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The End of a Whirling Trip

[Istanbul, Turkey, May 25, 2019]

And just like that, it was the last day of our trip! It’s always hard to believe when that day comes. Time seems to fly by while at the same time my normal every-day life seems so far away!

It rained again overnight but we decided to leave the umbrellas at home – it was a pain to carry them around all day yesterday, and the weather turned sunny pretty quickly. Our first stop for the day was Topkapi Palace, which served as the imperial residence for the Ottoman household for 380 years. It was built in the 15th century by Mehmed II and was abandoned in the 19th century, when the family relocated to the Dolmabahce palace, across the Galata bridge but still on the European side of Istanbul. The palace is now a museum of the imperial area and is most famous for Muhammed’s sword and cloak, which are on display there.

There are various exhibits in the palace, some permanent, some rotating. You can also get a glimpse at how the sultans lived. The grounds are beautiful and a pleasure to walk around on a gorgeous day. We were right – the clouds soon lifted and we enjoyed views of the Bosphorus from the back of the palace. There is also a beautiful garden there.

Our next stop was the Istanbul Archaeology museum, but only the smaller building in the complex was open; the largest wing was closed due to construction.

Since I had visited before, that was OK with me but I wish they told us this when we bought our Istanbul Museum passes. Most European cities offer a museum pass and I’ve used them in four other cities. I have mixed feelings about the Istanbul one. It does not include the Basilica Cistern or Dolmabahche, both of which I feel are must-see for a first-time visit to Istanbul. I also wish it were more widely available outside of the kiosks of the museums that are included in the pass. If the whole point of the pass it so bypass long museum lines, it makes no sense to wait in line at a museum to buy one. We did find a vendor who sold it in Sultanahmet square but he only took cash, and we didn’t want to spend what little money we had exchanged into Turkish Liras on it. We ended up getting ours at Hagia Sophia – since we got there early, there was no line, and we were able to use a credit card.

The side wing we did visit was actually quite lovely. It’s small but it’s where you can see the brick reliefs from the Ishtar Gate. Other museums have pieces of the processional way into Babylon, but this museum has pieces from the gate itself. The Ishtar gate was named after a Mesopotamian goddess of love and war and it was one of eight gateways that provided entry to the inner city of Babylon in the 6th century BC. The processional way leading up to gate was decorated with reliefs of lions, while the gate itself depicted bulls and dragons. The entire Ishtar Gate, including the processional leading up to it, as the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, which I visited in 2016.

With the big wing closed, we meandered in the garden for a bit.

The Tiled Kiosk, hosing Iznik tiles and Seljuk pottery, was fun to see also.

After some rest in our hotel, we went to see the whirling dervishes at the Hodjapasha Cultural Center. Whirling dervishes belong to the Sufi order, which was founded in the city of Konya by the followers of a famous Islamic poet and theologian. Their practice of whirling is a form of remembrance of god and is called a Sema ceremony. Although in its essence a spiritual ceremony, the Sema ceremony has been commercialized and can now be seen as a form of entertainment at restaurants and cafes. The experience was even more unique due to the fact that the cultural center it took place in was a renovated 550-year-old hamam (Turkish bath). I’d already seen this exact ceremony back in 2013, but I loved seeing it again.

After one last sunset viewing on the rooftop terrace of our hotel, it was time to hit the sack for a 4 am wake-up call. I was so grateful for having created wonderful memories with B over the past few weeks, and I was relieved that the tight schedule did not get messed up by even with small flight delays here and there. As a matter of fact, the universe waited until our flight from Munich to LA for our biggest delay on the trip – 3+ hours due to a mechanical problem with our plane. Miraculously, Lufthansa had another Airbus A380 on hand and was able to switch our the luggage and prep the new plane in record time. I certainly hope this second visit to Turkey is not my last!

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