Saturday, December 22, 2012

Trip Log: from the outside in and from the inside out

From the Outside In - the Dolmabahce Palace
The exterior of the Domabahce Palace with Thursday's snow still on the ground
For the last couple of days we have spent more time exploring cultural extremes of the ancient city of Istanbul.  Yesterday, in an attempt to escape the near 0 temperatures, we went to sample the extreme extravagance of the Dolmabahce Palace - a Sultan's palace built in the European style during the 19th century.

From the elaborate ornamentation on the massive gates outside of the palace to the gold plated ornamentation and giant crystal chandeliers inside the palace to the beautifully designed grounds, the complex is a tribute to the lavish riches controlled by the Ottoman empire in the 19th century.

The interior of the palace can only be seen on a guided tour that, even in the winter will be crowded and that takes around two hours to complete.  Even once inside the palace I was left with the distinct impression that a mere glimpse of half visible royal rooms through roped-off doors was the closest encounter with this lavish life-style I will ever taste.

From the Inside Out: the Narrow Streets of Old Istanbul

shop lined steps
Today, with the first part of a thaw on a gentle breeze, we decided to brave an aimless meander through the maze-like back streets of old Istanbul with the ultimate goal of the Egyptian Bazaar or Spice Bazaar on the southern bank of the Golden Horn as our only compass point.  The only point on our agenda was "to enjoy and experience the city."  For me, this meant finding a good cup of coffee.

We began in the shoe district by our hotel where streets are lined with shops selling shoes, material, soles, and laces.  Then we walked through the streets just below the Grand Bazaar where shops carry a wide variety of men's and women's unmentionables.  Our ins and outs took us down shop-lined staircases and streets too narrow for cars until, at the bottom of the hill, we emerged from the maze and found ourselves next to the spice bazaar.  

All of the main shopping districts in Istanbul are hopelessly congested with tourists from all over the world and the Spice Bazaar is no exception.  The market is exactly as advertised: stalls containing beautiful stacks of Turkish delight, spices, teas, and other knick-knacks line the T-shaped structure. 
Inside the spice Bazaar
Finally satisfied as to the market's general content, we moved on from the Spice Bazaar by way of a crowded and colorful backstreet and found a little sweet and coffee shop in which to enjoy a quiet cup of Turkish coffee and some honey-saturated pastries - mission accomplished.

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