We took things fairly easy for our last couple of days in Istanbul. Well, aside from getting lost and arguing with non-English speaking public transit people.
Easter day didn´t really feel like Easter to me. Probably all the "touristing instead of doing homework/easter preparations/last-minute choir rehearsals" thing. Ah well... That afternoon, we decided we´d go to Asia. Less momentous then it would normally be, since this merely required a short, scenic and (we still thought at this point) free ferry ride. (At least the conductors were equally confused when the Akbil failed to work on the way back...). We hiked through a bunch of low-income neighborhoods to get to a little mosque with gorgeous tiling at the top of a hill, which some kind person let us into. Then we wound up taking TWO more ferries to get to Uskudar (Chalcedon, believe it or not...), where we´d heard that there was an incredible restaurant that did traditional Anatolian turnover-thingies and had a good desert menu. Admittedly, finding it would have been easier if Istanbul had street signs... but we did in the end, and it was indeed very tasty, and the women making the tortilla-like thingies in the front window created one for us in less time than it took Grace to go to the bathroom, so we were happy.
Monday, after some more time arguing with transit officials, we took yet another ferry to the Prince´s islands, so named for their traditional role as a convenient place to exile deposed Byzantine emperors--there were a lot of these over the centuries--and other political undesirables whom you wanted to keep an eye on. Apparently they´re still used for this purpose: the ex-leader of the kurdish separatist party is supposed to be imprisoned on one of them. Possibly in something connected with the naval college on island no. 3. For our part, we mostly walked around and enjoyed the pretty scenery and the views from the ferry, and ended the day be taking a horse-drawn carriage (the islands have essentially no cars) up to an apparently still-functional monastery on a small mountain, where we played the "identify the icon" game. It was also an interesting day, culinary-wise, since my lunch was a mackerel sandwich with hot pepper (works surprisingly well), mid-afternoon snack was a pie filled with spiced, candied fruit (mmm...), and dinner was freshly grilled chicken and lamb kebabs at the cafe beside the monastery, with that wonderful, smoky, probably-means-it´s-carcinogenic-but-it-
And finally Tuesday, we visited the baths of Lady Hurrem (yet another Sinan, built by Suleiman´s favorite wife, aka Roxelana, and now housing the state Carpet Store), and the former madrasa behind, which theoretically now houses various artisans whom you can watch while they worked. In practice, they were all still drinking tea. So we took a bus into the more uncharted regions to visit the church of Our-Savior in Chora, which has incredibly
gorgeous 14th c. murals and mosaics. (Click here
if you want to see pictures of the shininess). Then we took a walk over to the walls of Theodosios "which, despite centuries of neglect and some rather unfortunate recent reconstruction, remain one of the most impressive monuments of the Near East" (Mark Whittow, Making of Orthodox Byzantium
). Said reconstruction is still going on, and the turks don´t so much believe in guard rails, so we climbed up. They certainly are impressive: 40 feet high, with towers nearly twice that, and built on top of a ridge, originally with two more outer walls beyond. Vertigo, we discovered, is worse on man-made structures.
Reconstruction is also going on on what´s left of the late-Byzantine palace at Blacharnai a little further along, so we didn´t get to go in. Should be interesting when they´re done, though, though I wonder whether the end result may be a bit misleading-looking.
Then we went out and had an incredible dinner, and then got up at a hideous hour to catch a plane. The taxi driver was a bit more sedate this time, but we still had plenty of time for the three security check-ins. So we flew to Frankfurt, discovered we were minus an atm card, managed to find bus fare anyway, took a bus and three trains back to Konstanz, applied for a new atm card, and collapsed.
Now it´s nearly a week later. I´ve spent way too much time eating chocolate and playing Civilization III. And I still feel like I need a nap...