Here we are in Istanbul, easily the most European city we've set foot in since leaving Austria in May. Our hotel is located in the Golden Horn just a few minutes walk from the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. It is a wonderful location. The streets are cobblestone and the all the buildings in sight are very European...but our hotel is an old Ottoman-style house. It is quite amazing--on the inside, at least--but there are a few downfalls (namely hardly any lights, small rooms, etc). I've posted a picture here but we'll have to get some better shots. It really doesn't do the place justice.
On Monday we headed out to explore Topkapi Palace. The gardens are amazing and extend much farther than the grounds of the "palace." There is a park that Andrew and I have walked through almost everyday that is part of the Topkapi grounds, but you don't have to pay to go in so they are much better!
We went on a tour through the Harem first off. The Harem is the name for the living quarters for the Sultan and his family. It housed the slaves (who were apparently paid) and his wifes (no more than 4 at a time) and his children. I wouldn't mind living in a harem myself after looking at this one.
Our guide was pretty humorous. He didn't speak English very well. Surprizingly no one speaks English very well here. Combine that with my lack of Turkish and it is pretty much a recipe for disaster. I would have thought a lot more people would have spoken English...or Italian...or Russian...or Arabic...or anything a lot better than they do, but that's okay. Anyway, in each room our guide would say, "Yes, my guest, we are in the bathroom of the king. I mean, the hammam of the sultan. I mean the Turkish bath where His Highness would be massag-ed and bath-ed." It was funny because he would say "Yes, my guest" even though there were upwards of 60 of us and he would say it in each room. Then he would say the same thing in 2-3 different ways (see the hammam example). Before moving on to the next room he would say, "Yes, my guest, we are to see the room of the mother of the sultan. The sultan's mother room." Then we would go into the next room and he would say, "Yes, my guest, we are in the room of the mother of the sultan. The room where the sultan's mother lives. The room of..." I think you get the picture.
Andrew and I then went on to explore the rest of the palace. There were quite a few rooms that we were, unfortunately, not allowed to take any pictures...but we had a good time looking around at all the treasures and enjoying the gardens and fountains.
**On a side note: Andrew and I went to McDonald's (on the Asia side) the next day, and who do you suppose we saw? Yes, my guest, we saw our tour guide. In a city of 10 million people we ran into the guide of our tour. The one who was giving us a tour of the Harem.**
After grabbing a bite to eat we headed off to the Cistern. Andrew likened it to scenes in Pirates of the Carribean and The Phantom of the Opera. I likened it to being really slippery, but it was kind of like those movies, too, as well as one of the Adams Family films...a lot of movies have cisterns in them. Probably because they are really cool.
I was not in the best outfit for going into the Cistern. The Cistern is an underground building used for storing water. Thus, it is wet. They've built platforms so you can walk around without getting too wet, but water still drips from the ceiling and the fish splash water up onto the platforms (I'm sure it is not malicious). So, I am wearing a long skirt and a pair of flip-flops that are over 2 years old, are paper-thin, and have absolutely no grip on them. There were times when I held onto Andrew's arm and he just pulled me along. It was that slippery. But, it was definately worth seeing.
On our way home from the Cistern we stopped by the Blue Mosque. It is really cool inside, but I think that I liked the Muhammed-ali Mosque in Egypt better. I almost think because it was more reverent. I can't really tell. The mosque in Cairo was based off the Blue Mosque, and I think that the Blue Mosque is more inviting because it is a lot lighter and open. But the people here aren't quite as into the religion as they seem to be in other places in the Middle East. People were letting their kids chase each other around and things were pretty crazy.
Between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia are these beautiful gardens and a wonderful fountain. I like to pull Andrew into the park every time we walk by (which happens to be every single day). They are just really pretty. I'm not sure if you'll all agree but I haven't seen water, sprinklers, grass, or flowers for quite a long time. The park is beautiful!