Buyukada and the Princes’ Islands

When I arrived in Istanbul, I felt like I was going to be there forever. Somehow though, forever wasn’t quite as long as I thought, and soon enough it was my last day in the city. I, of course, hadn’t done everything that I wanted and had no time to finish it all, so I was faced with the decision of how to spend my final day.

My friend Zoe (from Armenia) told me that while she was in Istanbul, some of her friends went to the islands near the city, rented bikes for the day, and just biked around exploring. The weather was beautiful on my last day, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it than on a boat and on a bike.

I asked my friend Gareth if he wanted to join, he said yes, and we were off! Yay! There are some things that are way more fun with a friend, and this was definitely one of them.

Dolmabahce Palace from the ferry on the way to the island

The Princes’ Islands are a series of nine islands in the Sea of Marmara, southeast of Istanbul. During the Byzantine years, they were a place of exile for princes and other royalty, hence their name. At the time, they seemed extremely remote, and only the exiles and some monks lived on them. In the 19th century, everything changed with the arrival of the steamboat. Then, they became more accessible and were transformed into a popular resort for the wealthy people of Istanbul. Historically, the islands were dominated by minority groups. There were significant Jewish, Greek, and Armenian communities living on them. Those populations are now much less prominent, but traces of them can still be seen in the buildings on the islands.

Dolmabahce Mosque from the ferry

Out of the nine total islands, five are inhabited. Three have no settlements, and the last one is a private island. The four largest are popular tourist destinations, great for escaping the chaos and noise of the city because there are no motor vehicles allowed besides service vehicles. The popular forms of transport are horse-drawn carriages and bicycles! That’s my kind of place!

One of the other islands from the ferry

We went to the biggest island, Buyukada (meaning “big island”… creative, right?). It’s a little over 5 square kilometers in area and has a population of around 7,000 people which increases tenfold in the summers! It was still early in the season when we went, but even so, our ferry was fairly crowded. The best part of the ride was when this dude put on a live infomercial for a vegetable peeler. From the sound of the crowd, it was like he was putting on a magic show. People were cheering and clapping, eager to see what food he would pull out of his bag to peel next. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and I am nearly certain that I’ll never see anything like it again.

See the guy in the white shirt in the background? He’s in the middle of an intense vegetable-peeler performance. The crowd is completely hooked. My favorite thing was imagining him practicing his presentation at home. He’s surrounded by peeled vegetables and fruits. His wife walks in and shakes her head. “What else can I peel, honey?” he asks.

Remnant of the Armenian community on the island – an Armenian church!

When we got to the island, we walked around a little first to get our bearings and then decided it was bike time. Well, I decided it was bike time because the day was required to consist of two things, remember? Boats and bikes, and we had already crossed off the boats.

We rented some bikes and biked one of the loops on the island. There’s a short loop and a long loop, and we only ended up having time for the short one because we took a long break in the middle to go to the highest point on the island. The bike rental guy told us that we would need to walk up to the lookout point because it was too steep to ride. We decided he didn’t know what he was talking about and started to ride. I made it approximately 5 minutes before I changed my mind, decided that riding was more effort than it was worth, and pushed my bike the rest of the way while Gareth rode next to me.

The streets are lined with big beach mansions, some well-maintained and some on the verge of collapse.

This looks like it’s in great shape, right?

This thing screams “BEACH HOUSE!” Geez, house. Could you be any more obvious?

The view at the top was really nice, so we sat and looked at the sparkling water and talked until it was time to ride back and return our bikes. I guess I was kind of happy to have a bike for the way down the hill, but at the same time, that’s not true at all because the whole way was cobblestones, and the however many minutes it took us to get to the bottom were completely uncomfortable. Plus, you never know how functional the brakes are on a rental bike, so I was constantly braced for the moment when mine decided to quit on me. Gareth, on the other hand, seemed unfazed by the whole thing, so maybe I’m just crazy.

View from the top

Me and Gareth

We returned our bikes and drank some horrible tea with the bike rental guy (seriously, why does any tea besides apple tea even exist??), and I passed out on the ferry ride back to the city. Who knew I was so tired? I guess it’s a good thing that I slept a little because after we got back to the hostel, I had some packing to do!

Mosque Marathon

Continued from yesterday

As soon as I left church, my aggressive sightseeing itinerary started. I walked across the river, back to the southern Europe part of Istanbul, ready to get going on my list. I got off to a great start… I tried to see the New Mosque, or Yeni Camii, but it’s apparently so new that it’s not finished yet. Okay! No problem! 0/1. I continued on.

Walking across the river

Next to that is the spice market. I generally hate markets because they usually involve a lot of people yelling at you, but if you want to see the market, you don’t have much of a choice except to go and deal with it. I walked through, snapped some pictures, did a stand-up job of ignoring everyone who yelled at me, and got out as quickly as I could.

This picture was almost worth the “HEY! Spain! You can take as many pictures as you want over here!” that was yelled at me as I took it. I guess he thought I looked Spanish.

The colors!

I tried to go to another mosque a couple blocks away, but I literally couldn’t find the entrance (and I walked around the block TWICE before I gave up). These seem to be the rules of mosques:

  1. Hidden entrance – I would say that 9/10 times, me entering a mosque involves me walking at least 90% of the way around the building before figuring out how to get inside. The 1/10 time is when I never enter because I can’t find the door.
  2. Beautiful ceilings – They are top notch. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
  3. Insane chandeliers – I think this might be an Istanbul-specific thing, but I don’t really know. I don’t actually love this feature, but they all have chandeliers that are the size of practically the entire mosque and require approximately 9483958 anchor points on the ceiling.
  4. Comfy carpets – If you’re taking your shoes off, the carpets had better be comfy. Plus people are on their knees a lot during prayer, so it makes sense that they would be wonderfully cushiony.
  5. Construction – It MUST be a rule that at any given moment, at least 70% of the mosques in the city must be under construction or at least have scaffolding up. This is the only explanation that makes sense to me for how SO many mosques could be under renovation at the same time. It must be a quota thing.

From there, I zig-zagged my way across the city to see the rest of the mosques on my list. Zeyrek Mosque was at the top of a hill (ugh), and I managed to find it impressively easily… you might be thinking, “Lara, it’s at the top of a hill… how hard could it possibly be to find?” My only answer to that is, you go to Istanbul and try to find a specific mosque and THEN tell me if you’re impressed. AND I only walked halfway around the building before I found the door.

Inside Zeyrek. I didn’t think it looked like a typical mosque, so I assumed it used to be a church. Sure enough, it was TWO churches AND a chapel. Look at me, basically a mosque expert now.

Instead of taking the main road to my next stop, I decided to be adventurous and go on the smaller streets. Well, I don’t know how adventurous you’re being if you’re following a map, but I felt like it was a big step because I had gotten lost about a million times already (while using the map).

My “back route” took me by a park where a bunch of locals were hanging out, there were shops all around, and everything was bustling. It was cool! So there I went, just bopping along and enjoying the chaos, when out of nowhere, the aqueducts emerged!! I knew that they existed, but I didn’t know exactly where and had totally forgotten about them. They are hard to forget after you’ve seen them. So big and impressive and beautiful! And they stretch for blocks and blocks. On the other side of this particular part, there was a big park FILLED with people. I loved it! Seeing people living their normal lives. And all of that happening with the most epic Roman ruin backdrop you could imagine. How cool to live in a city like that, where there’s so much history surrounding you everywhere?! I did what anyone would do in this situation and got an ice cream to eat while soaking in the history.


Park yourself in front of some aqueducts

My next stop was Fatih Camii which had been recommended to me by multiple people. The mosque complex was MASSIVE. I walked through the gates, and it was like entering a different world. There were people everywhere. Kids were running around and playing, people were sitting and chilling, and it really felt like the mosque was a social hub. I could have sat there for hours just watching people. I didn’t have hours though, so I found the visitors’ entrance (maybe, who even knows?) and went inside.

Fatih Mosque

Entering into the Fatih grounds… note the excessive Turkish flagging

The inside was marvelous. It was kind of like being inside a frilly layer cake. There was a big central dome and then layers and layers of half-domes that spread out from there. And TONS of stained glass. And another ridiculously large chandelier, hanging low near the ground. I don’t understand why they do that. The painting in the dome was beautiful but standard. It was the rest of the ambiance that made it special.

Just like outside, there were kids running around and people talking and people studying and a guy teaching some kids how to pray. I’m going to say this a million more times, but I just loved how it was like a community gathering place. It felt open and welcoming.

Look at all of the people! And that ridiculous chandelier

The ceiling of Fatih. I’m not a big fan of the abundance of chandelier supports.

Frilly layer cake


The next mosque was a bit quieter… the only other person inside was this dude sleeping in the corner. As far as interior décor goes though, this one is my #1 favorite from my trip. It’s called Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque, and from the outside, it looks like any other mosque. The inside though… A bunch of the mosques have the painting style where the main dome is mostly white except for this circle decal in the center and then little circle decals around it. They’re pretty, but after you see two of them, they start to blur together because they’re all kind of the same. This one was completely different. Blue was the main color (which makes it bound to be a favorite for me), and every surface was painted. It was so elegantly done. I think it also helped that there was just one chandelier string hanging down from the main dome instead of the million support strings that the big chandeliers need. I was totally obsessed and definitely could have stayed there all day.

From the outside, it looks like any other mosque… (Though the towers are actually straight haha… I just had to take a weird picture to be able to get the whole thing in.)

…and then the ceiling is like BAM!

I. Love. This. Mosque.

That made me wish a bit that I had just gone into every single little mosque I passed by. I’m sure some would have been underwhelming, but there must be others lurking that are just amazing. And the smaller the better probably because the big mosques mostly had that boring circle painting deal.

From there, I went to Laleli Mosque, this little one kind of hidden off the streets. I decided to try looking for it in a little alleyway (yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds, but I’m telling you… they’re all hiding!), and there was the mosque, sitting above me! This one was back to the similar painting style, and even though I say that it’s boring, it’s still spectacular no matter how many times you see it. And there are always amazing stained glass windows. There is no shortage of things to marvel at.

Laleli Mosque

Laleli courtyard

Inside Laleli

View of the mosque from my tree spot

Prince Mosque was next, and it was another one of those mosques that’s more than just a building, it’s a compound. This one was a little quieter, not as much chaos on the inside. The ceiling painting was similar to the usual circle thing but with enough of a twist that I thought it was exciting, plus the colors were some of my favorites. The outdoor area had a lot of grass and a nice personality, so I decided to spend some time sitting under a tree. There were families and couples and other people out enjoying the day and the pretty landscaping around the mosque. It was a little oasis in the center of the city.

Prince Mosque. Oasis located on the other side of those walls.

Inside Prince Mosque

Peeking into the courtyard

Some of the trees here looked like the ones at Topkapi Palace. The same tree-gut-eating virus must have swept the city

From there, I had a series of fails. Beyazit Mosque was mostly closed for renovations and the Grand Bazaar was closed because it was Sunday (whoops… bad planning on my part, but honestly, I don’t think I would have loved it anyway). I went to look at the entrance gate to Istanbul University because someone told me to, but it was another one of those “okay so I’m here… but why?” moments.

Istanbul University’s gate

Since I was in the neighborhood, I popped into two mosques near the Grand Bazaar, Nuruosmaniye and Atik Ali Pasa.

Column of Constantine. This was placed to commemorate the declaration of Nova Roma as the capital of the Roman Empire. I know it’s a significant piece of history or whatever, but it just looks kind of sad. And this is it AFTER they did some restoration. What was it before? A pile of rocks? Anyway, what I’m saying is, it’s nice that they’re conserving the past. (That’s what I said, right?)

Nuruosmaniye Mosque

Inside Nuruosmaniye. I usually try to keep people out of my pictures, especially when they’re praying… but this one was just too perfect.

Nuruosmaniye Mosque

Atik Ali Pasa

Inside Atik Ali Pasa. And I kind of like this chandelier (in case you were starting to think I don’t like anything).

My Turkish ice cream

Since one ice cream in a day isn’t enough, I went and got another one. This was one of the special Turkish ice creams which I’ve mentioned before. It’s like Arabic ice cream that uses a binding resin that helps to prevent melting, and the scoopers always put on a big show when they’re scooping it.

My last big stop of the day was Suleymaniye Mosque, and it ended up being the perfect way to end my day. It’s at the top of a big hill, and there’s an awesome view of the city, plus the mosque compound was huge and brimming with people again. The inside was pretty, though it was all pink and not necessarily my favorite one. That’s okay though. They can’t all be my favorite.

Suleymaniye on the approach

Going inside…

In the courtyard!

The ceiling

Such crazy detail!

Around the courtyard

Not bad, right?

Sunset and Suleymaniye

Ignore the questionable looking buildings directly behind me and focus your attention on the pretty ones in the distance.

By the time I left, I was pretty exhausted. I wandered my way back towards the hostel before deciding that I really did need to eat an actual meal (especially since lunch consisted of two ice creams… hehe I love being a grown up). I found my way back to the usual food street and got a couple of lahmajuns before heading home and practically collapsing. Punishment day #2 successful.

Easter in Istanbul

One thing that was on my “definitely do” list for Istanbul was wake up to watch the sunrise over the Bosphorus. The icky weather was a bit of an obstacle to that goal, but luckily, the weather got better and better during the week. If I was going to wake up early to see the sunrise, it was going to be on a clear morning.

Well, time was running out. With only two more mornings, I checked the weather, and it looked good for the morning of Easter Sunday. I thought that given the day, it was an extra fitting start… watching the sun rise on the day when the Son rose. (That gave me a good giggle for at least half the day.) I was, of course, running kind of late, which meant that I was literally running to get to the water before the I missed the whole thing. I forgot about the fact that the published “sunrise time” is when the sun breaks the horizon, and that’s the worst time to watch because it’s when you start going a bit blind. Oh well. I ran and made it there with plenty of time to watch pre-blinding.

Honestly, I had some high hopes, and it was pretty magical. There wasn’t another person in sight, the world was quiet, and the orange sky was reflecting off of the water. It was a good time for some reflection (pun absolutely intended) and prayer. Sometimes it’s nice to just press pause on the chaos of life.

Sunrise series!

Nothing like a good panorama…

That was the last pause of the day because after that, I had my aggressive sightseeing plan for the day. I was going to church at 11, but before then, I worked out, ate breakfast, and had a few mosques that I wanted to cross off my list on the way there. My mosque sightseeing plan was basically this: visit any that someone specifically recommended and then visit any others that I found on google maps or happened to walk by. Very specific, I know.

Hagia Sophia on my walk back to the hostel after the sunrise – a tourist-free shot!

Here are some random pictures from the park where I worked out sometimes. The landscaping is unreal!

This thing spits out water droplets in different patterns. Sometimes, they even spell out words!

My first stop was Yeralti Camii, an underground mosque that wasn’t terribly interesting except for the fact that it was underground. It was good though because I was still getting used to visiting mosques, and since it was quiet, I didn’t feel like I was in anyone’s way.

I happened to walk by another mosque, Kilic Ali Pasa Camii (camii means mosque, in case you haven’t guessed that yet), so I popped in there because why not. This one was more typical than the underground mosque and equally empty which meant I could take my time figuring out the layout and get a system down for taking off my shoes and covering my head. After that, I felt pretty comfortable and confident that I could manage more mosque visits without doing anything disrespectful, and that’s good because I had a mosque-filled day ahead!

Underground Mosque

Inside Kilic Ali Pasa with bonus vacuuming man

The ceiling

I wanted to squeeze in one more mosque before I headed to church, but it looked like it was locked. As I walked by, the groundskeeper called me over and started speaking to me in Turkish. One negative about looking like you fit in is that people don’t automatically assume that you can’t speak the language. Well, he figured it out pretty quickly anyway from looking at my wide eyes and bewildered face. The facts that I couldn’t speak Turkish and he couldn’t speak English were apparently not a deterrent to him, though, because he persisted in inviting me into his groundskeeper hut thing for tea. I refused, he took that as a yes, and that’s how I found myself sipping tea (horrible, horrible chai which I attempted to improve by saturating it with sugar… didn’t work) with a random Turkish man.

I’m certain that he knew I couldn’t speak Turkish, but that didn’t keep him from trying. What I gathered from our conversation is this (I’m giving a 5% guarantee of accuracy): He asked if I was married. I said no (I wasn’t wearing my fake engagement ring, unfortunately). He proposed that I could marry him. He said that he already had three wives. These are all things that I’m making up now because I have no clue what he said, but if I had to guess from the hand motions and the few words I knew in Turkish by that point, that’s about what I would guess.

When I finished my cup of tea, I pointed to my watch, signed that I had to go (because I really was going to be late to church if I waited much longer), and said goodbye. I think that he told me to come back at 4, and I said no. He told me to take a picture of him. He asked for my phone number, and I told him I didn’t have one (I am getting a little better at the whole “no” thing).

The tea stop eliminated all of my “leisurely walk to church” time, so I had to hustle up a ridiculously steep hill and showed up at the church sweaty and out of breath. I attempted to make myself look presentable and like I wasn’t about to pass out, went through security, and entered into the tiniest church on the planet. That’s an exaggeration of course, but it’s VERY small and has more pews crammed in than I ever would have imagined possible. I found a seat somehow, and my pew was so close to the one in front that I couldn’t even straighten my legs to stand up properly.

Easter Sunday at church

Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, I’m so glad that I went. They played all of my favorite songs, and you should be able to sing your heart out on Easter! And I did! And the sermon was good, and it was nice to be surrounded with Christian community. I love going to churches internationally because it’s a little taste of what heaven will be like, with people from all the nations gathered together and worshipping the Lord.

To keep this from being an endless post, I’m going to cut it off here and leave it to be continued tomorrow!

Taksim Square, Galata Tower, and New Town

After I left Dolmabahce Palace, I still had a lot of things on my to do list for the day. I knew that I was going to get home feeling like I wanted to collapse, but I have this habit of punishing present Lara for the actions of past Lara. For example, if I eat a whole tub of ice cream one day, the next day at the gym I might make myself run an extra few miles (which is a significant task for me) as ‘punishment’ because past Lara has no self-control. This time, in ‘punishment’ for being a lazy bum my first couple of days, I didn’t allow myself to take things off of my sightseeing list for lack of time. No, no. Too much walking was not a valid excuse because if I hadn’t been lazy, I would have easily been able to see the same amount while enjoying slightly more leisurely sightseeing days.

This helpful sign on the funicular (and all public transit actually) tells riders that “manspreading”, as it has become known, is not allowed. Everyone knows what this means… you know those people who get onto the subway and act like they own the place and should be allowed to take up as much space as they want.

From the palace, I walked to the funicular that goes uphill to Taksim Square, one of the major public squares of the city. It’s a major venue for public events like parades and other celebrations, as well as for protests and demonstrations. Otherwise, there are a lot of restaurants, shops, and hotels nearby, but since I wasn’t interested in any of those, I wasn’t quite sure what I should do there. Does that ever happen to you? You know that you’re supposed to go see something, but once you get there it’s like, “Hm. Well, there it is. What now?” There’s a little park by the square, so I settled on getting myself another nutella bagel, sitting under a tree in the park, and watching the other people in the square who seemed to have a better idea of what to do there than I did.

(This was actually my second time in Taksim Square. The first was in transit to my hostel from the airport when it was raining, I had all of my bags with me, and I spent most of my walk through the square grumbling about the fact that it was so darn big and I couldn’t figure out where to go and I had to walk forever to get from the side where the bus dropped me to the side where I was getting on the funicular. Thankfully, I was less grumpy this time.)

They’re in the process of building a mosque right next to Taksim Square. Apparently it’s been a bit of a controversial project. Supporters say that there isn’t a mosque close enough to Taksim Square. The opposition says that it’s a move angling to reverse the legacy of the first president Ataturk who established Turkey as a secular republic. It was debated for DECADES, and now it’s set to be completed this year.

This monument in the square shows the first president of the Republic of Turkey, Ataturk, in two different scenarios. Here, he’s shown in his role as a statesman.

Here, Ataturk is shown as a military leader.

When I was thoroughly covered in crumbs and ran out of nutella to drip on myself, I left my tree behind and took a stroll down Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue), a big pedestrian shopping street. Besides foot traffic, there’s an old trolley that runs along the route. It’s kind of cool, but if you’re going for speed, I think it would be way faster to just walk. With how long it takes for people to move out of the way of the trolley, it moves along at a snail’s pace.

Independence Avenue. If it looks very European to you, that was no accident. It burned down in 1870, and the rebuilding was somewhat modeled off of famous streets in Paris.

I had a few churches that I wanted to check out in the area. It does almost seem like there are more churches in that neighborhood than mosques. Maybe that’s not true though. It could be that just none of the famous mosques are around there, and that’s basically where all of the churches are.

Church of St. Anthony. See what I mean about “local flavor”?

The most well-known church (I just made that up) along the road is the Church of Saint Anthony, a huge Roman Catholic church. The first church was built on its site in 1725, but the building that stands today is from 1912. The modern-day church was rebuilt to replace the earlier church that was demolished to build a tramway. I really liked the outside because I felt like it had a little local flavor. So often, churches look the same no matter where they’re built, so I liked that this one seemed to fit. The inside was pretty typical (and kind of forgettable to be honest), but I’ll take what I can get.

Inside the church… sadly somewhat underwhelming

There was some nice stained glass though

I’m not a huge fan of the blue/purple lighting.

Greek Orthodox Church

I made two other church stops in the neighborhood. The first was Hagia Triada, a Greek Orthodox church that was built in 1880 and was the very first domed church allowed to be built in Istanbul. During the Istanbul pogrom in 1955, mob attacks were directed primarily at the Greek population, and rioters attempted to burn the church down. It was pillaged and damaged but remained standing, despite having kerosene poured on it. It was restored, and thank goodness because it’s beautiful. The ceilings, in particular, are pretty fabulous. I also have some good feelings towards the church because someone invited me to Easter services the next day (now you know how far behind I am with writing), and while I didn’t end up going there, their offer was what I needed to motivate me to find an English-speaking church to go to.

Greek Orthodox Church

Altar of the Greek Orthodox Church

Inside the dome

Second, I stopped in at Surp Hovhan Vosgeperan Armenian Catholic Church (quite the mouthful). It has a somewhat similar history to the Greek church… It was originally built in 1837, was destroyed and burned down, and was rebuilt in 1863. One thing that I noticed while visiting these churches was how much security they have (aka they have more than the zero security that most churches have), and now I understand. I guess that’s what happens after people burn and loot the church.

The Armenian Catholic Church

This used to be a little market, and now it’s filled with shops and restaurants that are definitely out of my price range.

Random mural I found in my backstreet wanderings

My last major destination of the day was Galata Tower. The first tower built on this spot was by the Byzantines in 507, it was made of wood, and they called it the Great Tower. In the 1300s, it was rebuilt in stone and was called the Tower of Christ. During the Ottoman years, it was used first as a dungeon and later as a fire tower. Now, it’s an incredibly claustrophobic tourist attraction. I’m not exaggerating.

First, you have to wait in a painfully long line to get in (I had to wait an hour, and I have a feeling that’s not even as bad as it gets). Then, you get whisked to the middle-ish of the tower in an elevator… and then you have to walk to the top up some narrow, spiraling stairs. At the top, there’s a restaurant where you can eat if you like to look at people’s backs (because there are windows, but there are so many people on the walkway outside that you’re not going to see any sort of pretty view while you’re eating).

Galata Tower

Stairs up the tower

There’s also a walkway around the tower that is just wide enough for one person to press their body against the rail and have enough space for someone else to pass behind them. You’re supposed to walk around it clockwise, but of course there are always those people who decide they should go against the grain and walk the other direction. And then there are the people who stop walking and block the entire walkway while doing so. I went around twice, and about halfway through the second time, I started regretting my decision because I was getting a little claustrophobic and about ready to start smacking people (don’t worry, I controlled myself). For reference, I don’t get claustrophobic easily. I think it was the combination of the frustration at not being able to walk and the people bumping into me and the fact that once I wanted to get out, I couldn’t.

On the positive side, the view really was spectacular. I was there as the sun started setting, so I got to see the city turn from daytime Istanbul to dusk Istanbul. I thought I might stay for the whole sunset, but once I made it to the end of my second round, I wanted nothing more than to be on the ground again.

Views from the tower

I was just enjoying the view from the top of the tower when this girl came up and said that she took a really good picture of me. She asked if I wanted it, and my thought was, “Well, if you’re going to have this picture of me, then yeah, I want it too.” So I said yes, and here it is. Then she asked me to take the same picture of her.

Funky street staircase

To get back to my hostel, I had to go back across the water to Old Town. I walked on Galata Bridge which is a pretty cool spot, especially at night. There are two levels to the bridge. The top has fishermen lining the railings at what seems like every hour of the day and night. The bottom is full of restaurants, and while it seems like a bit of a hazard to have a bunch of fishing lines flying over the walkway in front of the restaurants, no one asked me for my opinion. It would be funny if when you ordered a seafood dish from one of the restaurants, the fishermen above pulled it straight out of the water for you. Can’t get much fresher than that! Even though that doesn’t actually happen, you can buy fish sandwiches on and near the bridge that are made from super-fresh fish.

Fishermen still going, despite the fact that it’s getting dark

Nighttime river view

Looking towards the old town side of the river

Since I’m not a fish person, I didn’t do that. Instead, I wandered down this big food street near the hostel, I imagine looking something like a zombie. I walked all the way down the street without seeing anywhere I wanted to eat… and when I got to the end, I remembered that I was starving, and not finding a dinner spot was not an option. So, I turned around and walked back down the street, attracting the attention of one of the restaurant’s yell-at-you-as-you-walk-by people. He tried to get my attention the first time I walked by, and I successfully ignored him. This time, I didn’t have the energy. He told me that he would give me a chicken kebab platter for 15 lira instead of the 20 lira listed in the menu (20 lira was about $5 at the time). I knew 20 was high and figured 15 was reasonable. Plus, if I decided to eat there, I didn’t have to walk around hungry anymore. Okay, deal.

Maybe it’s just because I was starving, but I think that platter was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten (okay, it was definitely good, but I think the “best food I’ve ever eaten” statement comes from the fact that moments before that, my stomach was eating itself). I guess the guy took a liking to me during the course of the meal because when I asked for the bill, he told me not to worry about it. I couldn’t accept that though, so I insisted on paying SOMETHING at least, and he agreed to 10 lira. Imagine that, one second I’m bargaining for a lower price and the next I’m bargaining for a higher one. Interesting turn of events.

This isn’t the one I had that night (I was too busy scarfing it down to take a picture), but here’s another kebab platter that’s pretty similar to what I got… definitely not an insignificant amount of food. There was rice, salad, a basket of bread, and lots of kebab.

Anyway, my punishment was successful. By the time I got back to the hostel, I was ready to collapse. I had to pull myself together quickly, though, because the next day’s schedule was no less grueling!

Dolmabahce Palace

Following my unexpected Bursa excursion, I went into a mini-panic because I only had three more days in Istanbul, and there was so much more that I wanted to do and see. My days of going out with only a half-baked plan were behind me, and I made myself an ambitious schedule for the days ahead.

I decided to go north for day 7 and try to visit all of the things on my list in the northern part of the Europe side of the city. The first of those destinations was Dolmabahce Palace (pronounced dol-ma-bah-che), another Ottoman palace that was built after Topkapi. This one is more of a traditional palace in that it’s on these big palace grounds and there’s one primary building, whereas Topkapi is more spread out and has courtyards instead of exterior gardens.

Why can’t every season be spring? I was loving the flowering trees on the grounds.

In fact, Dolmabahce was built with the intention of being more similar to the “typical” European palace. Sultan Abdulmecid I decided that a new palace was necessary because Topkapi was “medieval” and lacked the style and luxury of the palaces of other European monarchs. I can’t say that I walked through Topkapi and thought for even an instant, “Hm… I mean, this is nice and all, but it’s a little medieval for my liking. It could be more luxurious because at the moment, only 30% of the ceiling is covered in gold leaf and I think it would be better at 80%.” But then, of course, I’m also not royalty so maybe that’s why my vision for these types of things is inadequate.

Pretty, pretty.

Weird fountain.

Next to the clock museum on the grounds.

Anyway, once Sultan Abdulmecid decided that he needed a new palace, his court architects got down to business designing it. Fun fact… the architects were Armenian. The Balyan family served as court architects in the Ottoman Empire for five generations! That’s pretty cool. Nine different family members served six different sultans. They designed a huge number of palaces, mosques, Armenian churches, and public buildings in the empire during the 18th and 19th centuries. Garabet Balyan and one of his sons worked on Dolmabahce.

Walking around the gardens

The palace and my attempt to cover up the construction scaffolding with a tree.

Gate of the Treasury

Another sea gate. They never got less picturesque.

Want to venture a guess at how much Dolmabahce cost to build at today’s money value? More than $1.5 BILLION. Yeah, that’s right. Billion. Did they have enough money for this? Not quite… This was ¼ of the annual tax revenue in the empire. It was built at a time when finances were already becoming a bit of a problem, but the sultan wanted to make a statement that everything was fine, and the empire was as strong as ever. What better way to do that than to spend an exorbitant amount on a frivolous construction project?

This other building on the grounds now holds an art museum (I think)

Me, a weirdly green pool, and the palace.

I love these things… Shower caps for your feet so that you don’t damage the floors!
I always think they look like little elf shoes.

The palace is like the anti-tiny house. You know how people these days are all into minimalism and not taking up more space than they need? The sultans were totally not on the same page. There are 285 rooms, 46 halls, 6 baths, and 68 toilets in the palace. You know, just in case every wife, girlfriend, and child in the family simultaneously decided to find an empty room to sit in.

Between 1856 and 1924, six sultans used the palace as their residence. After that, it was used as a summer residence by Ataturk, the first president of the republic, and now it’s a museum. You’re not allowed to take pictures inside of course, but I kind of feel like Turkey owes me something, so I didn’t feel bad sneaking a few.

Excuse the crookedness of these interior pictures… that’s what happens when you take discreet pictures.

Every single room is like this. Nothing was left un-embellished.


Honestly, I can’t even begin to describe the interior of the palace. It’s one of those places where you could spend a month in each room, and even then you wouldn’t have enough time to take in the full splendor. The details are insane. I think I had a crick in my neck by the time I left because I spent so much time staring up at the incredible ceilings. Guess how much gold was used in the gilding of the ceilings? I almost don’t even want to say because it’s too ridiculous. Fourteen tons. Like… what?!?! The extent of my notes for the entire visit was “gold leaf radiators”. Honestly, I think that says more than enough. Why do you need gold leaf radiators???

This other building on the grounds now holds an art museum (I think)

The exterior

What is a garden without some hardcore landscaping?

There were two rooms in particular that I could have spent the rest of my life in. The first was a staircase, and trust me when I say that it’s the most beautiful staircase in the universe. You can look up pictures of the Dolmabahce Palace crystal staircase if you don’t believe me or if you just want to see how marvelous it is. The balusters (the vertical posts that support the railing) are all made of crystal, there’s a crystal chandelier hanging in the middle, and the ceiling/roof is made of translucent glass that floods the space with light. Besides all of that, the surrounding ceilings are amazing. I think I stood in that staircase so long that the guard had time to get a little suspicious of me and then get un-suspicious again because I spent the entire time not touching anything and just staring up with my eyes wide and my jaw dropped.

Entering into the Ceremonial Hall

The other room was the Ceremonial Hall, and I think that my parents’ entire house could fit inside that single room like 15 times. Does anyone really need such a room?? But “need” isn’t exactly the motivating word in these situations, so I’ll stop trying to make sense of things and instead just enjoy the masterpieces that resulted from too much money and too big egos. The world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier hangs in the hall, and it weighs 4.5 tons. Ha. The ceilings though… they’re something else. I did manage to sneak an illegal picture of those though, so it’s your lucky day. Don’t turn me in.

Ceiling of the Ceremonial Hall

The grounds surrounding the palace are also quite nice, though they aren’t nearly as big in area as the Topkapi courtyards. It’s right on the Bosphorus, so there are gates that lead directly to the water. The view on the day I went was beautiful because, for once, I was smart and visited an outdoor space when the weather was nice. Imagine that.

Pretty flowers ❤

Okay just one more…

Beautiful day!

The Bosphorus

Me with a gate to the Bosphorus

Nearby, there are two other Dolmabahce-related structures. The first is a clock tower just outside the gates, and it was designed by Sarkis Balyan, son of Garabed. It cost $350 million in today’s currency which is, in my opinion, a VERY reasonable amount of money to spend on a clock. You know what they say, time is money!

The second is a mosque designed by Garabed. It was originally commissioned by Sultan Abdulmecid’s mother, and he continued the work after her death. As a result, the building has a bit of a feminine quality to it. The towers are more slender than those of other mosques, and there’s a lightness and delicacy to the design that goes beyond what is seen in most mosques.

Dolmabahce clock tower

The clock tower, and you can see the tower of the mosque in the background.

See how slender the towers are as compared to other mosques?

That’s some serious dome detail!

Inside Dolmabahce Mosque

After visiting the palace, clock tower, and mosque, I felt like I had adequately seen the Dolmabahce collection. I still had a lot more to see, though, so I kept moving!

To be continued for now… I don’t want to overload you (any more than I already have, that is).


While there are plenty of negatives to not having a plan when you’re travelling (many of them clearly displayed in Istanbul days 1-5, such as being unprepared, inefficient, and uninformed), there are also some positives. One of the biggest positives is flexibility. When you don’t have a plan to stick to, you can take opportunities as they come.

After my long day at Topkapi Palace, I spent some time hanging out in the common area of the hostel, trying to warm up and enjoying sitting down for a change. I started talking to this guy who told me about his plans to take a day trip to Bursa the following day. I didn’t have anything figured out, so I thought “why not?” and asked him if I could join. Voila! Just like that, plans!

I knew nothing about Bursa. You’re shocked, I’m sure. I kind of thought that the guy would know something about it because he had the idea to go there, but I soon found out that he didn’t really know anything either. Great haha. He had a couple of places that he wanted to visit, but otherwise, we were just going to go with the flow.

View of Bursa

It’s estimated that the first settlement in the area was around 5200 BC. Bursa spent time as part of the Roman Empire, and when it was captured by the Ottomans, they made it their capital city from 1335-1363. The city grew rapidly during this period, and even after the capital was moved, Bursa remained an important part of the empire as a center for silk trading. As we all know from our visit to Topkapi, the Ottoman royals had expensive taste which means that the silk needs of the palaces were plentiful.

Today, Bursa is an industrial hub and the fourth most populated city in Turkey (after Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir).  The city is nicknamed “Green Bursa” because it’s dotted with parks and other green spaces, and it’s surrounded by forests and a fertile plain. There are also mountains around the city, and any city where you can see mountains in the distance gets at least 100 extra “cool points”, in my personal opinion (and also the opinion of anyone who knows anything about assigning cool points to cities).

One of the famous Bursa parks. We even saw a horse grazing here (I was too busy gaping to take a picture). Plus mountains in the distance.

Pretty city

Despite my lack of knowledge about the city, I was excited to see a slightly less touristy side of Turkey. Bursa is still a relatively popular tourist destination, but “relatively popular” is nothing in comparison to Istanbul.

Since I was tagging along, my plan was to, well, tag along. I didn’t assert myself too much when it came to making decisions about the day because I was already imposing, and I wanted him to feel like he could do whatever he was planning to do. If I had been in charge, I would have set a painfully early departure time (for reference, at this phase in my life, “painfully early” = anytime before 8AM which yes, I’m aware, is ridiculous), looked up the ferry schedule beforehand, and figured out exactly how to get from point A to point B so that there would be no surprises. I guess I assumed that other people are similar to me… and you know what they say about assuming.

Headed to the ferry

Entrance to Koza Han

My travel buddy was almost TOO go-with-the-flow. He was like, “I was thinking about leaving around 10.” Okay, I thought. Seems kind of late but I’ll go with it. I’ll spare you all of the details, but in summary, we definitely should have left earlier in the day. We had to walk to the ferry terminal, buy a ticket for the next ferry, take a 1.5 hour ride to the coastal town nearest Bursa, and ride the bus/metro from there into the city center. That whole thing took like 3-4 hours with the actual transit from Istanbul to Bursa city center taking around 2.5.

By the time we made it there, we only had a few hours to wander around before we had to start heading back to catch the return ferry. Not ideal, but I was still happy to be in a new setting seeing some new things, so I was determined to make the most of our time.

Our first stop was Koza Han which was the historic location of Bursa’s silk market. It’s a two-story rectangular building with a big interior courtyard. The architecture is typical Ottoman style and is beautiful with its domes and arches. Today, the building’s 95 rooms house silk shops, souvenir shops, and a bunch of restaurants and cafes that fill the central courtyard with tables. I had no idea what to expect, and I definitely didn’t think it was going to be so fantastic. I guess the word “market” makes me think of folding tables and tarps strung up above tables to shield customers from the sun rather than a proper, permanent marketplace.

In the courtyard of Koza Han

The 2nd floor walkway, lined with silk and souvenir shops

View from the second floor

Looking into the courtyard

Square outside of the market

It was so warm out that I was about ready to jump into that fountain, the water looked so nice!

Near the market

On the way to Koza Han

Oh yeah, and the walk there was also a bit unexpected. I plotted a route from the metro stop to Koza Han without any clue about what was along the way. It turned out that most of the walk was on this massive pedestrian market street called the “Long Bazaar”. It was PACKED with people, and if I wasn’t enjoying people-watching so much, I might have wished that it was a little calmer.

Right next to Koza Han is the Grand Mosque of Bursa, or Ulu Camii, built in the late 1390s. It’s the biggest mosque in Bursa which is already enough to make it worth a visit, but there’s also an uncommon interior feature – a fountain, directly in the center of the mosque.

Fountain inside the mosque

There’s one of those “maybe true or maybe not but told like it’s fact” stories associated with the construction of the mosque and the strange addition of the fountain. The story goes that the Ottoman Sultan wanted to build a grand mosque for Bursa, the capital at the time. He started buying plots of land, but one old woman repeatedly refused to sell… and her property, of course, was in the very center of the site. When the woman died, her land was acquired, and construction of the mosque finally moved forward. She didn’t leave a will or anything, so legally, no one knew her final intentions for her property. To avoid the risk of having people pray on potentially illegitimately acquired land, the architects were directed to place a fountain there. In another version of the story, the woman had a dream that finally changed her mind, and after she sold the land, the fountain was built there in her honor.

Another fountain view

Dome over the fountain

Some of the paintings inside were very nice

The mosque is HUGE!

So much space, and it seemed like all of it was being used! There were tourists, people praying, kids running around, moms hanging out, people studying and reading… it was like a community center.

After leaving the Grand Mosque, we had just enough time to make it to another well-known mosque in the city, the Green Mosque (Yesil Camii), before having to head to the metro and start our trek back to the hostel. This mosque was built in 1424 by Sultan Mehmet I and gets its name from, you guessed it, the green color of the interior décor.

Another covered market that we happened to stumble into. So many Turkish flags!

Window at the end of the market

We wove our way through the streets, only getting lost maybe once or twice… no comment on who was navigating (it was me)… before arriving at the mosque JUST as afternoon prayer was starting. Perfect timing… NOT!

Since I’m a woman and the women in that mosque have a separate prayer room (sometimes it’s within the same central space but is along the side or in a balcony or something, but this time it was a whole separate room), I couldn’t go in to see the main sanctuary while prayer was happening. I was happy to be able to just look in the window though. The details were all spectacular!

If we had all the time in the world, we would have waited around until prayer time was over and we could wander around as we pleased. Since we absolutely did not have all the time in the world, we had to run out before it was over, and I had to be content with my through-the-window views (not so bad, honestly, but that does mean I don’t have any interior pictures… okay actually I have no pictures because I completely forgot to take some of the outside. It was hectic when we got there, and we were in a rush when we left. Oops).

This weirdo building is the “Panorama Conquest Museum” which tells the story of the conquest of Bursa and the foundation of the Ottoman Empire.

Thankfully, everything after that went without a hitch. We made our way to the closest metro station, rode the metro to the end, hopped on a bus, rode again to the very end, and collapsed onto the ferry in exhaustion. Despite getting back to the hostel around 9PM, it felt like midnight (for all you party animals out there who think that midnight is like midday, I like to go to bed at about 10PM… so midnight is extremely late). Definitely not the most relaxing of days, but I’m glad that I managed to see a tiny bit of the country beyond Istanbul!

On the way back to Istanbul, most of the ride was accompanied by cute/funny cat videos. I know that people are really into those right now, but I never would have expected to see them played as legitimate entertainment during transit…

Topkapi Palace

I was feeling ambitious on Istanbul Day 5. I made this long list of things that I wanted to visit, and I didn’t think it through at all. I mean, at the time, I thought I was thinking it through, but that was using the incredibly limited information that I had in my brain.

The major planned destination was Topkapi Palace, a former palace of the Ottoman sultans. The weather wasn’t very good, but I heard the word “palace” and very mistakenly thought that corresponded to “good rainy-day activity”. Anyone who has done one millisecond of research about Topkapi would tell you that’s definitely not true because the palace prominently features four very large courtyards. Uncovered courtyards. Aka outside. Aka when it rains, it will rain on you. Brilliant, Lara.

Model of the palace compound. Note the many outdoor spaces.

Even after realizing that maybe I hadn’t planned things out perfectly, I pressed on because I was just happy that I managed to make a plan at all. You don’t go messing with the plan when you have nothing to replace it with. I mean, now I would happily offer multiple ways that I could have reworked my schedule to better accommodate the weather, but hindsight’s 20/20 and as we’ve seen, my foresight was essentially blind. Literally the only commendable planning I did that day was deciding to take my raincoat and the plastic bag I modified to cover my backpack when it’s raining. Better than nothing I suppose.

In the second courtyard, there are all of these hollow trees. They’re still alive, but at some point they got an infection that ate their insides.

The hill where Topkapi is located was once the home to the Greek acropolis during the Byzantine years with huge temples dedicated to the Greek gods. During the years of Roman rule, these temples were repurposed but eventually started to fall into ruin. After the Ottoman conquest of the city, a palace was constructed in place of the temples from 1460-1478AD.

In the years that followed, the palace was gradually expanded and was home to the Ottoman sultans and their court until the 1850s. At that point, it was no longer able to adequately support the ceremonial needs of the government, and Dolmabahce Palace was built. Despite the end of use as a royal residence, it continued to operate as the imperial treasury, library, and mint and host state ceremonies until it was converted into a museum in 1924 after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

The palace has a prime location on the tip of the Istanbul Peninsula and covers somewhere between 590,000 and 700,000 square meters (145-175 acres). The general layout of the palace is four courtyards surrounded by various rooms and structures, and as you move from one courtyard to the next, the spaces get increasingly more private.

The first courtyard, or the Parade Court, is massive. I came in the side entrance which doesn’t have an epic gate or anything, so I didn’t initially realize that I was inside the palace compound. It’s mostly a huge open space with a few randomly scattered buildings including a church, Hagia Irene, the very first church built in Constantinople. It was the head of the Byzantine Orthodox Church until the completion of the Hagia Sophia. Hagia Irene is one of the only churches that wasn’t converted to a mosque during Ottoman times. Instead, it was used as the armory for the palace. (Fair warning – get ready for a TON of pictures in this post.)

The Fountain of Ahmed III, a public drinking fountain located just outside the Imperial Gate

The Imperial Gate

The first courtyard

Hagia Irene

The Gate of Salutation leads into the second courtyard and the beginning of the main palace. The second courtyard was home to the administrative buildings and palace kitchens. The courtyard itself was also used for ceremonies. Now, the museum houses exhibitions about the palace kitchens, weaponry, and clocks and has some extravagant rooms that you can poke around.

The Gate of Salutation. Only the sultan was allowed to ride through this gate on his horse. Everyone else had to dismount first.

This ground is uneven because underneath it is a cistern! One of the many in the city (though not as big as the Basilica Cistern)

I was completely mesmerized by the kitchens exhibit. It’s always incredible how many people it takes to maintain the lifestyles of various rulers. At its height, there were 10,000 people living and working in the palace, and there were 1,300 working in the kitchen to feed everyone!

Crazy ceilings in the kitchens!

Daily, the cooks had to prepare meals for 4000-5000 people. Four times a year, a meal was prepared for 15,000 soldiers as well. Imagine being in charge of planning THAT meal! Eek!

This picture made me laugh because it shows how many attendants the sultan had at a meal. The head servant guy (official name) laid the table, had the food brought from the kitchen, placed it on the table, and removed the lid. Other servants were specifically assigned to bread, drinking water, dishwashing, trays, fruit, and pickles. Yes, someone was in charge of pickles. There were people to help him wash his hands and hold the towel for him to dry them. Another brought the coffee and another brought the sherbet. Besides all of those people serving him, he also had people entertaining him. All of that for one dude to eat a meal.

They had some interesting records that showed menus from different years, supply orders, etc. They really put things into perspective. Ready for this? Here’s a list of the palace’s meat consumption in 1184:

985,000kg mutton
2335 yearling lambs
4452 lambs
17,600 large intestines (eek!)
3,700 abomasums (one of the stomachs of cattle, sheep, etc.)
162,370 sheep’s feet (FEET??)
1120 livers
16,800 kidneys
31,390 sheep’s heads (what are you doing with all of those sheep’s heads????)

They also had a crazy amount of Chinese porcelain. I laughed at one caption that said during the month of Ramadan, the sultans ate from porcelain dishes instead of gold and silver. WOW. Really depriving themselves of the finer things in life.

So much porcelain! I must have looked at like 20 different porcelain sets. I think I spent most of my time shaking my head in disbelief, like when I read a description of one of them that said it was a gift from the Russian Czar Nicholas I and had 2000 pieces. 2000!!!
Total, there are more than 10,000 pieces of porcelain in the museum’s collection, and according to records, there used to be over 16,000 pieces

My favorite list, though, was a list of spoons purchased in 1839. Just spoons. They were made from all sorts of different materials: tortoiseshell, walrus ivory, walnut, ebony, horn, pistachio wood, and more. The list is not short, and I’m mostly just confused because how many spoons do you really need?

The next exhibit was weaponry which I’m not that interested in, but a lot of it was just ceremonial and as a result VERY decorative.

Quiver for arrows. Isn’t the inlay beautiful?

You can’t really tell how big this middle sword is from the picture, but it’s at least as tall as I am. My question: who the heck is this sword for? A giant??

Because who doesn’t need a bejeweled stirrup?

When just putting in a door isn’t quite extravagant enough…
This is the entrance to the Imperial Council

Imperial Council ceilings

The description of this column says that it was erected to commemorate Selim III’s shooting of a jug from 898 meters away using a rifle. Maybe that’s impressive, I don’t really know, but the fact that there was a column erected to commemorate something that sounds so stupid fits perfectly with the over-the-top-ness of the entire palace.

The third courtyard was much more private and was surrounded by the living quarters of the page boys who served the sultan.

Third courtyard

This courtyard is also the location of an exhibit showing various religious artifacts including some of the most random things in the universe. These include the saucepan of Abraham, Joseph’s turban (Old Testament Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers and ended up working for the Pharaoh), David’s sword, Moses’s staff, John the Baptist’s arm (ew), a footprint of Muhammad and a piece of one of his teeth. You get the idea.

Ceiling outside the chamber of petitions where people would come, bring gifts, and ask the sultan for things while he lounged

Outside the chamber of petitions

Library of Ahmed III

Illegal ceiling pic. I felt okay taking it even though I wasn’t supposed to because the things they really didn’t want you to photograph were the artifacts in the room. I just wanted a picture of the ceiling!

The fourth courtyard had the best tiles in the whole palace, and it was filled with various pavilions and commemorative buildings.

Building in the fourth courtyard. Honestly, I have no idea what it’s for.

Gulhane Gate leading out of the fourth courtyard

Baghdad Pavilion, again commemorating a military campaign. These people really couldn’t do anything without building a trophy for themselves.

Ceiling of Baghdad Pavilion

Inside Baghdad Pavilion

Feeling nice and warm and enjoying the amazing view…

So many selfies with tile walls because I LOVE THEM

Brace yourselves for lots of pretty tiles

Revan Pavilion, built to commemorate a military victory

Inside Revan Pavilion

Best hallway in the palace

Entrance to the circumcision room… which makes this seem like a strange place to take a picture, but let’s ignore the room’s purpose and just focus on the tiles


View of the Bosphorus from the fourth courtyard


Inside the barracks of the palace guards

The Harem is the most private part of the palace, and it’s where the sultans and their families lived. Residents included the sultan, his mom (the Queen Mother), his wives (he could have up to four), concubines (female slaves), favorites (the Sultan’s girlfriends), eunuch guards, and the children.


The Queen Mother was basically in charge of the sultan’s social life. She decided who socialized with him and which women he could have relations with. The eunuchs were slaves brought from Africa to help guard the harem, and their genitals were removed.

The rooms in the harem were generally spectacular. I think my jaw dropped every single time I walked into a new room. You’d think I would have started to expect it, but I never did. I would walk in, stare in amazement at the rooms for way longer than anyone else (most people just walked in, click clicked a couple pictures, and walked out again), take a few pictures, and then walk into the next room and repeat. I think it’s a shame when people only see things from behind their cameras. Take a second to enjoy things with your eyes, people! Sorry, mini rant…

Here’s a tour in photos and captions:

Barracks again. Pretty fancily decorated, huh?

Outside the barracks

Ceiling in one of the barrack bathhouse rooms

This room was labeled as “hall with fountain” aka “the fanciest waiting room you’ve ever seen”

Courtyard of the eunuchs

This is where the eunuch apartments were

The Queen Mother apartments. I was obsessed with this room because see all of the paintings on the wall? They’re completely flat but are so well done that they look 3D

The Imperial Hall… There’s really no way to communicate the grandness of this room through pictures

This wasn’t even a room… more of just a transition space

Courtyard of the Favorites (aka housing for the sultan’s girlfriends)

My day at the palace was long and VERY cold, but also awesome. I mean, it definitely could have been more awesome if I had checked the weather, but we won’t think about that. I had plans to go to another museum after I finished at the palace, but I ended up spending more than 5 hours there which meant that everything was closed by the time I made it out. Oops. I think it’s better to do a few things thoroughly, though, rather than a bunch of things halfway.