Day 5 – Istanbul

April 28, 2010 in Mediterranean,TURKEY | Comments (7)

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The Four Seasons Bosphorus in Istanbul.

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Four Seasons at Sultanahmet

7.30a:  The boat glided in to the pier on the Bosphorous on the European side.

Cutting winds greeted us and sent Aleah back for a jacket. Still we walked to a taxi rank and got a ride to Four Seasons Bosphorous for 5 euro, in time for our 8.30 am appointment with the sales manager.

What an exquisite hotel. Only 18 months old (though the building dates back to days as a palace in the 18th century – Ottoman empire).

Four Seasons Bosphorous stands grandly on the shores of the straits. For all its age and tradition, it feels light and open.  A sweep of paving stretches from the front of the former palace (with fountain) towards the surprisingly sparkling blue and turquoise water, bobbing with small boats crossing between Asia and Europe. The odd working boat heads towards the Black Sea up or down the straits.  A swimming pool by the Bosphorous and a gigantic spa in the hotel give a resort feel. The hammam in the spa is remarkable for the aesthetics.  Here one can lie on a marble slab with inlaid motif under glittering blue glass light shades and details, and enjoy exfoliation, scalp massage and so on. The mosaic spa pool was also an aesthetic addition to the joys of rejuvenation and relaxation. Oriental mystery pervades the whole spa.

The interior décorof the hotel is a harmonious blend of old and new, with special items of furniture and a set of rare 18th century etchings to add to the sense of history. Fresh details to touch the heart and  sensibilities included a table totally erupting with pink orchids from glass vases.

We saw 3 room types. No guarantee that the room type featured in the images will look just like this as all are different.

Garden rooms looked very pleasant and roomy with a cumba (a traditional bay window with seat) and the usual spacious Four Seasons marble bathroom. But when we looked at a one-bedroom suite facing the Bosphorous, the garden suite (costing about one tenth) shrank in the memory. The bed of the Bosphorous Palace Suite was on a loft-like shelf, from which you could see the boats on the waterway. The desk with an Apple Mac invited work or communication, while the sofa was even more inviting in a corner with view. The two bedroom Bosphorous Palace Suite suite was impressive too. The roof suite with the angles of the roof and a terrace with view had loads of cosy atmosphere and charm.

Our breakfast was delightful, in terms of view and content, service and charm (though they had no almond milk to soothe the dairy free guests  – only soya). Over breakfast, Serkan told us that  the newer Four Seasons Bosphorous (only 18 months old) was doing very well and stealing guests fast and furiously from their other property Four Seasons Sultanahmet. That seemed surprising in view of the Sultanahmet property’s  amazing position close to so many attractions. But of course the Bosphorous property is new, serene, magnificent, and 10 minutes from designer shopping. ( So the best thing to do is to stay at both properties, at least two days each…)

Now we would see the older property in Sultanahmet. A mere 20 minute taxi ride took us to Four Seasons Sultanahmet, as it was a fairly peaceful time of day (1030).

A former prison situated between Blue Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia, the FS Sultanahmet is older in feel than the other FS, with more Moorish  or medieval details. A cloister- like corridor has arches with a Moorish flourish. In fact the building is not really so old. Just dressed that way. Its mood resonates with the past, ascetism and mystery.

The downstairs rooms we saw were rather dark and deep in mood, but very spacious. We saw two more rooms.  A former warden’s room, the deluxe suite, with separate lounge, had a cosy, quaint and traditional air, with stairs up to the usual lavish bathrom. What lingers in the memory is the remarkable presidential suite. One would not call it cosy, of course, with a dining table for 8 or 10, and a lounge suite to hold as many. What makes it so memorable is one of the  balconies which has a view over the Aya Sofia mosque (once the most be3autiful church in Christendom) . Here you could enjoy room service and the grace of the domes and minarets.

The public terraces give a view of  both  the blue mosque – and the Aya Sofia.

The concierge at the hotel advised us to go first to the Blue Mosque – as prayer time was about to start (noon) and they would close the mosque. Just a few minutes’ walk took us to the Blue Mosque. The queue was not too severe. You take off your shoes and put them in plastic bags. My skirt was too short so I was presented with a  wrap around cloth with Velcro fastening.

Inside we found a corner less troubled by the crowds. A row of short women with headscarves lined the rail that holds the onlookers from the mosque praying area.

There is a moment of wonder as the different patterns of the mosaics high above, sweeping round the domes and pillars, combine like an orchestra to make one big feeling in the stomach. There is only one god, I whispered to Aleah.

The sad thing though is that they have put machine woven quite ordinary carpets down now. All the Swedes at our table have been in Istanbul long ago … and remember it most for the blue mosque and its carpets. On the floor there were all handwoven mats – each individual – old –and there were piles and piles of them. The other disappointment is that they now hang a shield of lights between you and the view of the heavenly domes.

The other “problem” of course is the crowds. Some gawping, many in groups with a voice telling them what they are seeing. It could be anything. Most people throng in the central area – like a railway station.

Noon was approaching, so trudged out with our shoes in plastic bags to put them on and continue our tour of Istanbul. Aya Sofia from the outside looks very much like something in metaphorphis – which it did over centuries, morphing from Christian to Islam – and now the Christian mosaics being released from under their Islamic cover in a labour of 20 years. We didn’t get to see it – the most beautiful church in Christendom  – as we were deterred by crowds outside  and also in the grip of need to see the Grand Bazaar.

Again I had a little feeling of disappointment, for a lost something. It was a den of total intrigue when I last visited “want to change money – want to change money” … and I remember  carpets spilling over into the alleyways – people sitting on carpets, smell of carpets, colour, weave…dealing dealing.

Strangely we preferred the market in Izmir as a “cultural” experience. This is just for tourists, Aleah said. In Izmir he people go there.

Yet there are beautiful things there in the Grand Bazaar – just too much stuff – 4000 shops. And not all good quality. The leather people were out in force again: You want to buy leather?And those seeking contact for whatever reason:  German? Italiano? Where you from?

We felt rather hemmed in between being nasty and being nice, between self protection and human politeness.  But you couldn’t be too nice. Give an inch and they will take a mile. If you answered you came from Sweden, that was not enough. Why you talk English? How long you here? My brother has a shop. Or:  You from Sweden? – I am Chinese! So you hurt them or insulted them by not answering them, and they insulted you.

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Day 4 – Izmir

April 27, 2010 in Mediterranean,TURKEY | Comments (2)

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A wild night, says Aleah waking up and pulling off a black eyeshade. “Ooooooooooooooh…did you  hear all that creaking and groaning?”, she asks, and sighs as she forces herself out of bed.

It was the glory and power of nature on show through the night, gusting and billowing around our gigantic ship, seizing it and squeezing it so the door onto our balcony shrieked. This morning the balcony floor (high on the 10th storey) is wet with spray or rain.  Now a low grey-green sea is running past with a smoky grey-green of Turkish mountains looping the bay as we swish slowly into the port of Izmir.

Tall modern buildings are stacked like white bricks together and up the mountain side. So far – looks like an intimidating tourist destination. Finding the old town might be a challenge. No wonder the main tours offered by the boat travel agency take you out of town.

Look at that strange modern glassy highrise up on the hill, says Aleah pointing through our rain or spray splattered door.

Meanwhile the boat keeps on drifting away from the city against the mountain. We are off to breakfast….

15.16 AT SEA

The sea is running in the wind, with little white tops on the waves – greenish grey. Sky pale blue and patches of white and grey cloud. We are following the Turkish coast north, lost in a haze but caressed into white shimmer here and there by the afternoon sun.

We had a wonderful day in Izmir.

Our choice was to take a tour to Ephesus (57 eur) a city tour (43 eur) or a St Johns Monastry and Mary’s House (54 eur). Or to do it yourself…

It was hard to decide. Mary’s House sounded a bit unlikely to have belonged to Mary. Ephesus very tempting – a well preserved ruin of classical importance. We love old stones with history, even if they have fallen and the history forgotten. But it seems a bit hard to imbibe the slow vibrations of thousands of years while a guide announces in many languages a few facts learned by heart.

With this hopeless prejudice ruling, we chose the city tour –  do it yourself version.

Chaos swooped around us like seagulls chasing bait. Taxis circled around and people shouted. We were denied one of the taxis close in, as they were offering a tour. So with a German couple in tow (unable to speak English) we dodged little yellow taxis out to a busy road. The price should be 10 euros from the port by government regulation, so we announced our price and were bundled into a car without working seatbelts. Then he seemed to join a race to pass as many cars as possible along the dual carriageway following the promenade. Sudden turn and back along the road to Konak Square.

It was a bit of a surprise. A rather forgotten and forlorn place, loved most by pigeons. The beautiful clocktower is faded and needs a good clean; there is no water even in its basins/pools, and no handles on the taps.  The small mosque in the square looked abandoned too. But with faded charm, worth seeing…

From there we followed the boat people who had arrived by bus on the tour into the mazes of streets of Kemerati  Bazaar and fortunately lost them and ourselves.  Narrow lanes curved and wound around – no sense of direction remained. Shoe shops galore. Young men were shouting. Want leather jackets? Want jeans? Please come in. Sprechen sie Duetsch? Dutch?   Bits of what we read on the internet came back to me – hustlers, don’t catch their eye, keep walking.

But for all the advice we did catch people’s eyes, kind eyes and kind people. A man with moustache invited us into his shop – we said no we were looking for a café (to sit down and try to decipher where we were, having totally lost sense of place and time).  He then lead us through the maze to an area of little tea houses around one of the larger mosques. We chose one that looked so cosy, seats lined with woven patterned Turkish carpeting. He left us there with the words – you can come to my shop later if you feel like it.

Tea house in Kemeralti Bazaar, Izmir

 Later, lost time later, we passed him. Did you enjoy? Did you buy! Not buying anything I said gruffly … but undeterred by my frozen style he said warmly – are you still  looking for a cafe. You be my guest.  Come have some Turkish apple tea. How much does it cost? I asked. No he said — we are Turkish – if you are my guest you pay nothing.

So again we sat on the patterned carpeted seats and he entertained us with hot apple juice (tea?) and his stories about his visit in Finland – the closest he could come to Sweden. Finns know nothing about cooking, he spent most of his time shoveling snow, and the men are drunk 4 days a week…

Here he is…

Our tea house guide, expert on Finns

 

The clock tower in Konak Square