Nevertheless, after another wonderful breakfast at the Hotel Nena, we took off in the general direction of Topkapi Palace, Haya Sophia and the Blue Mosque, a direction which we are now very familiar with. The morning was cooler than the previous days and much cloudier. It was very pleasant.
We actually found the street marked on the map and took the pre-planned route without getting lost, if you can believe that, and were met at the gates of the park surrounding Topkapi Palace with some very nice looking men with automatic weapons. They were all over the place, and it kind of reminded me of Colombia in 1998. But I digress...
Going through the gates was another amazing experience. The walls surrounding the park are high, so you can't see what your going into until you're there. Plus, it is literally right across the street from one of the largest, oldest churches/mosques in the world (Haya Sophia). The whole experience is awe-inspiring. You enter the park through a set of gates with gold borders and some writing I couldn't read. And when you get through, it's just...peaceful...bucolic even. Seriously, when we got in, we saw 2 cats chasing each other, and behind them, two dogs were chasing the cats (in a playful sort of way...they were definitely playing, not trying to eat the cats). It was hilarious! I tried to take pictures.
Anyway, it was just lovely walking through, and we were confused for a bit, because we thought we were already in the palace, but hadn't paid yet. As it turned out, they managed to take our money and we got into the palace just fine...along with every freakin' tour group under the sun. With our trusty audio guide (for an extra fee) that ended up telling us basically what the posted signs told us as well, we meandered along through the different parts of the palace looking at jewels, Moses' staff, St. David's sword, St. John's arm and head, and beard pieces, teeth, and footprints from the Prophet Mohammed. It was seriously cool...not sure I believe that it was the actual stuff, but very awesome nevertheless.
The palace was HUGE, and I think we ended up spending about 5 hours to get through the whole palace and harem (more about that in a second). I mention the time, because as we were entering the park that morning, a group got out of a cab. They were trying to settle on a time for the driver to come back and pick them up, so they asked him how long he would take. He told them it would only take an hour and a half. So, I want to know that the dude was smoking! Over the course of the day, I think we were standing in lines that long!
After most of the palace, we went to The Harem, a separate section of the palace that costs extra, and thus has fewer people in it. I couldn't help feeling like a prisoner the whole time I was there, even though it's where the sultans' private quarters were. It's just that, all the concubines and eunuchs lived there, too. It gave me a very eerie feeling, but some parts of it were beautiful, too.
We'd had almost no break from when we started in the morning, but we wanted to visit this handicraft school that is run by the Ministry of Culture, so we persevered and actually found the place! However, it was do to the directions from the Carpet Selling Philosophy Professor from day 1 that we happened to meet on the sidewalk. Seriously, we run into everyone here! He was nice and even though we wouldn't buy a carpet told us where to go for our handicrafts.
Cafer Aga (the g has a hat on it) Courtyard was lovely! Coskum (pronounced Choshkoom) showed us all the rooms where students learn all sorts of different handicrafts. It was incredibly impressive stuff. They teach glass painting, pottery, embroidery, calligraphy, etc. and then showcase the art in their gallery. Coskum even wrote our names in calligraphy as a gift! It was great! So, another plug from me, if you're even in Istanbul, go by Cafer Aga even if to just look at the art. It's beautiful, and if you go between October and July, you can see people making stuff!
Really, that ended our day...as we were completely exhausted. Now I have to go pack, which I'm dreading, because I have to figure out how to fit 3 kg of tea and many other things into my bags and not go overweight. I even planned for this!! Hopefully, I won't have to pay extra.
I will definitely miss Istanbul, but am also planning my next trip. I'm still owed a honeymoon, and I think Turkey (including Istanbul) would be a great place to go for that. The people here are extremely friendly, and as much as I've joked about the carpet salesmen, I've felt so much hospitality from everyone. I would recommend this city to anyone looking for a nice mix of history, arts/crafts, culture, and fun. If you're every planning a trip here, let me know! I'll tell you some places to check out!
Carpet Salesmen Count = 1 (the first guy from day one), and he was so nice and pointed us in the right direction to where we needed to go.
Cat Count = 25...I got some pictures of loads of cats in different places
Turkish Guys Hitting on Me Count = 1
I was almost finished writing this, but then we went to dinner and hit up a jewelry store so Norah could spend the rest of her Turkish money. I was starting to feel neglected, because no one had said anything to me all day about how incredibly gorgeous I am. Fortunately, I got hit on in the jewelry store by one of the salesmen. He was so very nice and I even blushed with his compliments! He now wants to meet Gavin so he can "make sure he is good looking enough" for me. Hee hee... (Note: I find it really humorous that I attracted so much attention, and can only assume that other women from the US have also garnered the same attention. So, if you want to be reassured about your looks, come to Turkey. And, while I heard stories about butts being pinched, most everyone was very complimentary...not disgusting.)