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Exploring Turkey part 6: From Cavdarhisar to Istanbul

by Trudy (2/26/2010)

Istanbul

 

Istanbul
Only because I run can I catch the ferry from Yalova to Istanbul. ‘Where in Istanbul do you want to go?,’ the woman at the ticket office asks. ‘Taksim,’ I answer, not having a better answer ready. This ferry goes to Pendik on the Asian shore of Istanbul; the ferry to Taksim will leave no sooner than in four hours. I take my chances; I think I can find some way of transport to Taksim within four hours. Hotel Aygun Plaza costs seventy five Euros for the extra night I made a reservation for by the receptionist of my Bursa hotel. A lot more than the three nights I booked in advance. Well, such an expensive hotel deserves an expensive dinner and I go to Tokyo, a Japanese restaurant in a side street of Istiklal Caddesi. The zaru soba and sushi taste delicious. 
Like a real tourist, I go to the Kapalý Çarsý where I, within minutes, get several invitations to come in and drink tea. One invitation is slightly different. Mustafa says he does not want to sell me a carpet; he only wants to practise his English. Indeed, no sales promotion but question <[script] src="../../tools/tiny_mce/themes/advanced/langs/en.js?1257724505" type="text/javascript"> after question of which many are not too polite. ‘Is it true that in the Netherlands a man and a woman meet and directly sleep with each other? Have you ever had a Turkish boyfriend? Were you satisfied with his skills in bed?’ My stop at this shop did not last long, obviously. 
I have not been to the nineteenth century Dolmabahce Palace during my two previous visits to Istanbul. The palace has two different parts: the Harem part <[script] src="../../tools/tiny_mce/themes/advanced/langs/en.js?1257724505" type="text/javascript"> for the sultan and his many wives and the Selamlik part with all ceremonial rooms equipped for having guests and suites for big parties. I can only visit both parts with a guided tour, walking around at my own pace is not possible. Happily, taking pictures is allowed but I have to buy an ‘entrance ticket’ for my camera. Unfortunately, there is hardly any time to take pictures; the guide is rushing all the visitors because the next group is already waiting. The palace is gorgeous but a little overdone with furniture, paintings, carpets and chandeliers. These sultans cannot be accused of having a minimalistic taste. 
 
Close to the shores of the Asian quarter Üsküdar, in the bend between the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus I see Kýz Kulesi, the Maiden Tower. a little tower that can be visited using small ferryboats. It offers a great view of Istanbul. At night, one can dine here with illuminated Istanbul reflected in your wine glass. This tower used to serve both as a defence post and as a toll post. There are several stories about a young man who drowned during his attempt to swim across the Sea of Marmara in order to visit his beloved one. The nickname of the tower is therefore Leander’s Tower. 
Returning to Istanbul’s European part, I visit the Rüstem Paþa Camii, a sixteenth century mosque that is, at the inside, almost completely covered with Iznik tiles. They are used to foreign visitors at this mosque: separate entrances for tourists in order not to disturb praying people and headscarves for female visitors are waiting on a shelf. In front of me, I hear a Dutch woman complain to her husband: ‘Why do I need to wear a scarf here? That was not compulsory at the Blue Mosque, was it?’ 
My first discovery today is the Orthodox Armenian Church of the Virgin Mary in Kumkapý. Like most orthodox churches this one is also covered in gold leaf and superabundantly decorated. Still it is not too much in my view. The church is quiet and has a serene atmosphere, the noise from outside can hardly be heard. A couple of women in their fifties enter the church to pray and light a candle. Directly across from the church is the Armenian patriarchate, the ‘headquarters’ of the archbishop and already from outside a gorgeous building. 
White stone, gorgeous with carved ornaments. The building is guarded and secured, not only is there a police post outside the gate but the entrance is made of bullet proof glass and getting inside is only possible through a detection gate and an x-rayed baggage sluice. The woman in the church who sold me a candle told me that this patriarchate is open for visitors but at first, the police officer on duty acts if he does not know: ‘Kapalý, closed.’ I do not give up that easily and he makes a call to someone inside. He hands me a cell phone and I can explain that I have heard it is a beautiful building so I would like to see it. ‘Are you alone?’, the person on the other side of the line asks. ‘Yes’, I answer, ‘I am just a tourist with an interest.’ Apparently, that answer is a good one and I am allowed to pass the sluice. At the stairs near the entrance door Zakeos is waiting for me. He introduces himself as a priest and says: ‘Welcome, please come in.’ He walks ahead of me through a long gangway. He gives explanation of several objects and paintings standing and hanging there. ‘In this building all administrative processes of the Armenian Church take place but there are also special celebrations with bishops and priests on a regular basis.’ He points out several icons to me, very prominent on the walls. ‘Can I take pictures?’, I ask, half expecting a negative answer. ‘Yes, you can’, is the surprising reply. Zakeos tells me about the difficulties of being a Christian in a Muslim country. ‘It becomes more difficult every day,’ he says with a sigh, ‘Muslims can preach wherever they want, we can only preach within the walls of our church. Even in our own garden next to the patriarchate preaching is prohibited.’ The two men, who were murdered several months ago in Mardin by a religious fanatic because they worked at a publisher of Bibles, also belonged to this community. Zakeos looks sad when he tells me this. ‘The security here we cannot do without and when we have a Mass on Sunday, the streets are filled with policemen’, he says, ‘we often receive threats, not only because we are Christians but also because we are Armenians.’ Then he tells me about the co-operation with Protestant and Roman-Catholic churches. ‘We have to work together; we cannot permit ourselves the luxury of separation.’ He explains in short the structure of the Armenian Orthodox Church. ‘In Istanbul there are 34 Armenian Churches. We have seventeen priests in Istanbul of which five live in celibacy. I am one of these five. Besides these, there are two bishops and an archbishop, the patriarch. Together we take care of the religious life of more than a hundred thousand Armenian Christians. Among them there are about thirty thousand immigrants.’ Zakeos tells me more and is a little carried away when he shares his view about the current political situation and his definition of the several political parties in Turkey. It scares me a bit. ‘Some parties are comparable in their nationalism with Nazi-parties,’ he explains. 
Headache! My enthusiasm to go out for more views is not very much present but staying all day in the hotel is not a good idea either. I go to Fatih, an orthodox part of Istanbul. The stories I have heard upfront give me the idea it is like little Teheran. The truth is opposite. It is a working-class area, many houses are run down and without the frills I have seen in other parts of town. Little shops and workshops everywhere and I see women doing groceries. They are absolutely not all dressed in chador, I only see a few. The streets smell of freshly washed clothing, freshly made bread but at the same time also musty.
Istanbul is built upon hills and walking up and down the streets I can feel in my calves. ‘Do you want to see the synagogue?’. I hear a voice behind me. A young man in jeans, shirt and with worn out sport shoes is looking questioningly at me. ‘Of course I would like that,’ I reply. ‘Then follow me,’ he gestures. When we arrive at the synagogue after two minutes walk it turns out to be closed. The young man shrugs but holds out his hand, asking for money. I do not think so, not all friendliness is hospitable. Then I go to the Church of Saint Steven of the Bulgars, an orthodox church and full of gold but very dark inside. There are no lights, which makes the church look very depressed. 
Time for my last lunch in Istanbul and I decide to go posh. The luxurious Ottoman restaurant Asitane offers courses with fish and almond of their own recipe and I must say it tastes very good. At the table next to me a fat bellied man tells jokes to his table-companion. He does it in English so I can understand it all. ‘A Pan Am airplane reports to Riyadh Airport in Saudi-Arabia that there is an engine on fire and the pilot asks permission to land. ‘Pan Am, you have three good working engines left,’ the air control of Riyadh Airport answers, ‘have a good trip.’ ‘Riyadh Airport, two of our engines are on fire, can we please land?’ ‘Pan Am, you still have two engines left.’ ‘Riyadh Airport, all our engines are on fire, in heavens name, please let us land!’ ‘Pan Am, follow our instruction: Bismillahirahmanirahim (in the name of Allah…).’ Both men laugh loudly and I can hardly suppress my own laughing. 
Kariye Müze is a former church, full of gorgeous frescos. Some are intact and to my relief I do not see any graffiti. The original name of this church from the eleventh century is Church of the Holy Saviour Outside the Walls, but it is absolutely not the only church outside the old city walls, which are partly still visible. Mosaics and frescos show elements from the Old and New Testaments like the genealogy of Jesus Christ, Jesus and his mother Mary and one of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin.
The funicular, a cable train with just one stop, brings me from Taksim to the tram. From there I go Atatürk Airport, 25 kilometres away. I pay my ticket with my akbýl, the Turkish variant of automatic ticketing. 
Six weeks in Turkey is great but being home after the three-hour flight is also good. I will certainly miss parts of Turkey but not the idiotic drivers on the roads, the muezzin at 4 AM, the touts on the otogar or bazaars. What I miss already is the sun, the friendly people, the hospitality, the delicious food (with raký of course!). When I will go back I do not know yet, but that I will return is a fact. Türkiye, görüsürüz!

Istanbul

Only because I run can I catch the ferry from Yalova to Istanbul. ‘Where in Istanbul do you want to go?,’ the woman at the ticket office asks. ‘Taksim,’ I answer, not having a better answer ready. This ferry goes to Pendik on the Asian shore of Istanbul; the ferry to Taksim will leave no sooner than in four hours. I take my chances; I think I can find some way of transport to Taksim within four hours. Hotel Aygun Plaza costs seventy five Euros for the extra night I made a reservation for by the receptionist of my Bursa hotel. A lot more than the three nights I booked in advance. Well, such an expensive hotel deserves an expensive dinner and I go to Tokyo, a Japanese restaurant in a side street of Istiklal Caddesi. The zaru soba and sushi taste delicious. 


Like a real tourist, I go to the Kapalý Çarsý where I, within minutes, get several invitations to come in and drink tea. One invitation is slightly different. Mustafa says he does not want to sell me a carpet; he only wants to practise his English. Indeed, no sales promotion but question after question of which many are not too polite. ‘Is it true that in the Netherlands a man and a woman meet and directly sleep with each other? Have you ever had a Turkish boyfriend? Were you satisfied with his skills in bed?’ My stop at this shop did not last long, obviously. 


I have not been to the nineteenth century Dolmabahce Palace during my two previous visits to Istanbul. The palace has two different parts: the Harem part for the sultan and his many wives and the Selamlik part with all ceremonial rooms equipped for having guests and suites for big parties. I can only visit both parts with a guided tour, walking around at my own pace is not possible. Happily, taking pictures is allowed but I have to buy an ‘entrance ticket’ for my camera. Unfortunately, there is hardly any time to take pictures; the guide is rushing all the visitors because the next group is already waiting. The palace is gorgeous but a little overdone with furniture, paintings, carpets and chandeliers. These sultans cannot be accused of having a minimalistic taste.  

Close to the shores of the Asian quarter Üsküdar, in the bend between the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus I see Kýz Kulesi, the Maiden Tower. a little tower that can be visited using small ferryboats. It offers a great view of Istanbul. At night, one can dine here with illuminated Istanbul reflected in your wine glass. This tower used to serve both as a defence post and as a toll post. There are several stories about a young man who drowned during his attempt to swim across the Sea of Marmara in order to visit his beloved one. The nickname of the tower is therefore Leander’s Tower. 


Returning to Istanbul’s European part, I visit the Rüstem Paþa Camii, a sixteenth century mosque that is, at the inside, almost completely covered with Iznik tiles. They are used to foreign visitors at this mosque: separate entrances for tourists in order not to disturb praying people and headscarves for female visitors are waiting on a shelf. In front of me, I hear a Dutch woman complain to her husband: ‘Why do I need to wear a scarf here? That was not compulsory at the Blue Mosque, was it?’ 


My first discovery today is the Orthodox Armenian Church of the Virgin Mary in Kumkapý. Like most orthodox churches this one is also covered in gold leaf and superabundantly decorated. Still it is not too much in my view. The church is quiet and has a serene atmosphere, the noise from outside can hardly be heard. A couple of women in their fifties enter the church to pray and light a candle. Directly across from the church is the Armenian patriarchate, the ‘headquarters’ of the archbishop and already from outside a gorgeous building. 


White stone, gorgeous with carved ornaments. The building is guarded and secured, not only is there a police post outside the gate but the entrance is made of bullet proof glass and getting inside is only possible through a detection gate and an x-rayed baggage sluice. The woman in the church who sold me a candle told me that this patriarchate is open for visitors but at first, the police officer on duty acts if he does not know: ‘Kapalý, closed.’ I do not give up that easily and he makes a call to someone inside. He hands me a cell phone and I can explain that I have heard it is a beautiful building so I would like to see it. ‘Are you alone?’, the person on the other side of the line asks. ‘Yes’, I answer, ‘I am just a tourist with an interest.’ Apparently, that answer is a good one and I am allowed to pass the sluice. At the stairs near the entrance door Zakeos is waiting for me. He introduces himself as a priest and says: ‘Welcome, please come in.’ He walks ahead of me through a long gangway. He gives explanation of several objects and paintings standing and hanging there. ‘In this building all administrative processes of the Armenian Church take place but there are also special celebrations with bishops and priests on a regular basis.’ He points out several icons to me, very prominent on the walls. ‘Can I take pictures?’, I ask, half expecting a negative answer. ‘Yes, you can’, is the surprising reply. Zakeos tells me about the difficulties of being a Christian in a Muslim country. ‘It becomes more difficult every day,’ he says with a sigh, ‘Muslims can preach wherever they want, we can only preach within the walls of our church. Even in our own garden next to the patriarchate preaching is prohibited.’ The two men, who were murdered several months ago in Mardin by a religious fanatic because they worked at a publisher of Bibles, also belonged to this community. Zakeos looks sad when he tells me this. ‘The security here we cannot do without and when we have a Mass on Sunday, the streets are filled with policemen’, he says, ‘we often receive threats, not only because we are Christians but also because we are Armenians.’ Then he tells me about the co-operation with Protestant and Roman-Catholic churches. ‘We have to work together; we cannot permit ourselves the luxury of separation.’ He explains in short the structure of the Armenian Orthodox Church. ‘In Istanbul there are 34 Armenian Churches. We have seventeen priests in Istanbul of which five live in celibacy. I am one of these five. Besides these, there are two bishops and an archbishop, the patriarch. Together we take care of the religious life of more than a hundred thousand Armenian Christians. Among them there are about thirty thousand immigrants.’ Zakeos tells me more and is a little carried away when he shares his view about the current political situation and his definition of the several political parties in Turkey. It scares me a bit. ‘Some parties are comparable in their nationalism with Nazi-parties,’ he explains. 


Headache! My enthusiasm to go out for more views is not very much present but staying all day in the hotel is not a good idea either. I go to Fatih, an orthodox part of Istanbul. The stories I have heard upfront give me the idea it is like little Teheran. The truth is opposite. It is a working-class area, many houses are run down and without the frills I have seen in other parts of town. Little shops and workshops everywhere and I see women doing groceries. They are absolutely not all dressed in chador, I only see a few. The streets smell of freshly washed clothing, freshly made bread but at the same time also musty.


Istanbul is built upon hills and walking up and down the streets I can feel in my calves. ‘Do you want to see the synagogue?’. I hear a voice behind me. A young man in jeans, shirt and with worn out sport shoes is looking questioningly at me. ‘Of course I would like that,’ I reply. ‘Then follow me,’ he gestures. When we arrive at the synagogue after two minutes walk it turns out to be closed. The young man shrugs but holds out his hand, asking for money. I do not think so, not all friendliness is hospitable. Then I go to the Church of Saint Steven of the Bulgars, an orthodox church and full of gold but very dark inside. There are no lights, which makes the church look very depressed. 


Time for my last lunch in Istanbul and I decide to go posh. The luxurious Ottoman restaurant Asitane offers courses with fish and almond of their own recipe and I must say it tastes very good. At the table next to me a fat bellied man tells jokes to his table-companion. He does it in English so I can understand it all. ‘A Pan Am airplane reports to Riyadh Airport in Saudi-Arabia that there is an engine on fire and the pilot asks permission to land. ‘Pan Am, you have three good working engines left,’ the air control of Riyadh Airport answers, ‘have a good trip.’ ‘Riyadh Airport, two of our engines are on fire, can we please land?’ ‘Pan Am, you still have two engines left.’ ‘Riyadh Airport, all our engines are on fire, in heavens name, please let us land!’ ‘Pan Am, follow our instruction: Bismillahirahmanirahim (in the name of Allah…).’ Both men laugh loudly and I can hardly suppress my own laughing. 


Kariye Müze is a former church, full of gorgeous frescos. Some are intact and to my relief I do not see any graffiti. The original name of this church from the eleventh century is Church of the Holy Saviour Outside the Walls, but it is absolutely not the only church outside the old city walls, which are partly still visible. Mosaics and frescos show elements from the Old and New Testaments like the genealogy of Jesus Christ, Jesus and his mother Mary and one of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin.


The funicular, a cable train with just one stop, brings me from Taksim to the tram. From there I go Atatürk Airport, 25 kilometres away. I pay my ticket with my akbýl, the Turkish variant of automatic ticketing. 


Six weeks in Turkey is great but being home after the three-hour flight is also good. I will certainly miss parts of Turkey but not the idiotic drivers on the roads, the muezzin at 4 AM, the touts on the otogar or bazaars. What I miss already is the sun, the friendly people, the hospitality, the delicious food (with raký of course!). When I will go back I do not know yet, but that I will return is a fact. Türkiye, görüsürüz!

************

Thanks to Sonunda for her corrections!


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