Daily Archives: 23 June 2012

My Trip to Turkey 1: Istanbul

Having a great time in Istanbul. Wish you were here!

I’ll be doing occasional blogs over the next couple of weeks mainly so I have a record of where I’ve been and what I’ve seen. It never feels like I’ll forget things while I’m there but bitter experience has taught me otherwise. For example, I know I’ve been to Fatehpur Sikri in India, but every detail of it that comes to mind turns out in reality to be a memory of the Red Fort in Delhi. So here goes on my couple of days in Istanbul.

As the Turkish Airlines plane touched down at Ataturk Airport there was a round of applause, of the ‘Nice job’ rather than the ‘Thank God’ variety. If this moment of collective grace was a good omen, it was soon followed by another: a young woman in rimless glasses, a stylish black full-length coat and a pale blue scarf over her hair, took a moment from her extraordinarily calm parenting of two very active little boys to wish us – in Turkish – a pleasant trip, and then explain in gestures what she meant.

That was on Wednesday night. We reached our hotel – the excellent two-star Best Town Palace Hotel – close to midnight. On Thursday, after a wonderfully eclectic breakfast (borek, cereal, hardboiled egg, olives and salad meat, meze dips etc) we headed out for a morning of art galleries and other exhibitions. In Singapore we’d seen a Miro, a Warhol and stunning art from Papunya Tula and Yuendemu; in Istanbul it was Leonardo and Goya, but we did also find some contemporary Turkish work. The most interesting show was a photographic exhibition about the Village Institute Program, in which promising young people from poor villages were educated in boarding schools and returned home to spread their learning – a powerful strategy for remedying the endemic rural illiteracy that was the legacy of the Ottoman Empire, and cultivating an informed democracy. (I’ve just found out from Wikipedia that the program was attacked by reactionaries who used the moral panic tactics – the Institutes included girls – and accusations of Communism. The exhibition didn’t do the opposition the honour of mentioning them.)

This morning, our small group tourism experience began in Ernest with a four-hour walk, taking in:

  • the Hippodrome
  • the Blue Mosque, which is extraordinarily beautiful but felt cold and showy to me
  • a tea house, where the eight women of our group were the only women but there didn’t seem to be any awkwardness
  • the Grand Bazaar, which is not, as I expected, a chaotic scene of makeshift stalls filled with the sound of bargaining and a thousand smells, but a vast, orderly shopping arcade, perhaps the world’s oldest mall
  • the Suleymaniye mosque, full of light and air, a totally different experience. It’s the work of the architect Sinan, who seems to have a status in Turkish history not unlike Shakespeare’s in English. His modest türbe (look at me, using Turkish words) is just around the corner
  • the Rustum Pasha mosque, also by Sinan, decorated with fabulous tiles, with a sense of light like the Suleymaniye mosque, but intimate. Even as ignorant as I am, you get a sense of why Sinan is a rockstar.
  • the Spice Bazaar, more what I had expected, only clean. Insert here the olfactory equivalent of spectacular.
  • .

    In true Intrepid Tour style, we were then cut loose for the ret of the day. My little trio had lunch that was like no lamb kebab I’ve ever had, then went to Hagiya Sophia / Aya Sofya. Apart from the sheer awesomeness of the building, there’s a delicious irony in this piece of Christian triumphalism being conquered by a triumphant Islam, and now it’s a museum.

    We’re being called to,our ride to the ferry, so that’s all you get.