Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Harem and Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul

We woke up and scouted around for a Turkish breakfast which consisted of salad, slices of tomato and cucumbers, a bowl of black olives, some cold cuts, and a couple of cheeses, one of which was beyaz peynir, a "salty white cheese made from ewe's or goat's milk". I had to try a Turkish coffee despite not touching the stuff in the US. Apparently it's mostly a tourist thing. The locals prefer tea. It was really black and thick. I won't be ordering another one but I'm glad that I tried it.

I am trying to help Lydia conquer her fear of olives with mixed results.

While we were eating several groups of police walked down the street, many of them with riot gear on. Ruh roh. After finishing our breakfast we walked down the main street that was packed with people the night before. Some of the side streets were blocked with more police and the occasional armored vehicle. It's a trap! We were a little concerned about what the heck was happening so we popped into a Starbucks and asked around. A nice gentleman with solid English explained that this was the anniversary of some protests in Taksim Square. We felt a little better that nothing was imminently going to explode but the potential for danger was still there.

We continued to Taksim Square because that's where the metro station was. There was an army of police there and the metro station was closed. I counted around 6 of those tank looking vehicles with water cannons.

We decided to take a taxi and that point was the end of our use of public transport. With a group of four it made financial sense to take cabs and was much less hassle as well.

Our destination was the Bosphorus Strait. The Bosporus runs through and divides Istabul's European and Asian components, and it connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara.

Istanbul straddles two continents. Lydia thinks this counts as having been to Asia but the rest of us know the truth.

We were planning on taking a cruise but didn't have anything booked so we just wandered a bit and figured things out. It didn't take long before we were accosted by a cruise pusher with a colorful map. I default to telling people that approach me selling things to get bent but this guy was really helpful and polite so we booked through him.

From the strait Istanbul seems like a much different place. There were several palaces facing the water, as well as fancy mosques and other nice buildings. There were a couple of forts guarding passage through the strait as well.

I bought some chestnuts from one of those street grilling guys and they were pretty darn good. They brought to mind a similar thing in Japan but were prepared a bit differently.


This guy was selling leaches.

We popped into a free museum that we stumbled upon that explained the Gallipoli Campaign of World War I, the French and British's thwarted attempt to capture Constantinople and knock the Ottoman Empire out the war. It was fun because I'd never heard of it, but apparently it was a very big deal for the birth of Turkey as well as national consciousness for Australia and New Zealand. It was random and interesting.

We kept seeing these little boys dressed like little sultans and I just had to know what's up. I asked our tour guide from yesterday Ekrem what the deal was and he said that it was a sort of entering manhood day for the boy which includes circumcision. Not only do I wish I could unknow this, but now every time I see one of these kids I am reminded of that fact that I can't unknow this.

Next on our tour was the Topkapi Palace. The palace is kind of hard to explain. It seemed both fancy but kind of understated at the same time. For example the sultan didn't sit on a big golden throne but a pretty simple couch thing.

The most interesting aspect of the compound was the 400 room harem. Administrated and guarded by African eunuchs, the harem housed more than 800 female slaves by the mid-19th century. Apparently there were also white eunuchs at the palace but they had a different function.

Gate of Felicity

I was reading about the Ottoman Empire on Wikipedia and saw this picture and was like, "I've been there!" This is Selim III receiving dignitaries during an audience at the Gate of Felicity, Topkapı Palace.

We had a water break at a cafe and watched feral cats beg for table scraps.

At this point we broke into pairs and Lydia and I continued on to a Whirling Dervish show we'd booked for the night. It was amazing! I won't get into the details but the Dervishes are a mystical sect of Islam that does a spinning dance that's meant to put its participants into a type of trance. The venue was an old domed bathhouse with really cool lighting. They projected scenes from the universe on this dome which made the whirling even more epic. A band playing exotic instruments and chanting rounded out the experience. Also amusing was a girl whose job it was to make sure no one took any photos. She would zap offenders with a large green laser pointer from across the room in an excellent cross between laser tag and whack-a-mole.

The venue was pretty sweet.

This is a giant version of little Dervish dolls they were selling in the lobby. So far I am proud to report that Lydia and I are knick knack free and sober for three days now.

We had a final kebab and headed home. Luckily there hadn't been any riots in our neighborhood once we returned. That would have ruined my lovely night.

Turkish Delight seems to be a general term that covers lots of different sweets. They are awesome but a bit annoying because there are so many types that I would risk some sort of sugar seizure if I tried them all.

A kebab guy. Throughout the day I took every chance to ask the locals what they thought about all of the extra police and the subway interruptions. The guy just rolled his eyes and said something to the effect that it's all nonsense. 

This intrepid youth was running a tea shop out of a shopping cart. Lydia made an insightful comment that I appreciated. She said it seemed like countries other than the US were all similar. For example, people selling things on the street is the norm in the vast majority of countries we've visited while in the US it's not very common.

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