Monday, November 26, 2007

Our last evening

And the day's story

Today we planned the Bosphorus cruise. So were up early for the usual breakfast and then walked down to the Spice Market. We had to cross the road using the underpass, which is just like the Russian ones- full of market style shops. As we came up the underpass, there was a row of shoe shiners with gleaming brass contraptions for their polishes and brushes. We walked round the front of the mosque to the entrance of the bazaar. It is brightly lit as it is inside a brick arched gallery. Each shop has an array of spices - the most spectacular having cone piles of ground spices in warm autumn colours. Hanging from the overhead are strings of dried veg chillies and sponges. One string we couldn't recognise, so asked one of the vendors. He told us that it was dried aubergine, which they re-hydrate and then stuff with mince and/or rice with raisins, pinenuts and such. We were tempted into buying some apple tea from him - so we can take a taste of Istanbul home.
Soon we had to head off to get our tickets for the boat trip. Several people were already there and we only had a short wait before going into the waiting area. The boat arrived about ten minutes before departure and the small crowd of passengers hurried on board to find their favourite spots for the voyage. We chose a seat on the left upstairs and watched the sights on the Europian side of the Bosphorus. A large cruise boat was at anchor on the 'New' Euro side of the Golden Horn - Star Princess. It is enormous! There are about 5 stops as one progresses towards the Black Sea. Some palaces and villas (yalis) have been built along the way, which we were fascinated to see. After a speedy 1 ½ hours we arrived at Anadolu Kavagi, and here the boat stops for a 3 hour lunch break. We disembarked and took a stroll up the hill to the 14th century Byzantine fortress known as the Genoese Castle on the top. It seems to be built from an eclectic collection of bricks, stones and ruined Roman temples. But there is also a spectacular view to the Black Sea. On the way down we passed the puppet maker with a shop full of Pinocchios. Back down at the little fishing village we looked for lunch but didn’t fancy a set fishy 3 courses. Then we discovered a man making waffles with flavoured spreads and 'homemade' ice-cream'. As he also offered cappuccino, we succumbed. We chose waffles with chocolate and pistachio ice cream and another with hazelnut and coconut ice cream. First we were served our cappuccinos. Instant Nestle style -but OK! They were lovely people and we were pretty much their only customers.
After walking up the road and back again, we wandered along the harbour and suddenly encountered the captain of a small fishing boat. We 'talked' football, then he invited us aboard to take photos - amazing. He said it was too rough to go to fish in the Black Sea today.
Then it was time to re-board for the return journey. Again we sat on the left and viewed the Asian side as we motored down to Istanbul in a replica of the outward journey. This time as we came round into the Golden Horn, we saw another cruise ship was in port - Galaxy, but not quite the size or elegance of the Star Princess.
When we docked, we disembarked, and then walked back through the Spice Market and on to Cigdem for tea, coffee and shortbread biscuits.
Our last walk down the tram rack to the GH and packing as we found out that the car will be here for us at 6.30 in the morning. We have come to dinner at Rumeli Restaurant, next to Mozaic. We started with mezze and cheesy pastries, with a glass of raki. This was followed by stuffed chicken and kofta accompanied with glass of 'Angora' red wine - good but not as good as last nights. No pud, but apple tea, then back to bed because of the early start.

Down the Bosphorus

Anadolu Kavagi

Sailing up the Bosphorus

Around the Spice Market, Istanbul

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Day two part two

Feeling very thirsty, we came back to the Guest House and took the water from the minibar, before making our way down to the harbour on the Bosporus to discover from where the ferry up the Bosporus leaves. That will be our trip tomorrow. On or way out we found a shop selling postcards of the Iznik tiles, so bought a few, then we also found some typical Istanbul views a bit further along. The 'promenade' was thronged with people coming in and going out on the continual to-ing and fro-ing ferries. The actual quayside was crowded with men and a few women, fishing with huge rods and weighted lines with several baited hooks. Some were quite successful at catching small fish - not sure what these would be. Fish of various kinds was being cooked on hot grills, slapped in finger buns and sold by the dozens! There were also the mussel sellers - splitting open what looked like raw mussels for their customers to eat there and then - no cooking, no garnish, straight down the hatch like oysters. It was a very vibrant scene. And of course, there were lots of chestnut barrows wafting their warm aroma around the crowds.
Now, we suddenly felt peckish, but not for fish! A cappuccino and something sounded good, so we retraced our steps looking for a likely place. At last we were back on our main street, and we came to Cigdem Pastanesi, where they serve fabulous baklava and coffee. Just what we needed. Then we strolled down to the Guest House in the gathering gloom, sussing out various restaurants for dinner later.
We have come to eat in Mosaic Restaurant, which is a small (seating 20) place just below street level. We are starting with a glass of Yeni Raki while we order. Some hummus and flat bread has arrived as a taster. We have ordered grilled aubergine with yoghurt and cream (Patlican Sogurme) followed by Black Plum Stew, (Kara Eric Yahnisi)lamb stewed with mushroom, apricot, onions and dried black plums; and Ottoman lamb dish with rice - with raisins, pinenuts and liver with cinnamon.(Kuzu Sultan) music was great - Bende Can Yurdaltokcan ‘inner soul’. We finished with Turkish tea before walking back up the hill to the Guest House. And on the way we saw one of the red barrows parked up for the night by a beautiful silk wall hanging!

The morning of day 2

Not quite so early into breakfast as we did our own thing today. Our first stop was to take some pics of the restored houses that make up the hotel. Then we made our way into the first courtyard of Topkapi Palace and out at the side, for the Archaeological Museum. We first stepped into the Ancient Oriental building where we saw many ancient sculptures as well as the animal tile reliefs from Babylon. After this we went along to the historical pavilion housing the tile museum. It is partially covered with tiles in a geometric pattern with secular verses in Arabic over the entrance. Inside is an interesting exhibition of the history of ceramics in Turkey as well as several rooms which are decorated with beautiful blue tiles; some were even gilded and have been restored in part to show the sumptuousness of the pavilion in its time. Outside again, we looked for the peacock feather column from the Temple of Theodosius. It is similar to the Column of Tears in the Basilica Cistern. We decided to go and to look for PCs, but the Topkapi Museum shop was a dead loss, so after looking outside, we decided to walk up to the Madresesi which we overlook from our room. It is a craft centre, government funded, and anyone can come and take a class there in ceramics, calligraphy, lute and flute playing, silver work, painting and marbling. We were greeted by a young man who explained all about the place and showed us the various rooms for the classes. We saw the lute class, the silversmiths, the calligraphists and the painters. We also found one man on his own practising the flute - needing more practise! Finally we watched some women making pictures on marble paper. This was fascinating, and we watched from start to finish. They first built up the paint for the marble background on the surface of the water/gum mixture in the trough. When they were happy with that design, they started to make the flower design over the top of this. Blobs of green were manipulated into stems and leaves and blobs of colour were spread out and twirled around to form the flowers. When everything was finished, the artist took a piece of paper and laid it over the surface. It was then slid over the edge of the trough and the clever design all came off onto the paper, leaving the 'water' in the trough clean for the next turn. The paper was then laid flat on a mesh rack to dry.
All this was thirsty work, so we sat in the courtyard and drank apple tea with cinnamon biscuits - delicious. We couldn’t decide what to buy, so left, saying hello to 2 tiny kittens on the way out. We were still searching for PCs, so walked down to the Sultanahmet Sq. between the two mosques - but no pics of the tiles. We were now very close to the Arasta Bazaar/ craft area and the Mosaic Museum, so we walked down to the left of the Blue Mosque and into the Bazaar. At the far side we found the Mosaic Museum with its stunning many meters long pavement of mosaic, which has been preserved and covered with the museum building. This was position of the Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors. Restoration has been painstaking and the results are spectacular. It’s a shame so much has been lost, though.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Istanbul - our first full day

Breakfast was in the Garden Room and there were figs much to Alan’s delight! We met our guide, Ria, at 9.15 and left on foot for the Basilica Cistern. This dates from 532, and was built as a water reservoir for the Great Palace of Justinian. It has 336 columns each 8m high, which were brought from all over the Roman Empire, so there are many different ones. These include two finer, shorter columns, which are 'propped up' on massive Medusa heads. Also the Column of Tears, where we stuck our thumbs in a hole and twisted it a full circle while making a wish. The columns are eerily lit from below and about a metre depth of water is still contained in the structure where fishes swim, and some people throw in coins for good luck. They hold concerts of chamber music here in the summer.
Our next visit was the Ayasofya Museum. This church/mosque was the biggest church in Byzantium. Its dome was 32m in diameter, but subsequent earthquakes have knocked it out of shape. The last one in 1999 has done considerable damage and a huge scaffolding now occupies considerable space inside. It is interesting to see how the Ottomans converted the church to a mosque by covering over the Christian symbols with Islamic words. We could still see quite a lot of the original mosaics. The best one was as we left, mirrored in front of us to make us turn round to see it.
Now we walked across to the Blue Mosque as it would close for prayers at 11.30. Lots of people were visiting, and we had to walk through the courtyard with its extra two minarets and central fountain, and around the corner to the non-Muslim entrance. Shoes off and carried with us in poly bags, we entered into the mosque, which is covered in blue Iznik tiles of various designs. It is a huge space, completely carpeted and having low slung chandeliers of black metal with lots of plain glass cups for lights. There is also a lot of stained glass windows in Islamic style, aping the glass from the Byzantine era.
We replaced our shoes and made our way to the Topkapi Palace Museum. This was the palace of the Ottoman Emperors, and was added to by each successive ruler. There are some beautiful areas, some are set as rooms of the time, and others are exhibition areas. We saw the Spoonmakers diamond (86 carat) and the Topkapi Dagger with its three huge emeralds, as well as many, many cabochon emeralds of enormous size. Golden thrones and ceremonial swords are also on display; but no photographs are allowed for obvious reasons! We stopped for coffee and pastries with a view of the Golden Horn and the Bosporus, before moving on to look at the fabulously decorated pavilions in the fourth courtyard – the Circumcision Pavilion and others.
At last it was time to visit the delightful harem, or private apartments of the Emperor and his family. There were eunuch quarters, concubine quarters as well as the family quarters. We also saw the Sultan's and the Queen Mother's hamam. (QM seems to be the most powerful woman in the Harem). It is a very luxurious place.
Ria arranged for us to visit a carpet makers, where we had a demonstration of the double-knot carpet weaving; also a display of some beautiful carpets with detailed explanation of each with a few prices thrown in! We also had refreshments of Turkish coffee (medium with a little sugar) and apple tea.
Now at last we headed for the Grand Bazaar, and having noted our entrance gate's name, Ria gave us instructions on how to walk back to our hotel. So she left us to wander about the labyrinth of passageways lined with shops selling everything you never knew you wanted to buy!
We must have been tired as after not too long a time we decided that was enough, so sought our exit and wandered back to follow the tram track leading us to Ayasofya and the guest house.
The hotel made a reservation at the Istanbul Balik (fish) Restaurant, where we had a huge grilled prawn each for starters, then a steamed, whole snapper; caught in the Bosporus and covered in tasty liquor. Finishing with a glass of Turkish tea; we were whisked back to the GH by the mad driver of the restaurant Hyundai MPV at breakneck speed.

Carpets, Bazaar and fish

Harem, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Ayasofya, Istanbul

Basilica Cistern, Istanbul

Konuk Evi, the Guest House

Friday, November 23, 2007

Long weekend in Istanbul - Arrival

We flew BA to Ataturk Airport, Istanbul and were met by pleasant young man and mpv with driver. The sun set as we drove along the coast road by the Sea of Marmara into Istanbul. We are staying in the Guest House, Konuk Evi, of the Konaklari Ayasofya - the renovated street of wooden merchant houses behind Ayasofya. Our 2nd floor room has brass bedsteads, ruffled curtains, crystal chandelier and looks out over the roof tops of the old Caferaga Madresesi (1560) and beyond. Konaklari Ayasofya are between Ayasofya and Topkapi Palace. We have taken quite a walk about for a couple of hours, including coffee at a Turkish style Costa (cinnamon pastry and almond and choc cake). The cappuccino was served with chocolate spoons, which gradually melted into the capps. The mosques are floodlit and we had the lengthy muezzin at 6pm from several simultaneously. There are some interesting shops - as well as tourist rubbish - and also many shops offering tours all over Turkey such as Cappadocia, Ephesus, Nemrut Dagi and the calcium platforms of Pamukkale. Dinner is in the Sarnic(h), an ancient 1500 year old cistern with 7m high columns. We chose mezze and dolmas as starters and chef's special Sarnic kebabs with yoghurt and our red wine is Kavaklidere Okuzgozu Elazig 2002 13%. Having eaten all that we are so full we can't manage the delicious sounding desserts - like figs in honey or banana crepes with chocolate sauce; but just choose mint tea. The virtuous piano player plays on and the candles slowly burn down.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Archaeology in Smannell

This morning we all managed to gather for a not too late breakfast – bacon, eggs, sausages, toast, croissants and pains au chocolat. After all that, what better thing to do but take a stroll in the countryside? Our friends had a suggestion that we visit an archaeological dig not far from their house and this is what we did. There is a plan to build a huge estate of houses several fields from the edge of Smannell village, but before the builders can start some archaeological remains are being investigated. These have been known about for years as there were barrows on the hillside, but generations of farmers have just ploughed over them. Now the area is being completely disturbed to build the houses, the site is being investigated and recorded. On one side of the road the hill rises up and here ‘beaker’ people remains have been found. Apparently one burial was found and some fragments. On the opposite side of the road, two Bronze Age circles have been excavated with no clear meaning to the sites. This area is rich in archaeology as there are Roman, Norman and Anglo-Saxon sites within sight of these recent discoveries. For more about the ‘Beaker’ people click here.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Fireworks at Smannell

This year we have visited the village of Smannell to ‘celebrate’ Guy Fawkes Night. Smannell is an ancient settlement and the name is thought to be derived from the old English name 'Smethenhyll' – “(at the) smooth hill', a reference to the gentle rise near Finkley farm. Apparently by 1652 the name was condensed to Smanhill and in 1810 the OS map is inscribed with the name Swanhill – is this a spelling mistake? But today the village is known as Smannell.

Our friends invited us for a cup of tea before we made our way up the road to the stubble field where Farmer Will had allowed the Little London playing field committee to build an enormous bonfire. Fairy lights lit the path to the cordoned off area where spectators would get the best view of the entertainment; and plenty of mulled wine, hotdogs and burgers were ready for consumption. We sipped at our polycups of wine, not allowed to eat as dinner awaited us at our friends’ house. The crowds gathered and the anticipation of the younger members was palpable. Soon the bonfire was lit and the rosy glow reflected off the cheery faces of the onlookers. I found a post on which to rest my camera and before long the chaps in charge of the fireworks signalled the start of the display with a swishing skyborn rocket. Then the fun began as rockets flew skywards, with or without sound effects – we used to call those noisy ones ‘bees’. Chrysanthemums of light filled the sky and oohs and aahs reverberated around the spectators. And suddenly it was all over, only leaving the bonfire glowing in the darkness and the opportunity of more mulled wine and sustenance to be partaken of! So it was back to the house for a delicious dinner with friends.