Thursday, September 27, 2012

Maiden's Tower (Kızkulesi)

Welp, let me say there is nothing like having no internet, no smartphone and no TV to make you feel soooo disconnected from the world. As I finally settled into my flat in London this week, I have yet to set-up anything, although my closet is full already. So, I sincerely apologise for my lack of blogging.

A few weeks ago was Paul and I's third anniversary - time flies! We had  passed the Maiden's Tower a few times from our Bosphorus cruises, and I thought it was cute and picturesque The guide books never said much and I thought it was just a little place on the water that was pretty to look at from shore. However, I recently found out they had a restaurant there and decided I wanted to visit it.

I said something to  Paul in passing at some point and he took it upon himself to surprise me and made special plans for us to celebrate at the tower on my last weekend in Istanbul.

To get to the Tower, you have to take a boat. We left from Kabatas and while the ride was a bit choppy on the smaller boat, it was scenic as always.

Arrival at the tower
The restaraunt is a bit fancy - they call it "white glove service." It's a 4 course meal and you have two different menus to select from. I got the one without seafood and Paul got the seafood one, but I did have to steal his desert!

Other than the dinner, you can walk up to the top of the tower for a bit of history and a view.

Walk past the murals with stories of the fabled princesses 'emprisoned' here; read the stories of the tower's many uses of history including residence, hospital and lighthouse.

She was locked in the tower and a passing sailor fell in love
with her. When he came to rescue her, his ship was attacked and
he drowned trying to reach the island. Or something like that

Self portrait for our anniversary - we gave in and paid
the photographer for a 'professional picture

And finally, you get to the best part - the fantastic views.

Beautiful Bosphorus Brdige

Would I recommend it? That depends. The food is pretty good, but in no way Turkish and definitely overpriced. But, you are definitely paying for the experience. We sat there for over three hours enjoying course, after course, after course of food. Pay extra, and you even get a window seat! 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

News from the Tarts

I know where everyone is going with this - and no, it's not what you think (unless you already know and then yes, it is).

The big news from the Tarts is that we will no longer be the Tarts in Turkey, we will now be the Tarts in the UK. I have relocated to London this week and Paul will be following shortly with Belle.

It is a bittersweet move. I am so excited for the new opportunity in London, to be back at work, back in an office and take on new challenges. I'm excited for a new place to explore and to be back in English speaking territory. And best of all, I'm just a short(er) plane ride away from home.

But, despite the excitement over our move, I will miss Turkey. A lot. I can certainly say we have had an adventure of a lifetime and I will always be grateful for the time I got to spend in Turkey. Of course there are many I wishes still around Turkey - I wish I would have made it to Trabzone, I wish my Turkish would have been better, I wish we could have been here just a bit longer. But, I know we will be leaving Turkey with more than we came with. I'm leaving with a new sense of myself, wonderful friends, confidence to get around a crazy city like Istanbul on my own and lots of once in a lifetime experiences, not to mention all the carpets, pottery, art and other physical things we've managed to pick up along the way!

So off to a new adventure we go! I can't wait to share all that our new life has in store for us.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Istanbul Archaeological Museum

I will repeat this again - Paul and I don't do museums. We have tried and tried, but we always seem to find ourselves more bored than we thought we would be and rushing through to see the major sites and get out. I don't know if its overwhelming or just that we have a short attention span, but we usually avoid real, true museums on our travels.

Recently, we made our FIRST visit to an Istanbul Museum - the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. I wasn't expecting much. Not just that I don't enjoy museums, but it's Turkey. I expected it to be disorganised and all over the place (a bit similar to our experiences at the National Museum in Cairo). And I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

In no way am I a museum convert. I still found myself at the end running through the Troy exhibit just to say I saw it and get out of that museum. Truth be told, we tired out before visiting the third part of the Museum complex, the Museum of the Ancient Orient. However, they had quite a few nice collections and lots of good signage IN ENGLISH that helped contribute to our enjoyment of the Museum.

The highlights if you want to do the "quick" tour like us?

1. Tiled Kiosk - in addition to the beatiful tiled exterior, the inside of the kiosk includes pottery and tiles from many different parts of Turkey's history. Some of the oldest sections come from the Selcuks reign during the 13th century.

The Arabic over the door explains the
building was built by Sultan Mehmet
the conqueror in 1472

2. The Sarcophagi - there are two sarcophagi here who are the best known of the bunch, but honestly, all the tombs are in pretty great condition. The exhibit for these consists of several rooms, including one for the most famous others for certain periods and one that is to given an idea of what the palace around one of the tombs was like.

Alexander sarcophagus - they originally thought it belonged
to Alexander the great due to the scenes of Alexander
battling and hunting on the sides, it was actually the
final resting place of King Abdalonymos of Sidon

Sarcophagus of the Mourning Women - this is the sarcophagus
of King Straton of Sidon. The women depicted on this are the
women of his harem.

3. Dead People - yes, it might sounds morbid, but they had more intact skeletons here than I had ever seen in a museum. I counted 3 during my quick skim of the museum, but this was the best one on display.

4. Istanbul History - I may have forgotten to take a picture, but this exhibit is fun for visitors to Istanbul. It has history and artifacts of many of the major sites, including Aya Sofia, Chora Church and the Galata Tower.

During our visit, the Greek and Roman statue section was closed for renovations, and I have a feeling there may be some gems there too, you'll have to check it out for yourselves!

The museum is located near Topkapi Palace - exit the tram at the Gulhame stop, walk up past the gardens and around the corner to the Archaeological Museum. Like many of the other tourist stops in Sultanahmet the museum is closed on Mondays.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Rome by Night

Everyone loves taking photos during the day. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, everyone is happy. But come nightfall, the lens caps go on and the cameras slink back into their purses, bags and backpacks.

However, over the last couple of months, I have decided I love night photography. It all started with our midnight segway tour in St. Petersburg. Sure, I need a good tri-pod to make mine a little prettier and a lot less blurry in many instances.

Nighttime photos just seem to have a little je ne sais quoi - everything seems a little nicer, a little cleaner, a little more romantic.

This was certainly true in Rome. In our first night in the city, we had to explore in the dark and it was my favorite time in the city. It's when the atmosphere picks up and that fantastic European practice of relaxing on street cafes picks up. Plus, at night, you don't have to fight off the other tourists for that perfect shot.

Here's the best of Rome by night:

Parthenon - I love slow shutter speeds when there is movement.
You have the unmoving object and the funny blurry people
walking by.

Piazza Navona

Trevi Fountain - water is lovely lit up at night

National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II - has lots of
lighting, almost looks like day with the green grass

Colosseum - biggest challenge? Finding a good spot
without all the spectators! Even at night, there
were lots of visitors and street 'salesmen' here.

Curious to try it? Many cameras have a night setting, but beware! This setting usually uses flash. In my (very very amateur experience), this is best without flash. So, pull out the tripod, find a place to set your camera, or do as I do and use your husband/friends shoulder as a make shift tripod. Hopefully you'll capture something frame worthy.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Rumeli Hisari

Over the last couple weeks, I have gotten the chance to knock a few more things off my Istanbul bucket list, including trying a hamam.

Another bucket list item to check off was Rumeli Hisari - we have seen in it from the water on Bosphorus cruises. And we've seen the signs pointing into the direction of the fortress, but never wandered there.

This weekend, we decided to hit two birds with one stone - check out Rumeli AND visit Kale Cafe, which both local friends and Anthony Bourdain recommended.

Rumeli Hisari was a fortress built by the Sultan Mehmed II when the Ottomans were trying to take Constantinople. It is right across from another Ottoman fortress built the century before, strategically located on the narrowest point of the Bosphorus .For being a fortress on the water, it was built pretty speedily - in 4 months time. It must have worked because the next year, the Ottomans took Constantinople.

Today, there isn't much to see in the fortress itself. You can walk along the walls for great views of the Bosphorus, see the ampitheatre with the one minaret that remains of the mosque. That's about it. In itself, it may not be worth a trip to this part of town for people further away.

But for us, it was close by and the breakfast at Kale Cafe made it worth the trip.  Traditional Turkish breakfast usually consists of tomatoes, cucumbers, tulum/feta cheese, olives and bread. And I love this breakfast. Add to it more types of cheese - including fried cheese & cheese soaked in honey - traditional Turkish eggs (menemen), chai and delicious puffy bread and it gets even better. The idea is easy - you order breakfast and anything else you want on the side (hence the menemen). They come round every 10 minutes or so offering fresh chai and you can sit back, relax and enjoy the views of the Bosphorus bridge and waters.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Infamous Turkish Bath

Everyone seems to know about the Turkish baths. And when people come, they all say, oh, let's try a Turkish bath!

And then I inform them about the specifics of it and then for most people the interest is gone.

These same reasons are why I haven't yet tried a Turkish bath. A stranger bathing you, scrubbing you down, all while you are almost in your birthday suit.

Finally, this weekend, I gave up my insecurities and visited my first hamam.  While I wasn't brave enough to try a really local place, I think the experience is probably similar. I'm sure I would have gotten a bit less rushed and more friendly experience at a local place, but I wanted to know what I was getting into.

So, I picked out the Çemberlitas Hamam in the old town. It has a history dating back to 1584 when it was built by the prolific Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. I figured if nothing else, I would have a pretty old building to look at.

I got the full service, bathing, scrub, and massage. So what were my thoughts? It was everything I expected and a bit more that I didn't expect. I expected the scrub, the sauna atmosphere of the room, the normal massage. What I didn't expect was the comraderie in the room. Even at a tourist place, there seemed to be plenty of locals, people talking, laughing and lounging (although I didn't do much lounging by myself). And despite being almost in the nude, everyone was so comfortable. Forget about American scruples and confidence issues, we’re all women, right?

Thinking about trying a Turkish bath? I say give it a shot. And, while the hamam I tried was nice, try something with a bit more local flavor. You'll probably get a better deal and better service.  Don't worry about being totally confused, just give in and do what everyone else is doing. You can't go wrong!