In which we have arrived at mid-point of perhaps the longest letter I’ve ever written. It’s OK, she’s a special friend, and the trip back was wonderful. This section is a bit of a ramble. Please bear with me, or read part one here, part two here, part three here, part four here or part five here.
The only time I have ever taken a photograph of a meal was the time in France when I ate roasted sheep heads for dinner with the family I was living with as a student. Or was it goat? Anyway… not about to start taking phots now just for a blog, but I will mention…
Food! I haven’t told you about the food yet! Trish, the food is the one big improvement over the time we were there. It’s simple, honest fare and outside the tourist areas, still a great deal. Ten euro will buy three people a good lunch, dinner around 15 or 20. Even in the areas with higher tourist traffic, we felt prices were reasonable. And no worries anymore about falling ill. We were also smart this time around, drinking only bottled water, which is cheap and sold everywhere. Sometimes I think back then that for a few more dollars a day we could have saved ourselves a lot of grief in the long run. Remember how sick we were?
I was going to say you shouldn’t go to the Topkapi Palace unless you’re a masochist, but I still have to post the section on Turkish trains.
But if hanging out with hordes of people in line-ups starts to turn you off and you’re prepared to pay yet another entrance fee once inside the place just to see the Harem, where you’ll be treated to the most interesting part and be sheltered away from the crushing throng. I found the idea of seeing all that wealth and religious relics kind of enticing – who wouldn’t want to see a whisp of the beard of Mohammed himself? – but having to stand in line to do it just turned us off, so after a while we just didn’t bother. The Harem, by contrast, proved to be quiet, sheltered and full of gory little details about palace intrigue and death. Great fun for the kids.
I hate to harp on about the tourists, but they kind of ruined our visit to the Chora Church as well. Although we marvelled at some of the most well-preserved and beautifully restored Byzantine mosaics anywhere, the tour groups just wouldn’t GET OUT OF THE DAMN WAY long enough for you to stand back and really appreciate the setting and feel of the place.
I wanted to collectively bash together the heads of this particularly annoying group of blue-rinsed Greeks, who seemed more interested in yakking on amongst themselves about the weather and taking pictures of each other than really seeing what was in front of their blabbering gobs. I’m starting to feel the annoyance leading to aggression I felt at that moment, so will stop now.
Except to say the Little Hagia Sophia and the Mosaic Museum were ours to enjoy all to ourselves. Little Hagia Sophia is what they call a smaller mosque down on the southern shore of Sultanahmet coloured the same ochre as the Aya Sofya. It’s newly restored, and a jewel that had me holding my breath after walking in and turning skyward. The Mosaic Museum wasn’t even around when we were there because the actual restoration work didn’t start until a few years after, and wasn’t completed until the mid-nineties. Wonderful pieces, not all complete but when you think of the number of invasions and the looting that must have gone on, it’s a miracle they’ve survived at all.
We also had the pleasure of enjoying the amazing autumn weather on a Bosphorus cruise, taking an old tub from Eminönu right near the Galata Bridge way up to a small town on the Asian side very close to the Black Sea entrance. It stopped at several little ports along the way, giving us a great look at the grand old houses still left, what hasn’t burned down over the years. Those old wooden buildings are disappearing fast. Apparently if you buy one they have a law which says you have to restore it to its original look,which of course is too expensive, so people live in them and one day, a candle happens to fall over, or be given a nudge…
Speaking of fires and the Bosphorus, do you remember that huge, black, half-sunken shipwreck dominating the harbour back then? For the life of me I can’t figure out WHY I never took a photo of it, and I’m kicking myself still for not having done so, but I remember being so dumbstruck that amidst one of the busiest and most important waterways in the world this wreck should be even there.
On the outside of the Haydarpasa station there is a mention of the accident on a placard. We MUST have also seen it close up, because it was only 500 metres offshore from the station we had to have taken if we took the train going east. Again – no memory of it close up, but the view from afar I’ll never forget. I found this on the net:
1979–The Greek cargo ship Evriyali spears the Rumanian tanker Independenta offshore of the major Haydarpasa railway station, shaking the city with an explosion and causing pollution in both the Marmara Sea and the Bosphorus. About 95,000 tons of oil were spilled into the water and the wreck burned for nearly two months before the fire could be extinguished. Out of the 44-strong crew, only three survived. The wreckage of the tanker affected the area for many years.
So I’m not losing my memory after all.