Topkapi October 17th, 2009

I should have mentioned last time that there was a violin being played on the street. I could hear it through my window.
Yesterday was Topkapi palace and a Bosphorus "cruise." I've seen a lot of European palaces; mammoth stone piles of turrets, porticullis' (Porticullae?)lined with tapestries and suits of armor. So a Turkish, Middle Eastern palace confused me, just a little.
My impression of this place is that there is no centralized palace, it is more of a compound with the Harem serving as the main, royal living space. The harem itself is vast and honeycombed with various richly tiled and clothed little nooks off even larger and more opulent "main rooms." Just about every wall, indoor and out, was lined with flowered tiles pieced together to depict serene gardens in the most delicate and lush colour pallete. I could almost imagine dark-haired beauties shuffling around in silken robes, looking for a chance to make their son the favoured heir.
Below the harem stretched Istanbul and above hovered Hagia Sophia. Across from the Harem was a library, now bereft of books, and a reception... kiosk (for lack of a better word). On display in the kiosk were draperies made from silk and studded with pearls and rubies, sometimes emeralds. Reportedly the sultan would drape these cloths on his throne and sit upon them when listening to petitions. I imagine it would have made petitioners succint and to the point; rubies and pearls, not matter how beautiful, don't make very comfy seats (or at least, I imagine they don't).
Unfortunately, Topkapi was also insanely crowded. Unwashed Europeans pressed against bearded Arabs, against fujiyama toting Japanese. We were all parambulating around relics such as the gilded drain pipes of the ark in Mecca and Muhammed's (P.B.U.H.) beard. The heavy, ponderous voice of an Ezan chanting pages from the Koran sluggishly filled the air.
Beautiful, no doubt, and amazing. Especially once you realize, as a girl, you would never really leave those tiled chambers. This point was driven home when it started to rain and we sought shelter within the treasury.
Reportedly the treasury has always been "The Treasury," and houses magnificent wonders of gems. We gaped at pendants hung so heavy with emeralds the size of eggs. There were also thrones mottled and studded with pearls and rubies and one huge diamond that blinked at the entire room. Clearly they were going more for shock factor than actual beauty.
As soon as the rain let up we fled the "United Nations" and sought out a fish sandwich for lunch. A restaraunt on the Galata Bridge caught us and soon we were munching on a grilled non-descript fillet'o'fish wedged with some lettuce, carrots and onions in bread, washed down with some watery apple tea.
In actuality the fish was pretty bland. A generous squirt of lemon juice cheered it up considerably, but it was filling and wholesome (or so I told myself, there is a very real possibility it came from the Bosphorus).
The rain started again. Kirsty and I escaped by leaping on the first Bosphorus cruise that could say, "yes please, where are you from?" Our voyage was peacfull, dry and vaguely interesting. The Book (The Lonely Planet Guide to Turkey) was all the information we had to identify to opulent buildings lining the shore. We bought tea, which the Turks like very strong and always is served in little glasses with saucers, none of this cardboard or styrofoam for them. As we were cruising our way back to the launch point the sun beamed forth a double rainbow over the river. Pretty spectacular.
From the cruise we trudged through the rain up one of Istanbul's 7 hills, past stalls selling everything from pomegranates to shower heads to toilet seats. Our destination was that slim tower we had seen on our first day. For 10 Turkish Lira one can take the elevator to the restaraunt/club ("yes please?") and from there climb a spiral staircase to the balconey circling the tower. The reason one would do this is for fantastic views of Istanbul. A good reason, absolutely. The views were fantastic, but I'm sure they would have been quite stunning had the sun been out to illuminate the city's many domes.
Having descended from the tower we realized, over the noise of the rain and Turks calling out for our Lira, that our stomachs were growling. Our chosen restaraunt had no one outside to beg for our patronage, but it was recommended by The Book as a good place to sample Turkey's ever-present kebabs while sitting on the floor like a Turk. We sat at the table and shoveled in the kebaps; we had a ferry to catch to Hydarpasha train station. Iskender kebap sounds intriguing but I will ruin the surprise by saying it is meat over torn up pita bread and doused in what tasted suspiciously like ketchup. Kirsty's choice was a platter of meat wrapped in cheese with a side of rice. I eyed her ingestion of it warily as she has not the most tolerant of digestive systems.
We stumbled onto the street, feeling uncomfortably full and made our way to our trolley stop on Taksim square. As the square opened up to us in the night I saw Kirsty blanche and rethink her step. Then I saw why: To our left was a mass of people, mostly my age, holding signs in indecipherable Turkish. To our right huddled police officers behind bullet-proof riot shields.
"Let's get the eff out of here," Kirsty said and grabbed my hand (something she's been doing since I was 3). A later search on the Guardian online proved fruitless and I have no idea what the hell was going on that night.
Fruit and Vegetable Tally: 3 servings, but I was also riding that 11 serving high from the previous day.


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