Friday, June 20, 2008

About Turkey

I have been trying to coax myself into writing about Turkey for a few days now but it is hard to figure out on what to concentrate.

The mosques were awesome – their interior decorations were splendid. We lived at close proximity of Aya Sofia and Blue Mosque – and saw them in different light; at sunset they are the most beautiful. Their astonishing domes that are supported in design by several smaller domes, slender minarets create massive but elegant silhouettes against the sky. It takes my breath away thinking of how many memories are trapped in those walls.

Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia)

Blue Mosque

* My husband and I did quite a lot of photos in Istanbul (his are much more professional), which can be seen here and here.

Among the palaces I liked the Topkapi palace the most – I like the idea of its self sufficiency, a city within a city. The Harem quarters there caught my fancy – its almost empty airy rooms adorned with bright tiles, dark corridors with light coming from narrow windows of the ceiling, courtyard filled with sunshine, fountains were the perfect illustrations of Pushkin’s “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai.” You can imagine the intrigues arising there, the whisper of the women, gaiety and jealousy going hand in hand.

As for city itself – I didn’t expect it to be so dirty, especially promenades along the sea –laying around garbage really spoiled the pleasure.

What was fun is to try all the different food and snacks. Baklava was my choice of dessert every evening. I tried it from different vendors and came to conclusion that a small “hole in the wall” bistro around the corner from our hotel had it best. Turkish delight (lokum), you can find everywhere in Istanbul, but I was determined to find one of the oldest sweetshop “Haci Bekir” (I read that it was established in 1777.) We found it on Hamidiye Street. Its walls were lined with wood; it was quiet and filled with various candies. The variety of Turkish delights’ flavours were enormous but what delighted me most was that they carried candied orange peels. I haven’t tried these treats in ages, and it was as good as I remembered them: their bitter-sweet taste is simply irresistible. These are candies that you have to savour – really appreciating its unique taste and texture.

We tried of course kebabs and various meats on the skewers. I discovered “lahmacun” or as they call it Turkish pizza. It is a very thin circle of dough, spread with a layer of lamb, tomato sauce and spices, baked crispy. When it is done they put salad, parsley, tomatoes on top, squeeze lemon juice over it and roll it like tortilla. Very tasty and amazingly cheap. The kids fall in love with “simit”- round bread covered with sesame seeds. Every time when we sat in the park resting from a day of walking and sightseeing, they went to the vendor and got themselves one.

In other not food related delights Istanbul Archaeological Museum” was fantastic – one can easily spend hours there and it isn’t as crowded as other attractions. We spent most of the time in the Ancient Greek exhibition – the boys are really fond of Greek and Roman myths and history, so they had a great time identifying their favourite heroes.

The collection of sarcophagi in a different wing was very interesting. Most of them were found in ancient Syria. The most famous is the Alexander Sarcophahug. It is covered with carvings of the battles and the life of Alexandra the Great. It was discovered in 1887 and at first thought to have been of the emperor himself but it was actually belonged to the Sidonian King Abdalonymos.

There was the exhibit "Istanbul through the Ages" on the mezzanine level, the Troy exhibit on the upper two levels. It is certainly one of the museums that you cannot possible see in one sitting, you have to return there.

The other great escape from the sun was the Naval Museum in Besiktas. We saw equipment, weapons from different wars, grand old boats (sailing and rowing), and naval uniforms. It was very surprising for me to discover several paintings of
Ivan Ajvazovkij there.

Our favourite entertainment in the evening hours was sitting near the fountain in the central square and watching people. We tried to guess their nationalities, which is always very amusing and chuckled at the reaction of locals on tourists and vice verse. In the country where a lot of women cover their head with a scarf and it isn’t rear to see a woman hidden in a black robe from head to toe, it was quite interesting to see braless, bare legs and arms tourists and the stares they drew from the locals.

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