Friday, April 1, 2016

One spring day in Istanbul

There is so much to catch up with, but this post is just about yesterday, my first day alone in Istanbul. Helen got the shuttle bus to the airport and I moved from the lovely Tulip Guesthouse back to the Hotel Golden Horn - a 15 min walk along cobbled streets. Makes sense now that when you are buying 'luggages', replaceable wheels are A Good Thing.

First stop - tram and metro to the Chora Museum. Here's an image of what it used to look like - it still does, but much of the building is currently under restoration so you can only see a small bit of the interior.

Still, I gasped out loud when I walked in.

The Chora is an ancient Greek Orthodox church that became a mosque and now is a museum rich with Byzantine mosaics, and also frescos, thought to be by the same artists. A sign of the times that I was almost alone here. One other person...

You can see in the bigger photo above, middle on the right, there's a small museum shop in the building.

Things were so quiet that I snapped a photo of the police or security people at the entry. They scan bags, in a desultory way, as people come in. He indicated to me, very politely, that I was not allowed to photograph them. As he was saying this, there was some shouting outside. Action stations in an instant. He reached for his gun and whirled around and raced out, and so did his companion, followed by the shop attendant and several others as the shouting escalated.
You think there are lots of blokes here with nothing to do but ogle the passing tourists, but actually there are plain-clothed police everywhere. I was slinking back into the building with my heart thumping and missed whatever happened, but when I asked a couple of people after the ruckus has died down, they suddenly didn't understand English. All I saw was a cleaner with a twig broom scrubbing at the cobblestones in about the spot so I can only imagine there was bloodshed - a fight? Shows though how edgy things are at the moment. Helen had told me just that morning that Australia had lifted its travel warning to a higher level of alert. Good to know the police are about. There's a cabin just outside my hotel with about 5 or 6 men there most of the day and they do check some of the people passing by.

Back to the Chora. It is in a suburban area just inside the second city walls, the ones built by Emperor Theodosios. Mostly apartment buildings in steep narrow streets that got narrower and poorer as I wandered down towards the Golden Horn (the real one, not the hotel of same name) and then back up again in search of another museum, the Fethiye.

 I came across this interesting building which is all boarded up and fenced off. 

Turns out this is the Ottoman Baroque Ahrida Synagogue and I'm in the heart of the historically Jewish area of Istanbul. Most of the women here are wearing full burka with faces covered and only eyes showing, and a lot of the men were wearing some sort of headgear. 

I did eventually stumble across the Fethiye Museum. Here too you can only see a small part of the interior. More mosaics. 

 Beautiful little garden. Lovely afternoon sun. I asked the ticket attendant about which way to walk to the ferry to go back to the Old City. "Lady, you can wait just five minutes? I live Taksim side, every day go near, I take you." So that's what happened. I went in his old Russian car and he dropped me at the edge of the Old City. "Lady, you get out now. I turn here." Be safe, he said, in Turkish.

This is where he dropped me, by the ferry terminal close to my hotel. Locals enjoying the mild afternoon.

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