Postcards from Istanbul – NYE Report

As I barely mentioned before New Year’s, me and Lady C headed to the historically significant 2nd Rome, a.k.a Istanbul, for New Year’s Eve 2011/2012. Here are some of our photos:

Aya Sophia by Night 1
Not an especially great photo but THE FIRST of many Aya Sophia pictures taken on our evening strolls.. Magic!

Just another day in Istanbul, specifically Eminönü, where we bought our travel card.

The Original Trams to Taksim Sq.
The Original Trams to Taksim Square
Funny story, these old trams only run some 500 meters. That’s it! Istanbul people have a deep-rooted hatred for walking uphills, as the cable cars prove on the steeper hills. But this? It’s barely a slope! An affront to public health!

Gate of Ishtar 2
Original Gate of Ishtar (see the reconstruction) pieces… Amazing!

Blue Mosque on New Year's Eve
Our view of the Blue Mosque on New Year’s Eve!

Güllhane Park
Strolling through Güllhane Park on January 1st 2012

Aya Sophia by Night 3
And here’s another Aya Sophia shot! Jabba’s Palace, anyone?

And another ceiling in the Topkapi Palace Museum
The Ceiling of the Baghdad Pavilion in the Royal Palace

Istanbul Silhouette
Istanbul Silhouette

Original Church column header on Aya Sophia site
As Lady C promptly put it: "Those are some big ass biblical sheep, considering the size of a palm tree…." She’s right, of course. The biblical sheep were much larger, and would feast on palm trees every other day.

Sense of scale
Inside of the Aya Sophia.. I can hardly capture the scale of it. It’s ENORMOUS!

Domes upon Domes upon Domes
Without a doubt the most impressive building I have entered in my entire life!

Jesus' Tribulations in the Desert
Mosaic in the Khora Church, scenes from Iesu life

Goose Kebab (1539)
Genuine Goose Kebab made from a 1539 recipe (visit Asitane restaurant)

Deniz Dündar Trio
Deniz Dündar Trio at the Nardis Jazz Club

Reflections from the Restaurant
Bosphorus Bridge, as seen through restaurant window

There's always one
There’s always one…

Blue Mosque lens flare
The Blue Mosque

Ceiling at the Blue Mosque 2
Blue Mosque Ceiling

On the last day we just hung out and did some Bosporus boating. It was really beautiful!

If you want more, you should find some 60 photos here: Istanbul New Year’s 2011/2012

I’m sorry that I haven’t blogged about this before now. I mean, it’s been only what, THREE MONTHS, since we returned! But with my hellish German studies, a new job, and everything else, there just hasn’t been any right time to do it. So today I just made time for it!

We had a great trip to Istanbul. It is, I suspect, among the more western-oriented places in Turkey, and even so it was very much an atmosphere of the East, Orientalism, Islam and the Middle Eastern conflict not very far away. It is always nice to go somewhere where your money goes a long way, and Istanbul is no exception.

Turkey is going through a transition, and even though some things cannot be said or written publicly (anything negative about Atatürk for instance, whose photo is everywhere), the newspapers at least try to deal with the current issues they face in an open and serious manner. The front pages of the English papers in Turkey were littered with cases about violence against women, the recent air raid in bordering Syria, the real number of prostitutes in the country, as well as the struggles of the free press.

There is certainly want of change in the city, but also strong repressive forces, even in a modern city like Istanbul. We experienced some backwardedness that will probably die out in a generation, but it makes me wonder how things are on the countryside.

We stayed at a nice hotel in walking distance from the old Palace, right next to the Güllhane park, but we also tried to make excursions outside the Old Town and into the modern parts of the city, as well as the more poorer areas. The contrasts are huge. Lady C says it was Boutique Maywood Hotel, got ’em through It was really nice hotel, just DO NOT ask them for transportation to the airport. We did it and was scammed, almost losing our flight. Take a taxi instead.

Just like in Rome, you will find archeological sites scattered everywhere in the bustling city, almost by chance. The City of Istanbul has with varying success tried to take care of these treasures. I find it a shame that the last remains of the former Imperial Palace are completely ignored by the inhabitants of the city, and used by the homeless as shelter against the cold winds from the strait, in both senses.

Being winter, it was dark around 5 p.m. So we aimed for 1 major attraction during the day and a nice restaurant or bar round in the evenings. We had some great experiences and varied meals, to say the least, in sum:

Thursday Dec 29th 2011
Arrived at 5pm, it was already dark. The ride from the airport was interesting, with a couple of stops, and no one speaking English. Slept and ate a Kebap at Sirkeci, next to a taxi driver and his interesting date. He was interested in the horizontal tango, but she needed superficial persuasion. Lady C had the Mixed Grill Platter, while I had an unsatisfactory Roller Döner, too small for a man my size.
We followed the tram lines up to Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Ate some Köfte kebap at a touristy place just before closing time.

Friday Dec 30th 2011
Went to Taksim sq. to buy me some pants. I like wide pants, but the guy in the store kept rolling his eyes. TIGHTER! must be TIGHTER!
I insisted: Big man. Big pants.
Clerk: no no no no!
Brought me a jeans that would barely slip over my arse. There be dragons.

Later that day, we ate at a lovely quasi-Italian place called Faros, on Sultanahmet. Recommended!

Saturday Dec 31st 2011
Went to the Archeological museum where they had gathered a lot of really old stuff in the same place. Neat. We saw the Babylonian gates (above), the Hammurabi Code as well as a bunch of sarcophagi and tomb stones. Kick ass!

In the afternoon we arranged with the Hotel Pierre Loti (romantic adventurer), so we could join their New Year’s Eve dinner party at the rooftop restaurant, with retired Germans and Russian mafia. That’s a story in and of itself.

Sunday Jan 1st 2012
National holiday in Turkey, so nothing is open. Had pizza for breakfast, then we strolled in the Güllhane Park, had tea beneath the Palace overlooking the strait, which was a cold and windy affair. Later we ate at Sarniç, a Byzantine cistern turned Car Repair Shop turned Restaurant. Overpriced and overrated cuisine-wise, but nice atmosphere.

Monday Jan 2nd 2012
Topkapi-Palace. Thanks to New Year’s Eve with a lot of Turkish people visiting Istanbul, we stood some 45 minutes in line outside the palace, and then queued inside the palace. We went for the Museum Pass (72hrs), and recommend doing so. Buy it at the Khora Church, so you skip the queues everywhere! Note: You will not gain entrance to the Palace Harem, however. We decided we would see it later.

Had lunch at the palace restaurant Konyali, which was alright. You get the same view at Güllhane-Park though. Was thrown out of the bathroom by Secret Service people who were protecting the Prime Minister of Turkey. I later snapped this photo in the Palace, with the Hamas Leader accompanying the PM. Here’s the Hurriet Daily News article. Locals in awe:)

Tuesday Jan 3rd 2012
Aya Sophia and the Church of Chora. The most enormous building I have ever sat my foot in, it was a truly awe-inspiring experience just to walk around the domed church.. After a kebap, we headed to the Church of Chora where you’ll see some amazing mosaic.

We ate at Asitane Restaurant, which lies next to Chora Church. You get what you pay for here, great gourmet dishes that are mostly from recipes found in the Topkapi Palace. We had Stuffed Spleen and Trotter Stew (1469-1471), and both had the Goose Kebap (1539). Exquisite!

In the evening we saw Deniz Dündar Trio at the hottest jazz club in town, called Nardis. This is where jazz meets jazz, and you could just as well be in Oslo or New York. Friendly staff and the small size of the locale meant we got to meet all the artists afterwards. Real nice and great music! I recorded some for later:)

Wednesday Jan 4th 2012
Spent all of the day haggling the price of 2 leather jackets at the Grand Bazaar. Spend at least 1 day here. Later we ate at Feyrie in Ortaköy. Posh place, steep prices (buy wines by bottles not glases!) with dishes that were good, but nothing special.

Thursday Jan 5th 2012
We rounded up the visit with the Blue Mosque (not very impressive after the Aya Sophia..), the Basilica Cistern, Hippodrome and a boat ride across the Bosporus to the Asian side. Since we caught the wrong boat back, we got quite a lot of boat rides, but it was a nice little adventure. Had THE BEST döner kebap in a small one-man joint in the over built street between the University of Beşiktaş buildings.

The Top 3 Meals:

  1. Asitane: Goose Kebap 
  2. Faros: Lamb Casserole (Lady C) or Grandmother’s Purse (Sigg3) 
  3. Beşiktaş University: Döner kebap 

The last evening we treated ourselves and headed to Faros at Sultanahmet again. They did not let us down. Then we took in the sights of Aya Sophia one last time before we headed back to the hotel. The following morning we left the city and the country, but we’ll probably be back some day, because there is much to be seen! And who can say no to the prospect of kebap every day?

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