A Travellerspoint blog

September 2011

Dolmabache Palace - Barely Mentioned in Lonely Planet

sunny 32 °C

The Tulip Guesthouse in Istanbul is a $10 a night backpacker's flophouse, and it rates 6 lines of praise in The Lonely Planet Guide. In contrast, this is the truly magnificent Dolmabache Palace on the banks of the Bosphorus...
This gigantic one hundred thousand square foot palace was built by French and Italian architects in the 1840s for Sultan Abdulmecid and is one of largest and finest examples of super-snobbery to be found anywhere. In the 'mine's bigger than yours' world it boasts a Great Hall that seats a thousand, 285 opulently furnished staterooms and 44 reception halls. It also has dozens of glittering crystal chandeliers - the largest, made in London, weighing more than four and a half tons with 600 lamps.The vastness of the place is impossible to capture on film, but here's a look at the beautiful gardens...
So - what has this to do with The Tulip Guesthouse? Nothing...other than the fact that there is barely a mention of this great Palace in the Lonely Planet guide to Turkey, (and no reference at all in the index), while The Tulip is clearly a place of great cultural significance! Go figure!

No visit to Istanbul would be complete without a cruise on the Bosphorus, the narrow waterway that joins the Sea of Marmara to The Black Sea. And so, after visiting the palace without the assistance of our guidebook, we took to the waves for a couple of hours and took in the sights...
Mosques and minarets are everywhere here, and although we're not subjected to in-your-face-Islam most of the time, every few hours the meuzzins fire up their five-thousand horsepower loudspeakers and battle it out in the air above us. The guy in the Blue Mosque usually wins - but just look at the size of his minaret!
The iconic 15th century Blue Mosque is breathtakingly vast, with lofty domed roofs and a central prayer space the size of a football field.
Pity this chap who has to vacuum it after each service...
Next door to the Blue Mosque is the Aya Sofya (which apparently can be spelled a dozen ways). This was the greatest church in Christendom in the fifth century before the Muslims invaded and turned it into a mosque. For a 1,500 year old building it is in pretty good shape and is more spectacular than its more modern neighbour...

Well - that's it for Istanbul. We've done all the sights including the Grand Bazaar, (the world's largest indoor market), and the Spice Bazaar and now we are flying off to Izmir to visit the ancient Roman city of Ephesus. Tesekkur ederim as they say here: Thank you Istanbul - you're great..

Posted by Hawkson 11:57 Archived in Turkey Comments (4)

Delightfully Turkish

sunny 27 °C

The Turks certainly have a collective sweet tooth. A bathtub full of golden honey weighs down the breakfast buffet at our hotel each morning and Baklava dripping with honey comes in numerous flavours and shapes with all types of nuts...
And every other store has heaps of Turkish delight. Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir, an Ottoman from the mountain region of Kostomonu, invented Turkish delight in 1777 and opened his first shop, (which still exists), in the old city of Istanbul. Here, in Turkey, Turkish Delight is called Lokum and can be had in more varieties than Mr. Heinz ever dreamed possible...
But food of many cultures is available in this cosmopolitan city and yesterday we breakfasted in Europe, lunched in Asia and dined back in Europe without leaving Istanbul. Here's part of the mouthwatering breakfast spread at our hotel,The Safir, in European Istanbul...
And so to lunch... A bevy of ferries scurry back and forth across the Bosphorus carrying locals and their cars between two continents with far less fuss and bother, and much less cost, than the Gabriola ferry to Vancouver Island. Imagine, dear Gabriolan friends, if you could plop $1.20 in a machine and simply walk aboard as the cars drive on without anyone to guide them. There are no life-jacketted crew on deck; no one tying ropes, lowering ramps or shepherding passengers around and, as the last car drives aboard, the ramp simply lifts and away we go. And the ferries...Wow! Plush seats, pleasant decor, televisions everywhere, smart cafeteria and clean loos - and all for $1.20. There are lessons to be learnt here, BC Ferries.
Our Asian lunch was meatballs in sauce, white beans, aubergine, mixed salad and drinks ...just $6 each (tax included).
Dinner back in Europe was a specialty from the region of Anatolia in eastern Turkey - a chicken stew cooked in a clay pot. And when the chicken was ready Yohan the waiter, deftly, like a a conductor flourishing his baton, tapped the pot and it cracked open to reveal dinner...
Thanks Yohan - it was terrific.

Posted by Hawkson 12:04 Archived in Turkey Comments (2)


Nothing here to frighten granny

sunny 26 °C

Here in peaceful, modern, Istanbul the streets are clean, the sidewalks are free of potholes and parked cars, the traffic is well-behaved, the people are warm and welcoming, the food is fabulous and life is laid back and rosy. It is difficult to believe that we are a just a stonesthrow from the volatile hotspots of Syria, Iraq and Iran.
This is the view of the Bosphorus from the Topkapi Palace. Europe is on the left ...Asia on the right - and the only thing stapling the two continents together are a couple of flimsy bridges. Turkey is in an unenviable geopolitical situation - to the west is Orthodox Christian Greece with whom the Turks have had many punch-ups, while just to the right, in the Middle-east, are a handful of countries hell bent on destroying themselves and each other in the name of Islam. But being piggy-in-the-middle is nothing new for Turkey - this land has the been the punchbag for religious extremists since religion was invented. Istanbul has seen the lot - The Pagans, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantiums, the Arabs, the Crusaders and the Ottomans - each bringing their own religion, culture and architecture. Here is the distinct Muslim style of the Topkapi Palace - the opulent residence built by Mehmet the Conquerer in 1460...
More opulent than the architecture is the enormous treasure of gold and jewels amassed by the Ottoman Sultans until their Empire finally collapsed in 1908. The Sultans may have gone, but their treasure remains. The enormous diamonds, rubies and pearls are simply breathtaking and there is enough gold to un-sink the Titanic. The most remarkable glittering artifact is the famous Topkapi Dagger - star of the 1964 Peter Ustinov movie. Photos aren't allowed, but here's a very similar one we found around the corner in a Turkish Lira store...

Equally remarkable are the crowds. Get there early - the guidebook told us. But all this lot must have read the same book....
After centuries of warfare Istanbul is still under attack - but now it's the hordes of holidaymakers streaming off the huge cruise liners that steam right up to the city's walls. Here is the SS Queen Victoria...Just one of the seven cruise liners in port today!
No matter - there are enough spectacular sights for everyone to enjoy. Tomorrow - the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya.

Posted by Hawkson 03:11 Archived in Turkey Comments (3)


rain 5 °C

We're no longer in Iceland, but we were on Friday morning when we stopped to refuel. From the plane we had vistas of a frigid treeless landscape under a slate sky and decided to take Iceland off our bucket list. But then we arrived in Istanbul and got an equally chilly welcome. The sun was shining, it was 27 degrees, the Bosphorus was blue, but our hotel gave us the cold shoulder. It transpired that we had been scammed by a fake website promising nirvana for just $130 a night, (breakfast included), and all we got was a phony confirmation slip and the prospect of 5 nights in a backpacker's hovel. But the hotel's manager and staff were terrific and, despite the fact that they were already overbooked, they found us a lovely room overlooking a cobbled pedestrian street shaded by laden grapevines and lined with restaurants...nirvana!
Here's our view as we try our first Donor kebab - Great!
Istanbul is just bursting with tourists, especially northern Europeans trying to wring the last few rays out of summer while avoiding the turmoil in North Africa and the chaos in neighbouring Greece, but the locals seem genuinely pleased to see us. As we strolled along the Bosphorus this morning the fishermen and the swimmers all waved and smiled - we felt quite at home...
We are staying in the old city of Istanbul, (Constantinople), and will be visiting the ancient monuments of the Topkapi Palace, the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque over the next few days. But this is a very modern city - no camel carts or donkeys here - and as we drove in from the airport all we saw was a landscape entirely shrouded in modern apartment buildings housing the 13 million people who call Istanbul home. We may be on the very cusp of Asia but this part of Turkey has both feet firmly planted in the West. Now here's a couple of panoramas to whet your appetite - and ours...

Posted by Hawkson 05:44 Archived in Iceland Comments (9)

Lazy Days of Summer

overcast 18 °C

Everyone’s dream: a warm summer day on a Pacific island paradise - curled up on deck in a deckchair with a good book.
But wait! Why aren’t we in the picture?
First, Jim decided to build the deck - yet another deck overlooking the ocean. Our house now has more decks than a small liner, but with brilliant sunrises and ever-changing seascapes to enthrall us we never tire of waving at passing yachts and watching for whales, sea-lions, dolphins and seals. But a deck without deckchairs is like summer without sunshine, so we made the deckchairs - Jim did the woody bits and I stitched the upholstery. And here’s the view we would have had if we had found the time to sit in them…

So why were we too busy to enjoy the view this summer? Remember the good book we were going to read? Well … firstly, we had to research it and Jim had to write it. It’s the biography of the remarkable 91 year old award-winning actor, Antony Holland, (the world's oldest regularly performing actor), and here’s a sneak preview…

Not content with just doing the creative part, we then started our own publishing company - Bliss Publications of Gabriola. and we have been snowed under with orders. The first-edition hardcover issue of Antony’s Private Parts has already sold out and we are bringing out the softcover version next spring. In the meantime we’re off to relax in the Aegean and the Mediterranean and to greet a new addition to the Hawkson family. Hop into our backpacks and we will take you on a tour of Turkey, Italy, France and the UK for the next few months.


Posted by Hawkson 19:45 Archived in Canada Comments (5)

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