Wednesday 15th August (Istanbul)
I have an all day tour planned to-day. I was picked up promptly at 8.45, and taken to a mini bus. There are only two of us doing this, so the tour is quite friendly. We started at the Roman Hippodrome. This was the scene of ancient chariot races. Once there were a large number of monuments here, but after the 4th Crusade, they were removed to Venice. There are now 4 monuments in this tree lined square. The Kaiser William fountain is by far the youngest, being a present from Germany to the Ottoman emperor in the 19th Century. Much older are the Obelisk of Theodosius, brought from Egypt in 390AD, the bronze Serpent Column, again dating from the 4th Century, and the Column of Constantine. This was in place in the 10th Century, but is known to be considerably older although its history is unknown. Originally covered in bronze reliefs, those were also removed after the 4th Crusade.
|Kaiser William Fountain|
|Obelisk of Theodosius|
|Column of Constantine|
All the tourist attractions here are close together. The Hippodrome is nicely placed next to the Blue Mosque, our next port of call.
Built on the orders of Sultan Ahmed I in the early 1600s, the mosque is in the centre of Byzantine Constantinople. Officially called the Sultanahmet Imperial Mosque, it is commonly called the Blue Mosque after the large number of blue tiles covering its interior walls. It is the only mosque with 6 minarets. The story goes that the Sultan instructed the architect to make gold minarets, but the architect confused the word for gold with the word for six. Whatever the reason, 6 it's got.
A couple of hundred meters down the road to the Hagia Sophia Museum. This building was originally a church, built in the 4th Century by Constantine the Great. It was burnt down in 532, but rebuilt in only 5 years, and was the 4th largest church in the world.. It was converted into a mosque in 1453 by the Ottomans. At the time the church was covered in icons, which not being permitted in Islam were plastered over. This had the effect of preserving them, and when converted into a museum in 1935, they were uncovered and put on display.
A single picture is not enough to give you an idea of the richness in this old church, so I make no apologies for going a bit over the top.
On to the Grand Bazaar. This is reputedly the biggest "souk" in the world. It has over 4000 shops, with each trade having its own area. It's the place to go for jewellery, carpets and Turkish arts and crafts.
It's a fascinating place to wander round, but you do have to tune out the entreaties of the market traders. "Hello Sir, I have your size." "You like leather jacket?" "I show you carpet" "I show you genuine antique." etc etc.
A short break for lunch now, after which it began to get a bit chaotic. As there were only two of us, it had been decided that we should bolt on to another tour doing the afternoon portion. Our guide left us in the hands of our driver who took us to a rendezvous point. It soon became obvious that the guides for this new group hadn't a clue who we were and why we were there! Not only that, but we had been rushed through lunch to join them, only to find that we had to hang around for 45 minutes while they finished their own lunch. After a good deal of discussion between ourselves and the tour leaders (our driver had by now disappeared) we finally were allowed to join them.
The tour started by a drive past and explanation about the places we had seen this morning, but finally we got to our first port of call, the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent. This was built between 1550 and 1557 and the architect's wish was to better the greatness of St Sophia. This is the largest mosque in Istanbul, and although predominately a mosque, is open to all religions for prayer.
Our final port of call was the Topkapi Palace. This was the home of the Ottoman Sultans from the 15th to the 19th centuries. It now houses a magnificent collection of crystal, silver and Chinese porcelain.
|The Outer Courtyard|
|The Inner Courtyard|
|The Bosphorus From the Palace|
I had a massage this evening. No, not the "Nudge nudge, wink wink. Say no more" type, but a genuine Turkish bath. Or at least as genuine as you would expect in a tourist hotel. I started with a strip and a shower. As I left the shower I was greeted with horror by the (lady) attendant. The towel I had been given didn't quite cover my manhood. It turns out I hadn't opened the towel fully, and sadly when I did it was more than enough to cover the said manhood. Still it was nice to have a woman screaming at the sight of my naked body. It's been a while!
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|Ian Showing His Bits|
On to a sauna and a plunge into a cold bath, (after which the small towel would have done!), and on to a body scrub. That was an experience. The scrubber (if that's the right expression), started by rubbing me all over with what I swear was a bit of wet & dry sandpaper. More cold water to clean off the gunge, and out with the soap which was liberally applied with what looked like some ragged bits of chamois leather. More cold water to rinse that lot off. Having been rubbed down and washed, I would not have been surprised if the Turtle Wax had come out at this stage! However I was told to relax for ten minutes and got given a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.
On to the massage proper. This was quite violent, and involved a great deal of pulling around. Strangely, although when I arrived she was shocked at accidentally glancing at my bits, they were now treated as something that gets in the way of the treatment. Thank goodness for all that cold water! It wasn't all bad news, however. At one stage she gave my stomach a good slap and said "Beer.", which I understand is Turkish for "Boy! You really are in good shape for a bloke of your age."
In spite of all the heaving around, I must admit at the end of the massage I felt much better. (In much the same way as it feels good to stop banging your head against a brick wall!)
I didn't much feel like eating tonight, so I bought myself a bottle of Coke and a packet of almonds. I also thought I'd try a bottle of Ayran, that milky yoghurty drink that gets sold in bottles and look like milk. Don't bother!