazaar . In Turkish, it's known as Misir Casisi, which means Egyptian Bazaar. It was established in 1660. We bought Turkish delights and souvenirs here.

Spice bazaar Bab Al Hayat

Turkish delight
saffron and spices

The Rustem Pasa Camii is located near to the Spice Bazaar which we have in our itinerary to be visited, but we didn't go to. We took pictures from outside. It was built by the famous Turkish architect – Mimar Sinan and completed in 1563. It is famous for its large quantities of exquisite Iznik tiles set in a very wide variety of beautiful floral and geometric designs, which cover not only the façade of the porch but also the mihrab, mimbar, walls, columns and on the façade of the porch outside. And we didn't pay a visit here. Oh dear.

Rustem Pasa Camii. Spice bazaar is on the right

Next after Spice Bazaar, we went to the historic area complex of Istanbul which houses the Blue Mosque, St Sophia (known in Turkish as Aya Sofya) museum and the Hippodrome. We took pictures at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, or Sultanahmet Meydanı in Turkish, which used to be a circus that was used for horse and chariot racing. From wikipedia: The race-track at the Hippodrome was U-shaped. There are 2 Obelisks here. Theodosius the Great brought an obelisk 390 from the Temple of Karnak in Luxor , Egypt during the reign of Tuthmosis III in about 1490 BC. The other obelisk is the Walled Obelisk, built by the 10th century Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus. The Hippodrome of Constantine is a Unesco World Heritage Site under #356 Historic Areas of Istanbul. From here, we went for lunch at Grup Saray restaurant – rice with grilled chicken and kebab.

Walled Obelisk

Tuthmosis obelisk

rice w grilled chicken and kebab

After lunch, we went for solat at the magnificent Blue Mosque or known in Turkiye as Sultanahmet Camii. Turkish people wouldn't know where the Blue Mosque is. It was freezing cold, so taking the ablution was a freezing experience. Perhaps the mosque authority could install hot water next time. There were many tourists visiting at that time, we had to queue with the visitors to get in and perform our solat, so we had to be careful a bit as we had our wudhu' on already. There's a separate prayer hall to perform our solat so the visitors wouldn't be bumping into us. The Hagia Sophia or Aya Sofya museum is just opposite the Blue Mosque. Unfortunately, we were given too short a time to spend at the mosque as Burak was eager to bring us to the leather shop (I don't know, but I suspected he was aiming to reach this leather shop in time ever since the episode in Bolu yesterday). 

the magnificent Blue Mosque

Some info on the Blue Mosque from Wikipedia: the mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. Its Külliye contains a tomb of the founder, a madrasah and a hospice. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque has one main dome, six minarets, and eight secondary domes. The interior of the mosque is lined with more than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles with tulips, flowers, fruit and cypresses designs. Stained glass windows with intricate designs admit natural light, today assisted by chandeliers. On the chandeliers, ostrich eggs are found that were meant to avoid cobwebs inside the mosque by repelling spiders.The decorations include verses from the Quran. It is one of Unesco's World Heritage sites under Historic Areas of Istanbul.

From the Blue Mosque, we were brought to the Kuzu leather shop where we were entertained with a fashion show. I didn't buy anything here though. Unfortunately, we spent quite long here for 1hr 45mins, compared to only 40 minutes at the Blue Mosque, heck even longer than Pamukkale. Oh dear.

Our last destination today was the Grand Bazaar which we arrived at about 5pm. The Grand Bazaar closes at 7pm. We were warned by Burak to be back at the bus 15 minutes before closing time as the gates closes sharp at 7pm. We'd have to find our own way from outside the Bazaar if we didn't go out in time to find back Entrance Door 1. At the Grand Bazaar we bumped into a Malaysian group from Andalusia Travels. I didn't know Andalusia also organized group tours to Turkey, so I quickly checked their package here and found out they were cheaper by about RM500, with extra additional stop to Izmir and via Malaysia Airlines direct flight to Istanbul. I have to admit though, I didn't do thorough research prior to booking my trip.

The Spice and Grand Bazaar's design reminds me a lot of the Grand Bazaar in Esfahan and Vakil Bazaar in Shiraz, Iran. (The Grand Bazaar of Tehran was closed when I was there, unfortunately). The roofs and shops arrangement looked quite similar. 

Grand bazaar of Istanbul

From the Grand Bazaar we went for dinner at Ege Kumkapi restaurant – having grilled fish and rice. While we were eating, there was a power outage so we were in the dark for a few minutes. Kumkapi is in Fatih district in Istanbul by the Marmara sea and is famous for its fish restaurants. However, our meals was just so-so. After dinner, we checked in at our hotel Gonen, a five minute walk to Taksim Square where the 2013 protests of building the Gezi Park took place. We walked a bit around Istiklal avenue, a popular shopping area, ala Bukit Bintang in KL. Hard Rock Cafe Istanbul is also located here, although a bit small. We then went back to our hotel and called it a day.

Ege Kumkapi grilled fish
Hotel Gonen
Taksim Square

shopping at Istiklal avenue

Hard Rock Cafe Istanbul