Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Turkey, Days 11 & 13: Istanbul Part 3

Reader's Note: The visit to Cappadocia (Day 12) will appear in the next post. I wanted to consolidate all the Istanbul days in a series of related posts.

Birds of IstanbulTurkish Hat and Mom

We did not need to leave for the airport until late morning. We took some time for one last walk around the area near the hotel. We found ourselves walking across the Hippodrome and soaking in some final sights on this last gray morning. One of those sights was this impressive flock of birds that were swooping down on some sort of food. It was definitely a feeding frenzy and perhaps a bit reminiscent of something out of Hitchcock's The Birds. You can get a better sense of things by watching the video clip below.

Perhaps you recall the wall of hats from our first day in Istanbul(link). We returned to that store to try on a few more hats and had I found something that I felt would fit well in cold windy weather I would have bought a hat. Mom had better luck and purchased the hat you see here.

It is another rainy day here in Istanbul. With clear umbrellas in hand we sallied forth to the tram line to the station on this side of the Bosphorus by the Spice Bazaar. Our hope was to take a ferry to near where we wanted to go and after some diddling about and wandering about we found the ferry boats and learned as the rain continued to drizzle on down was that the ferry we wanted did not run all that often. We elected to not wait and went to find a bus to the area of the church of St. Savior in Chora (Kor-ah). It took a bit of work but we figured out the buses (and learned too late that you cannot buy passes on the bus but have to get them at kiosks that we have yet to really locate). The buses though do seem to run efficiently even though you have to buy tickets elsewhere and the bus station by the ferry dock is a congested and somewhat dangerous place. This church was built sometime around 1320 and today it is a museum. It never was anything but a church and what we got to see was impressive if you are particularly interested in iconography done in the form of tile mosaics. I have to admit that I am not really one of these people though I admit perhaps some of that is due to the fact that it is hard for me to really see what is being depicted.

church of St. Savior in Chora 1church of St. Savior in Chora 2

The church of St. Savior in Chora is a smaller church but it seems to me that it is in very good shape. While I find it hard to really see this type of mosaic tile art sometimes tough and certainly miss a lot of the imagery it is still impressive in its own right.

We caught a taxi to Sentral (?) Istanbul which ended up being incredibly inexpensive and we were quickly whisked across the city to what was once some sort of energy production building that puts one in mind of the Tate Modern in London. Unlike that grand building this one clearly has quite a long ways to go before they really flesh it out with fantastic modern art exhibitions. We did see a fantastic suite of architecture photographs of buildings for Le Corvosie (sp). Really great stuff. The university campus that this building is part of is a rather secure campus and it seems to be doing pretty well.

Istanbul Catssculpture

I've mentioned the dogs that are out and about everywhere; cats are too. The majority of the cats e saw throughout our visit to Istanbul were small like this trio here. As you can see people put food out for the cats too but I think Istanbul's cats may have a tougher life than the dogs do.

This was one of the few interesting sculptures we saw in Istanbul Sentral. I imagine in a few years this large building will have a bunch of interesting collections.

This was something of a slow day for us. The lousy dreary weather certainly contributed to that.We were a bit tired of the poor weather and that laid the groundwork for what we planned to do tomorrow. We would take a tour to Cappadocia (the journal of that entry will appear in the next post).

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Topkapi Palce 2Topkapi Palce 3Topkapi Palace 1Topkapi Palce 4

We spent our time touring the Topkapi Palace under drizzling skies. It was moderately crowded and I suspect that it must be far more busy on nicer days. We wandered in and out of buildings trying to absorb the wealth of information available. I know we did not succeed. While the complex is large and many places like the passageway shown here (I think this one connected the Sultan with his harem) show off intricate architecture I think I felt a greater sense of wealth and power in a place like the Alhambra.

Our final full day in Istanbul dawned once more with clouds dominating the sky and rain drizzling down. This poor weather only made us happier that we had taken the tour through Cappadocia the day before. We had a couple places to visit today. The first was the Topkapi Palace which was the home of the ruling Sultans for centuries. We walked through the rain soaked city to reach the palace noting that seemingly fewer people seemed out and out though we did notice some dogs searching for bites to eat. The relative lack of people made me hope that the palace wouldn't be too crowded but that would turn out to be somewhat not the case. We picked up tour information including an audio guide and began strolling around the complex of buildings that make up the palace. It is really rather hard to describe all that we saw; there was just too much You read or listen to the information provided and unless you are paying careful attention the information has a tendency to slide in one ear or eye and out the other. While we saw many clear signs of great wealth such as the incredible clothing that was on display that was often worn by sultans and their families I ended up left with a bit of a feeling that thee palace wasn't as impressive as places like the Alhambra. I am sure this is an unfair view. I am glad that we did explore the palace. Even though I feel I did not get as much out of it as I could have it was worth the few hours we spent there.

Sea of MarmaraBlue Mosque Under Overcast

Looking out on the Sea of Marmara from Topkapi Palace before we left the complex.

The Blue Mosque rising into the unpleasant sky.

When we left the Topkapi Palace it was early afternoon and the weather still had not cleared up. However, the weather did not seem to be stopping people from getting out and about. We were searching for a place to have lunch and as we looked we found ourselves watching a road running race go on by. I've no idea how long a race this was. I do know that it involved lots of people because it had clearly been going for some time when we saw it and show no signs of ending as runners went by to occasional cheers even after we had finished our lunch. It was still too early to simply return to the hotel so we found ourselves walking down to the Spice Bazaar. By this time the wind had picked up and the rain which had been intermittent seemed to be intensifying. We hurried into the bustling bazaar. It seemed to me that it was more crowded here than the Grand Bazaar had been but I suspect that was not really the case. Again I found myself wondering how so many small shops selling much of the same sorts of things managed to get on by but clearly they do. When we left the rain had subsided some and we decided it was time to head back to the hotel to get inside and out of the rain. We walked past vendors selling roasted chestnuts (that must be a tough gig) and soon enough we were back at the hotel with a some time to kill before our evening activity: a visit to see some whirling dervishes dance in what was once a mosque and now is a place for Turkish folk arts (I think that is right).

When we left the hotel for the mile or so walk to where the Dervishes were going to be the weather was still rather cruddy. It wasn't so much that it was cold as it was drearily rainy and a bit windy. We found our way to where we needed to be (I think not that far from the Spice Bazaar) and with the time we had left ourselves were able to locate a small restaurant for dinner. Standard fare food-wise. We found our way to the former mosque with a bit of time to spare, more than enough time so we could mill about with the crowd and have some of the offered coffee. Upon filing into the performance space I have to say I was a bit surprised. It was a large room set up theatre-in-the round style with folding chairs (I don't now recall if they were built-in or not) all around. Certainly a couple hundred people could sit all around if the place was full and it seemed full to me. In the center is a small empty space large enough to hold several people but only just large enough for the dervishes themselves (5 of time with room to move about). The 4 musician who would accompany them set in seats just above and outside the stage. We were first treated to one style of music that I now cannot describe that well. It was interesting but did not leave much impression. Clearly it was local folk music of some sort. The real show though wasn't happening yet. That would start with a different group of musicians filing in followed by the whirling dervishes themselves. Their does seem to be some pageantry involved in this. Perhaps that is not quite the right word as it felt more solemn them that. The music that swelled at this point was completely different from what we had just heard and as it began the dervishes began to move. At first they moved around slowly and then things settled down with a single man in the center with his fellows orbiting around him as all of them began to spin steadily increasing their speed. Arms were sometimes raised high, sometimes held halfway up, and rarely (I think) against ones chest. Head posture varied from person to person with some holding their heads straight while others let them rest on a shoulder. I am not sure if they had their eyes open or closed but I think the latter. Their expression though all seemed to be of intense concentration perhaps rapturous though maybe that is going a bit over the top. It is an impressive display of control especially as you realize that when they stop they show no signs of dizziness. Were I to spin like that for even a short time I would then wobble my way around when I stopped. THey never did. Different men took the central position after slight pauses in the music. It was an intense performance but I am not sure I would say it was joyous or exuberant. Maybe it is not meant to be. The whirling lasted easily 20 minutes and it might have been closer to a half hour. It definitely is an interesting spectacle but I think we all were left a bit underwhelmed in some undefined way. I do not think we were alone in that feeling.

When left the place to find that the rain had stopped though it was still blustery and slick outside. We had to retrace our walk back to the hotel and stopping at a coffee/bakery/restaurant type place along the way was definitely a nice way to end the evening. It was lively in that large restaurant; more lively than the crowd had seemed as it filed out of the whirling dervish performance but surely that is an unfair comparison.

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