Written April 28, 2012
The second day of our blitz tour through Istanbul started with a rooftop breakfast buffet at the Osmanhan Hotel, with views of the Mediterranean and an obstructed view of the Blue Mosque. Most hotels in the Sultanahmet area have this pleasant set up and it’s a delightful way to start the morning in good weather.
After yesterday’s crowds we decided that it would be smart to be at the Topkapi Palace when it opened. Seems everyone had the same brilliant idea and we waited in a line that snaked in front of the ticket office for 45 minutes before we got our tickets.
Note: the ticket office is on the grounds of the First Court through the stone gate to the right as you are facing Aya Sofya from the southeast.
The palace grounds is an immense compound of imposing edifices and pavilions first built by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453.
Muslim Handbag Finery
We started with the Harem (an additional ticket bought just outside the entrance to the Harem itself). This was the Sultan’s family quarters including foreign young girls educated in Islamic customs and culture to become good concubines.
Other sections visited included the Inner Treasury which displays ornate examples of early weaponry; the Imperial Treasury housing the bejeweled Tapkapi dagger and the world’s fifth largest diamond, and the Sacred Safekeeping Rooms, where you’ll find Moses’ staff and an a clay imprint of Mohammad’s foot, neither of which were worth enduring the claustrophobic mob pushing their way through the exhibit hall.
Ended the visit at the elaborate pleasure pavilions at the back of the compound in the Fourth Court, also known as the Tulip Garden (there were no actual tulips). Stunning, elegant rooms with the same colorful painted tiles and lavish decoration seen throughout the complex.
A simple light lunch at one of the many restaurants on the main drag of Sultanahmet. Tried menemen, a not so attractive but tasty mixture of scrambled eggs, tomatoes and peppers.
After lunch we took the tram to the foot of Galata Bridge. On a crisp sparkling Saturday afternoon everyone was out, the waterfront as crowded as the galleries of Topkapi Palace. On the west side of the bridge fish sandwiches are hugely popular, with masses of hungry Turks passing through the small shop to buy their fish in bread, turned out assembly-line style from small ornately decorated kitchen-boats bobbing along the dock.
Of course we had to try one and decided the dry boney, scaly mackerel must be an acquired taste.
Paid the 12TL ticket for the 90 minute Bosphorus Cruise and boarded one of the large passenger boats to the left of the fish stand. The seats on the right side of the boat have the better views of the shore. An interesting trip down the channel, passing through Istanbul with Europe on one side and Asia on the other. A commentary runs over a loudspeaker in Turkish and English giving the highlights of the various palaces, historic homes and other places of interest, but is intelligible.
The cold wind whipping on the water made sitting on the outdoor deck intolerably frigid
and by the time the boat turned around for the return voyage most of the passengers had ducked down to the warmer enclosed lower deck.
Dinner at Oceans 7, a tourist restaurant on the main Sultanahmet drag that offers a lengthy menu of Ottoman specialties. Wanting something lighter, we started with a mixed meze platter followed by the grilled fish. Beautiful whole fish that, according to the host, were still swimming in the kitchen before they hit the grill. True or not they were fresh and perfectly cooked.