We visited Turkey from the 4th September 2005 to the 11th September 2005, travelling with the tour company Voyages Jules Verne. The trip was to see the treasures of Istanbul and the surrounding regions. I believe we have now visited more mosques than churches.

Sunday – Travel to Turkey and tour of Istanbul

The day started early, up at 3.30 am to drive to Heathrow to catch the 6.55 Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul. Had a horrible Starbucks coffee, with some Ginsters pasties before the flight. Uncomfortable seats with very little legroom and only the flight map and radio channels to listen to. Istanbul had some large cumulus clouds around as we came in for the landing. Quite rough as we flew in and around the clouds. On landing we were greeted by rain, it had obviously been raining quite hard earlier.

We met up with some of the other punters, and our guide Seda, who took us to the hotel Nanda. The hotel had been changed from the Hotel Colour, but the recently updated Jules Verne itinerary was unaware of this modification.

We went for a wander around Istanbul on our own and eventually stopped at the Suleymaniye Cami Mosque for tea and a toasted sandwich. Seemed to cost more than we expected. There was lots of discussion as to whether to have apple or Turkish tea, large or small, large or small sandwich, with tomatoes or not.

On the way back, stopped at a Supermarket and bought 6 litres of water. There were masses of street traders, selling food (baked or boiled corn on the cob was popular), nuts, loose tea, cigarettes, loose tobacco, mobile phones, jeans. The shop next door to the hotel sold furs. We also appeared to be in the leather area of Istanbul, with many shops selling leather jackets.

Back to the hotel for a wash, and then an evening tour followed by a meal (£35 each). We started with a coach trip along the Marmara Sea, the Bosporus and the Golden Horn. We visited the Galata tower for a fabulous view over the Golden Horn as the sunset. Unfortunately, that side of the gallery was filled with people, so no photographs of the setting sun. From there we drove to the Hamdi Restaurant where we had an expensive but good meal. A side salad of tomato, cucumber and parsley, flat crisscross bread with cumin seeds, cheese crumbled and topped with walnuts, mint flavoured lentil soup, thin spicy pizza which we had to roll up to eat. The main course was chicken, lamb kebab, minced meat kebab, rice served with thin bread. Finished with melon chunks, plum and honey sweetmeat, Turkish coffee and raw fresh-picked pistachios.

Back to the minibus for a further scenic drive back to the hotel. City walls still standing in parts. Castellated triple wall with water between the walls, said to be a World Heritage site. We passed lots of Mosques. Seda said the pre-1923 Mosques tended to have multiple minarets, post 1923 had only 1 or 2.

Monday – Topkapi Palace and the Bosporous

Early start, breakfast at 7.00, the usual array of foods, french bread slices, white cheese, cold meat triangles, spreads, juices, tea, coffee, hard-boiled eggs and frankfurter type sausage chunks.

First stop was the spice market, interesting grinders, piles of sweets, spices and teas.

Next stop was Topkapi Palace, 4 gardens, 3 museums and loads of people. First, we looked at the kitchens with 15 huge chimneys, rather like china clay ovens with appropriate brickwork. Masses of porcelain, mainly Ming (acquired via the spice routes), and green celadon china, popular because it was said to change colour if the food was poisoned. Have to say the exhibits were not very well displayed.

Next, it was on to the Harem where the family lived, some quarters were for the eunuchs, others for the concubines. There were masses of tiles in intricate repeating patterns or building up into pictures. The impression of the Harem was a cross between a home and a prison. Seda said if a concubine was chosen twice, then she became a favourite, and then if she had a child she had a chance to become a wife. Concubines were paid every three months and retired at 30 on a pension with a house, but on their death, the house returned back to the state.

Last we looked at the Treasury, fabulous jewels, mainly rubies, emeralds, gold and silver. Diamonds by the ton including one of 84 carats found in a rubbish tip and bought by a spoon maker for 3 spoons. A tiny box made out of an emerald, loads of stunning jewels which front the turban, writing cases, sets of coffee cop holders, jewel-encrusted daggers, suits of armour, armoury, various garments and St John The Baptist’s skull and arm bones.

The gardens were fabulous and peaceful.

Coach trip along the Bosporus and a stop for lunch, (cheese straws, cucumber & tomato salad, chips, fish or chicken and fruit) for 20 Lira. Beers another 5 Lira each. We were not all that impressed. Back on the coach to catch the ferry, but too much traffic so ended up walking to the wharf. The Ferry took as back to Istanbul, very peaceful, probably snoozed a little.

To the hotel, where we changed before visiting the Pera Palace Hotel to view Agatha Christie’s room (411), where she wrote Murder on the Orient Express; not a very spectacular room. Better room was where Ataturk stayed, the Father of Turkey. The lift was a spectacular wooden affair in an unenclosed lift shaft; you could watch it going up & down. It had a padded wooden bench, wooden panelling and a lift operator. It was slow and did not always stop level with the floor. A quick drink at the bar and then on to the restaurant Ney’le Meyle. Very good food, beer still 5 Lira each. Here we ate lots of small dishes, sun-dried tomatoes, chilli, parsley, aubergine dip, yoghurt dip, beans, green beans, spinach, sea weed, cheese pastry. This was then followed with lovely spiced flat meatballs. Steve ate Sardines which he ate whole by dropping them into his mouth by their tails. Yuck!

Tuesday – Suleymaniye Mosque and Dolmabahce Palace 

Up, packed, breakfasted and on to the coach by 8.30 to drive to the mosque near by, which we had lunched at on Sunday.

This is the Suleymaniye Mosque. The cascading domes and four slender minarets of the Imperial Suleymaniye Mosque dominate the skyline on the Golden Horn’s west bank. Considered the most beautiful of all imperial mosques in Istanbul, it was built between 1550 and 1557 by Sinan, the renowned architect of the Ottoman Empire’s golden age. Erected on the crest of a hill, the building is conspicuous for its great size, emphasized by the four minarets that rise from each comer of the courtyard. Inside are the mihrab (prayer niche showing the direction to Mecca) and the mimber (pulpit) made of finely carved white marble and exquisite stained-glass windows colouring the incoming streams of light. It was in the gardens of this complex that Suleyman and his wife, Hurrem Sultan (Roxelane), had their mausoleums built, and near here also Sinan built his own tomb. The mosque complex also includes four medreses, or theological schools, a school of medicine, a caravanserai, a Turkish bath, and a kitchen and hospice for the poor.

Huge courtyard, the mosque came with four minarettes, which means it was built by a Sultan and was the fourth ruler of the Ottoman empire. Twelve balconies because the 12th Sultan of Turkey. Mosques all built on high points, and in Istanbul there are 7 hills, each with a mosque. Rainwater was stored in tanks underneath the courtyard and in the four huge pillars inside.

Shoes off, but Seda said no need to cover the head. Lovely stained glass and very like a Byzantine basilica inside. Pipe work under the main floor for heating and to help with the acoustics. Importance of acoustics was a recurring theme of all the mosques. There was a tiny window over the entrance to allow the candle smoke to escape. Iznik tiles, on the walls, Blackened Ostrich eggs hanging everywhere, these were used to catch spiders. Seda said she had tried it at home and it works. The whole mosque was carpeted, all marked out with prayer positions looking towards Mecca and the alter. This mosque had taken 7 years to build. Outside there were lovely gardens with hibiscus.

We then visited the tombs of Suleyman and two other sultans. Their heads were marked with huge turbans. The graves in the cemetery had very thin tombstones with turbans for men, and flowers for women.

Back on the coach and off to Dolmabahce Palace, which had taken 13 years to build, and was occupied in 1884. The palace bankrupted the sultan. The tour was a guided tour with lots of other people. It was done at a furious rate and unless you kept up with the guide you missed out on the comments. The palace was very ornate, with huge chandeliers. The largest one, made of Waterford crystal, weighed 4.5 tons. The palace smelt very fusty, and the exhibits were very poorly labelled. We did not visit the Harem, but we did see part of the palace where the ladies could peer in on the guests.

Brief stop for a snack, and then a drive to a ferry port to cross the Marmara sea and landed at Yalova. We drove on to Bursa where we stopped at a rather smart hotel, The Kervansaray Termal Hotel, outside of a traffic packed town. Hotel had swimming pools, Turkish baths etc. Had a few beers at the hotel, 8 lira each!!!. Buffet supper, excellent salads and meat choice and very good puddings. Steve logged onto the Internet to check his emails.

Wednesday – Bursa, Muradiye, Ulu Cami, Yesil 

Breakfast at 8.30, good choice of food, but why does the orange juice have to be powdered? Out by 9.30.

First stop was the tombs of Muradiye. Muradiye is the cemetery for many Ottoman Sultans and Princes who were buried in a poetic garden in the shade of 1,000 year old plane trees.

Back on to the coach and off to the Ulu Cami, Grand Mosque. This, the “Grand Mosque” is located in the commercial centre of town, next to the covered bazaar and silk manufacturers’ bazaar (Koza Han). Built at the end of the 14th century, the Ulu Cami is an interesting example of the period before the classical Ottoman architecture.

This mosque had all 99 names of Allah. There was a fountain in the mosque, not outside. The land belonged to a Jewess who would not sell the land for worship. So the fountain was placed there, so no one can pray on that bit of land. There was also no gallery for women, just a screened off area. The mosque had 20 domes.

After the visit to the mosque, we had a walk around the silk market and the general market. The silk market was not what R expected, being mostly sold made-up scarves and pashminas with very few Turkish patterns and no rolls of silk. The building was a lovely Ottoman design. Stopped for a drink in the cafe nearby and an open kebab.

On to the Green Mosque in the district called Yesil (green). An important part of town with its turquoise coloured mosque and inner mausoleum which were built during the sultan Mehmet I period. The tomb of Mehmet I is inside the Yesil Türbe. Mehmet I is considered to be the second founder of the Ottoman state as he re-established the empire after the invasion of the Mongolians ruled by Tamerlane in the 15th century. The Yesil Türbe is attractive with its ceramics, interior decoration and woodwork on its doors. The small mosque across the mausoleum is a fine example of marble workmanship and glazed tiles. The Yesil Mosque is called the “Jewel of Bursa” because of its beauty, both inside and out.

Back to the hotel at 3.15, not like an Explore trip which would still have you out walking & exploring until dusk; we were a bit taken aback. Took a walk into the local district to buy some beers to drink (rather than pat the exhorbitant hotel rates). Other VJV guests doing the same. There was a lovely vegetable market, from which we bought some pistachios. Back at the hotel sat on the balcony, too hot for R, and too noisey from the hotel’s air conditioning.

By the pool the hotel staff were preparing a reception, laying out tables draped in white cloths and banded in yellow ribbons. One waiter dropped a whole tray of glasses, and then there was a rather ineffective clean up operation.

Supper at 8.00, same as the previous night, a very good buffet. The Kervansaray Termal Hotel was a good excellent hotel, far to good for the likes of us two!

Thursday – Troy, Gallipoli and Edirne 

Today we were woken by the call for prayer, and then down for breakfast at 6.00. We were away by 7.00. This was going to be a very long day, with lots of travelling.

After leaving the industrial area of Bursa we passed all the modern and clean railway stations. Outside of Bursa the area was very flat and agricultural, a mixture of maize, rice, cabbages, goats and olives. Roadside stalls selling melons and onions.

On the trip to Troy, Geoffrey spoke about Gallipoli. Very interesting and gave us all a lot more perspective and understanding of the whole sad campaign.

At Troy we did a quick guided tour around the site and ended up buying a signed guide book of Troy from the author Mustafa Askin who was a professional guide of Troy. Also bought postcards, book marks and a T-shirt (Steve was running out).

After Troy we drove to the Ferry Port at Canakkale to cross over the Dardenelles to visit Gallipoli. Had a donna kebab from a takeaway at the port. On the ferry we were served with a Turkish coffee by the waiter.

Here we visited the British, Australian and Turkish cemeteries.

Back on the bus again for the trip up to Edirne near the Greek and Bulgarian borders. Edirne was a large sprawling city. Quickly dropped our stuff in the Hotel EFE and then walked up the road to a local cafe for our meal. Here we had kebabs again, and beers, now down to 3 Lira. But the cafe not the many of the others’ liking.

Friday – Edirne

Not a good view outside our room, looking in to an alley. Rosemary collapsed the curtain rail in her efforts to check the view. Breakfast at 9.15, then out to view several mosques and museums.

First off was the Imperial Mosque, Selimiye Camii, completed in 1575 by the architect Sinan when he was 80 years old. very strangely, underneath the Mosque was a bazaar.

The second Mosque was Eski Camii, the old Mosque, completed in 1414.

The third Mosque was Uc Serefeli completed in 1447 under the reign of Sultan Murat II. After this Mosque we walked around the town, had a drink and posted some cards at the Post Office. (These cards took five weeks to arrive at their UK destinations.)

Next we went on to an old hospital, the Sultan Bayezid II Complex. The place built in 1488 and was an advanced medical centre. It was also used as an asylum, and was supposedly a peaceful place to stay. Now it is a museum.

We now set off back to Istanbul, stopping for lunch by a river cafe. Back in Istanbul, we (Rosemary and I) ate on our own in a nearby cafe belonging to the Hotel Diana, which posted its prices in Lira, Dollars and Euros. The menu was written in Turkish, Russian, English and French. Started with Lentil soup, hors d’oeuvres and kebab. Very attentive, hungry cat in attendance, but very sweet when he got a titbit, R thought she’d fed him discretely, but had been spotted by Steve.

Saturday – Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Military Museum

Now back in our Istanbul hotel, better room than last time. Breakfast at 8.45 and then off on our tour.

First stop was Hagia Sophia, a former Christian church built in the 5th century AD. Was converted to a Mosque when Turkey embraced Islam. The Islamic altar is offset from the end of the wall to be in direct line to Mecca.

Next it was the Blue Mosque. This was a disappointment. Too many people and the smell of feet. Outside the mosque was the Hippodrome.

We then visited the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum, here they had some fabulous carpets, and then downstairs was a good show of full size models of tents showing the way the Turks lived.

Next we visited a state-run Turkish carpet showroom. The presenter explained how Turkish carpets were made, how in Turkey they used the double knot, far superior to the Persian carpets which used a single know. The different regions of Turkey used different patterns and different dyes. The dyes being made from what was available to the area. They flung masses of carpets on the floor, different regions, different sizes, different materials. Suddenly we found ourselves buying a runner for the landing at home. Some of the others bought too, despite shouts of “I am NOT interested in a carpet” from Patricia.

After that expense, we paid a visit to the grand Bazaar. Bought a blunt dagger for Graham, did the bargaining bit, but somehow think we were conned. Explanations needed later at the airport and our luggage marked.

Next on to the Military Museum where we sawa display by a military band. We watched it twice, with slight variations. Do not belive the men were in the regular army; just formed the band at the museum.

Back to the hotel, then out for a meal at an extremely posh restaurant by the Bosporus. The meal was inclusive, but we still ended up paying a fortune for the wine and coffee. 6 Lira for a Turkish coffee is outrageous. The meal was fish cooked in a case of salt. Despite the original huge size, the portions were small, Rosemary was very miffed because she reckoned the women got the small portions, and grotty bone bits at that. The coach driver had a particularly large bit!

Sunday – Shehzade Mehmet

Final day, nothing organised, up for breakfast out of the hotel by 9.00 First stop was the local Mosque (Shehzade Mehmet), cost 5 Lira to enter, and Rosemary had to borrow a head scarf. New carpets were being laid.

We then walked to see some mosaics at the Kariye Museum ‘Church of the Holy Saviour Outside the Walls’ or ‘in the Country’ (chora). We then walked back along the Golden Horn and back to the hotel. Rosemary did not enjoy this walk, it was quite warm, and the banks of the GH are not altogether pretty along that area. We managed to get to the Hotel Diana restaurant for lunch for a final kebab and then left for the airport.

Very much in evidence, weere the local Russian dealers packing up their vans with masses of goods.