Istanbul is huge. Sprawling. One of the biggest cities in the world. Looking at a map back in Milwaukee, it was hard to envision the scale of the place.
Which is why I was surprised to discover that our fairly basic hotel had a sweeping view of the Bosphorus and was practically next to Topkapi Palace.
For centuries, Topkapi was the opulent home to Ottoman sultans. Now it’s home to the Republic of Turkey’s treasures, from sparkling jewels to colorful garments to the Topkapi Dagger, made famous by the oddball 1964 movie Topkapi (watch it if you dare).
Walking the palace complex takes you through archways and courtyards into impressive rooms, many of them beautifully tiled.
It’s almost hard to believe (i.e. I’m not sure I believe) all the religious artifacts presented here: Moses’ staff, Abraham’s pot, Joseph’s turban, and even…
For all its opulence, Topkapi is a grind. We shuffled from room to room, standing in long lines to gaze at tiny artifacts in dimly-lit boxes. There was some live entertainment: in this peaceful sitting room, a woman started yelling and swearing at a guard. In response, he started yelling and swearing back (a sure way to get fired back home). As the altercation drifted outside, they veered from Turkish to English, so we understood her when she screamed, “I’m not your girlfriend or your wife, you can’t talk to me that way!”
Despite the interpersonal pyrotechnics, palace fatigue soon set in. While Karen was all Topkapied out, I pressed on, paying the extra fee and venturing into the harem on my own (who takes his wife into a harem, anyway?).
Imagining what life was like within these walls was a bit easier for me, since I’m currently reading The Janissary Tree, a historical novel set in 19th Century Istanbul. In the course of investigating a series of murders and a jewel theft, Investigator Yashim visits Topkapi and the harem, bringing the era to life as a piece of jewelry in a case simply cannot.
Speaking of which: no photos of the Topkapi dagger allowed… but you can buy a replica gift shops all over town. The real thing is, admittedly, spectacular.
The antidote to palace fatigue is a delicious meal with friends, which is what we got by meeting Jamie and his girlfriend Figen for dinner. She gave us a ride to Jamie’s place on our first night and was impressed when I casually said teşekkürler (thanks). Didn’t take long for her to realize that was pretty much my only Turkish word, but since then she’s helped me learn a few more.
From the restaurant’s rooftop terrace (of course), we watched the sun set on the Blue Mosque. Oh yeah, gotta go see that too. Another day.