Tag Archives: culture

A Little London Trip

 

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Last week I had the pleasure of a paid trip to London.

I made the most of the last evening and morning there by seeing my cousins and visiting the National Gallery.

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Looking at masterpieces from around the United Kingdom is always enjoyable and there is always something to catch the eye of someone creative such as myself.

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Copyright literarylydi. Can you guess what famous painting this is and the artist?

I almost always forget my sketch book. Once again, I bought one. I only had an hour. I just managed to do a quick sketch in that time. When I finished and put the book down, I heard a collective gasp from a group of school kids age 6-7. “How did you do that?!!” a girl asked. “Practice”, I replied. “You can do art like this if you practice.” Another girl said “I have loads of sketches in my art book”. “Keep practicing!” I said, “it’s a lot better than watching TV”. Hopefully I inspired a future artist. I wanted to go to art school after sixth form, but my mum persuaded me that it was not a stable career and I am grateful for her for encouraging me to pursue a more stable existence.

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I dislike the stress, rudeness, noise, crowded and polluted conditions in London. People would push past you constantly, even if there was plenty of room. Time is money and everyone has somewhere to be urgently. Travelling on the tube in the rush hour was an awful experience and made me feel ill. It was hot, smelly, dirty and uncomfortable. I had to jump on and hope people made way for me, it was the only way to travel. I try to walk where I can, it’s a much better experience and there is so much to see. Each area of London has its own identity, a patchwork quilt of little villages, with their own history and culture.

It was a relief to return to my city with it’s clean cool air, smiling people and relaxed atmosphere. It is true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I was so happy to be home.

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Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square

 

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November 18, 2018 · 8:59 pm

Birmingham Christmas Market

What I love about Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas market is its size, diversity and atmosphere.

It is the largest Christmas market outside of Germany or Austria and it takes place in their main square, as it has for 15 years. I had a Baileys hot chocolate and two “Christmas” shots. I also tried the German mini pancakes, a waffle and a hot dog.

Enjoying the merry go-round were people from all backgrounds and cultures, including a man wearing a taqiyah, a man wearing a turban and a woman wearing a hijab.

Get down there and enjoy it. It runs until 23 December.

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November 18, 2018 · 8:30 pm

London Laughing with Katherine Ryan

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Katherine Ryan is a Canadian single mum to a 9 year-old girl. They live in a flat in London with a “glitter room” and a “floral” room. She’s also one of the best comedians in the UK.

After a four and half hour coach journey I couldn’t wait to get off the smelly thing to see my friend. Sarah works in a pharmaceutical sales company. She is so organized that when we went to Vietnam she had a spreadsheet for the hotels and one for the flights.

The journey to her new place was supposed to take half an hour. Unfortunately at least three tube lines were having improvement works, so the Circle line was out. I needed to take the District Line (the green one) to Parsons Green, but it didn’t go that far. So I tried to take a taxi, but I was near the Chelsea football ground. It just happened to be Chelsea vs Liverpool, so all the taxis were cancelling on me because roads were blocked off.

Finally I stopped one the traditional way. The charming cabbie said he wasn’t going to work that day because of the match. I was so relieved to be rescued after hours of trudging around with all my bags.

The space and light in Sarah’s flat was lovely after the dark cramped coach. We compared rents and she couldn’t believe how little I pay in comparison. She had a lovely terrace with a city view. I enjoyed sipping tea there in the morning.

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We got to the venue at Leicester Square through the excited evening crowds. I treated myself a Kir Royale cocktail and we settled down for the concert. There was a lovely vocal performance from the London Gay Mens Chorus with intricate acapella arrangements.

Katherine Ryan was hilarious. She was a natural, sourcing material from people in the crowd. It was very engaging. She somehow found someone from her home town in Canada and a single mum of three boys. She is 35 and probably earns a pretty packet.

The Garrick Theatre was a cosy venue, you felt like you were in her sitting room. It was at least half an hour before Katherine started recycling her gags but she created new material on the spot too. Have a look at her on YouTube. Sarah and I appreciate her fearless feminist ethos and gutsy life perspective. She makes us feel empowered and inspired. Catch her on her Glitter Room tour.

I also went to a dress agency near my friend’s flat. It was run by a charming Iranian woman and savvy saleswoman, who talked me into buying two designer dresses and a jacket which I thought was nice for social occasions but which my Chelsea-based sister has said is only suitable for interviews. I grimaced at the handbags made out of every kind of animal and the furs, from mink to fox. I got an embroidered blue wool dress which was so vintage it was actually made in the 1950s and an Italian leather and suede red and black dress, which I wore for the concert. Sadly, the wool dress shrunk as soon as I hand-washed it, and the other items are dry clean only.

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The vintage wool dress

On Sunday morning I went out for brunch with Sarah and my sister and then visited my sister’s new flat.

I was hoping to do something touristy for the rest of the day, but Sarah wanted to go to the gym. She was tired from moving flats and needed a boost. For her, this involves slogging it out at the gym. For me it is going to a coffee shop and having a brew. Each to their own.

I felt better for her boot camp gym workout. She is a natural personal trainer, shouting “no pain no gain!” and “come on, you’re not done yet!” as I groaned under the strain. I wrestled with a 10 kg weight while she did a 20 kg weight for the same time. She looks petite and dainty but this is just an illusion. She could snap your wrist with one hand.

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For 2019, I am planning a holiday to Chile next summer for the solar eclipse. Watch this space…

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My friend and my sister

 

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Beer-lin at Christmas

December was a busy month with trips to Birmingham, Berlin, Lancaster, Norwich and Great Yarmouth and a visit from my cousins, where I cooked for five for the first time.

I learnt that you need to have everything prepared and ready to go for the day of the visit. I spent that morning scouring local farms for turkey, only to be told that it had to be ordered in advance. I was saved by a pre-prepared one at Waitrose.

There was so much to see and do in Berlin. The city had a festive atmosphere with Christmas lights and markets. Temperatures were close to zero so my thermals came in handy.

Hotel Indigo was comfortable, clean and stylish and was lovely to return to after a day on our feet. We had an executive room with a balcony and we wrapped up to admire the view.

It was easy to get around using the S-Bahn and U-Bahn train systems. The U-Bahn is the Underground. You have to get your ticket stamped by the machine or you can be fined.

Transport links from Schönefeld airport were dismal, perhaps the reason for its rating on Google of under 3 stars. We were shattered after our budget airline experience featuring the usual lengthy queues. I nearly fell over as I had labyrinthitis – an inner-ear infection causing balance issues and disorientation. I had just started swimming again and medical opinion was that it had pushed infection further into my ear. Luckily it was the last 24 hours of it.

There was a long walk to the train station which was a vast concrete space with confusing German signposting to unfamiliar areas and some omnipotent machines. You needed to have the right amount of coins as they did not take cards and most did not like notes. Perhaps this is to encourage those in the know to buy at the airport. There were no officials and no information desk. In England there are information points at almost every major station so it was a culture-shock. I’d already been jarred by the lack of warm water in public toilets. Economical efficiency at its best but punishing in winter. Hand-warmers are recommended.

Berlin Photo Tour

Many meals centred around sausages (wurst). This is tasty currywurst.

Many meals centred around sausages (wurst). This is tasty currywurst.

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This pint features the German bear in front of the dome of Berlin’s parliament or Bundestag which is one of the subjects of my next post. Bears first appeared on a city seal (emblem) in 1280. The earliest city seal from 1253 didn’t feature a bear but an eagle, which was the symbol of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, an important part of the Holy Roman Empire that included Berlin. In 1280 the second emblem featured a Brandenburg eagle flanked by two standing bears. When Cölln and Berlin were merged into one city in 1709, the coat of arms featured the bear below two eagles -red for Brandenburg and black for Prussia. By 1875, the bear gained a crown signifying Berlin’s status as a free city.

 

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Schnitzel was nothing special.

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The apple cake was delicious.

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Our walking tour started in front of the Brandenburg Gate, outside Starbucks. It was free if you were heartless but our charismatic guide explained that he lived on donations and 15 Euros was the going rate. It was well worth it as we felt we had seen all the key sights and were fully briefed in the history. All questions were answered.

Just past the Gate on the road is the dividing line of the Wall that divided East and West Berlin until 1989, stretching off into the traffic. Division seems a distant memory, one that many would surely rather forget.

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Today is the 70th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz where over 1 million people died. An estimated 90 per cent of these victims were Jews, with Poles, Romani gypsies, Soviet Prisoners, homosexuals and others deemed “undesirable” making up the hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish victims that were killed at the hands of the Nazis. The death toll is inconceivable. I thought of my grandfather, who liberated and dealt with the aftermath of Bergen-Belsen. Hell on earth. He never spoke of it and it must have been easier to repress than think about. Primo Levi, an Italian Jewish Auschwitz survivor, writer and chemist, remarked  “I am constantly amazed by man’s inhumanity to man” quoting the Robert Burns poem “Man Was Made to Mourn”.  

The Jewish Memorial in Berlin was quite an experience. It was a series of concrete blocks gradually getting taller until you were engulfed by oppressive blank columns trapping you on all sides. You are suddenly in a narrow space overshadowed by heavy grey monoliths leaning towards you which blocked out the light.

It was even more powerful at night. I couldn’t see anything but a gloomy, shadowy passage in front of me. It was eerily silent and you could hardly see the sky.

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You could go on a “Trabi” tour. Trabant cars, affectionately termed “trabis”, were iconic vehicles used by the Soviets of East Berlin. There is a museum for almost everything in Berlin, from those cars to computer science.067

Balloon sightseeing looked fun but freezing. We didn’t get a chance to see the Berlin Wall art but click here for a good website with it.

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Source: ampelmann.de

The East side still retained some differences such as the pedestrian crossing signs which featured a large man in a hat. The design was conceived by a traffic psychologist, Karl Peglau. The thinking behind it was that we react more quickly to appealing symbols.

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The history of a divided East/West Berlin reminded me of North/South Korea. The Russians called the East the Federal Republic and the British, French and Americans named the West the Democratic Republic. The wishful thinking post-War was that both halves would be run harmoniously. But the 1950s saw the fear of Communism explode in the States with witch hunts including even Charlie Chaplin. There were uprisings in the East which were dealt with by the Stasi, the secret police. Around 2.7 million East Berliners defected from 1949 until the Wall was built, with 200,000 leaving the year before in 1960. Reasons for escape were economic, social or political.One reason was the introduction of a collectivization policy in the 1950s. The goal was to consolidate individual land and labour into collective farms in order to increase food supply. But this meant that profits decreased and there were food shortages and riots instead.

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The Wall was publicly built to prevent a war for the city but privately it was

Walter Ubricht (Wikipedia)

Walter Ubricht (Wikipedia)

also to stop the East-West exodus. The East-German leader Walter Ubricht termed it an “Anti-Fascist Protective Rampart” protecting the Federal Republic from “military adventurers”.

The photo above shows border guard Conrad Schumann who left two days after Wall construction began. His fellow soldiers were distracted and he saw his chance. West Berliners encouraged him to jump and after deciding for a moment he went for it. The moment was captured by passing photographer Peter Liebing. The iconic photograph was used as propaganda.

There were some unusual escapes, such as by tightrope-walking and with a car converted to go under the crossing barrier. Many who succeeded were guards, with over 1,300 fleeing in the first two years of the Wall’s construction. This led to the installation of locks and further walls requiring several soldiers to open them.

There was a good exhibition at Nordbahnhof S-geisterbahnhof_21_01606Bahn station about the division of the Underground. Tube trains from the West could pass through Eastern stops but they could not be used and became “ghost” stations. Even here soldiers escaped, so they would be locked in a platform bunker until the end of their shift.

Officially, 136 Berliners died fleeing to the West. Some wanted to earn more money, others were trying to join family members. Friedrichstraße station was nicknamed “The Palace of Tears” as it was the station where East Berliners would have tearful goodbyes to West Berliners returning, unsure when they would be allowed to see them again.

Many casualties were not recorded by the secretive Soviets. But a victims research group called “August 13 Working Group”  has claimed there were more than 1,100 fatalities linked to the division of states. West Berliners used it to fly-tip.

The photo above captures the worst Wall stand-off caused by a senior U.S. diplomat, Lightner Jr (American for Junior, which means son of) wanting to go to the opera in East Berlin. The East Germans demanded to see his passport, which he insisted only Soviet officials had the right to check. He was forced to turn back. Due to the tank stand-off and fervent diplomacy that ensued, officials on both sides were allowed to attend the theatre and the opera over the border. As for Lightner Jr, he went to the performance days later.

This month Stasi records became available online for the first time. The Stasi were Soviet secret police. Their files have been available to their subjects since 1992. But you had to write out for them and there were delays in release. The records were saved by East German citizens who stormed Stasi offices when the Wall fell in 1989. They include the harrowing case of Manfred Smolka, a former East German border guard who was seized, thrown in solitary confinement and guillotined after he escaped to the West.  The Stasi even attempted to recruit Prime Minister Angela Merkel when she was at University.

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Our tour guide was fantastic and we felt like we had been fully briefed on the key history and sights of the city centre.

The German market looked fantastic. To the left is the Concert House where we enjoyed an orchestral and choral Bach performance.

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All photos on this page Copyright literarylydi. Please ask for permission before using. Thank you.

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You must visit Fassbender and Rauch. It’s a chocolate shop with green awnings like Harrods and has confectionary which is just as fancy. There were several iconic buildings made entirely of chocolate. Upstairs in the lift is the restaurant where they do a main meal in chocolate on Monday-Friday. There can be a queue early in the afternoon but it is worth the wait. Their petit-fours look exquisite and are delicious.

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Christmas decoration in Pottsdam, copied nicely in chocolate in Berlin. That city is the subject of my next post, along with more of Berlin.

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January 27, 2015 · 9:21 pm

My First Office Choir

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Last week I was finally added in to a Christmas choir e-mail. I thought I’d give it a go.

I pictured a grand room with a piano. Where would this be in an office block? When I went to the reception, the man said “it’s in Conference room 2, down the corridor to your left”.

In there stood a grey-haired man in a tweed jacket. It was a small room with a long table in it and lots of chairs. That was it. We introduced ourselves and I asked where the toilets were.

“There’s only one on this floor” he replied “disabled loo. It’s down the corridor to your right”. The lights were off and he didn’t know where the switch was, so I went across in the dark. Thankfully the lights were on down the corridor and it was round the corner, past cycling clothes on hangars.

Gradually the room filled and we all sat down. I was surprised as this constricts the diaphragm. Hardly ideal.

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A cleaning lady popped in “is it cold in here? cos the fan’s on, yeah that red light. Press that button if you want it off”.

The lady next to me explained “the boiler broke yesterday”. But the room was so small that it was really warm.

One lady was saying “soprano? sit on that side please”. I am an alto so I was sitting opposite the “enemy”. Sopranos are always more numerous and drown us out. They also get the majority of the tune.

Suddenly a bottle-blonde lady wearing glasses crashed in carrying a massive piece of what looked like metal. She set the keyboard up at the end of the table.

Our choir manager introduced herself. “Sorry if I am patronising” she said, “I last managed a choir about 7 years ago and they were all kids.”

“Do we have any tenors?” None of the three greying men replied. Next to Mr Tweed sat Mr Choirmaster wearing a meticulously ironed black suit and crisp white shirt, with glasses perched on the edge of his nose.

Next to him was Mr Tenor, wearing an imperious expression and sitting bolt upright.

A Scottish lady said “well I’ll just have to be tenor again, like last year”. Jonathan, you’ll have to join me again cos I can’t manage all the low notes”. The bass grumpily agreed.

“Hopefully there’ll be more next week” a lady said, “38 said they were interested but we only have 15 here. Still, that’s a lot more than last year!”orchistra-300x204

“Right has everyone got their orange and green books” The younger manager in the floral summer dress asked. Everyone got their immaculate “Songs for Choir” books out. I was given one by Mr Tenor to share – that hadn’t been on the e-mail.

Suddenly we launched into sight-singing. The petite alto blonde and I were just trying to sing from the same hymn sheet, launching into tunes without a keyboard clue. Us three altos were singing as loudly as possible but we were deafened by the shrill sopranos. We were also singing the wrong notes as neither of us were great at sight-singing. That’s Grade 6 theory and part of the reason I stopped there. We struggled to negotiate the atonal scores of John Rutter. He should have left carols alone.

Mrs Choir Manager said “I can’t play the piano very well so I’m just helping you out with the note bashing”. Later, “oh I can’t play that bit so sing it instead”. At one point Mr Tenor said “oh I have a great example of how this one goes! listen everyone I’ve got a recording of us singing it down the pub”. Mrs Choir Manager tried hard to hide her annoyance as Mr Tenor held his Apple Iphone aloft. The sound was tinny and although we tried to sing along we had to stop after a few bars.

I enjoyed my chaotic choral meeting. If you can hold a tune join one, it’s great fun and a good way to meet people.

Click here to listen to some classic choir carols.

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Introducing Turgutreis

My journey to Turkey started with a trip down to London as we were flying from Luton airport.

To get there I took a bus, two trains, two tubes, a train and then another bus. This was easy to do as links in London are pretty efficient, not as provincial as up North, where bus drivers take breaks every 15 minutes to read The Metro.

It was once I got to the airport that I experienced delay – our plane was late coming in and then this happened next to it…

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The oil spill delayed us by an hour. Green powder was spread all over it and then it was brushed up before we could depart.

When we finally got to Bodrum-Milas airport in Turkey we were tired and I was hungry (I am usually hungry). We got our taxi to the hotel, which was probably the most expensive part of our holiday at 80 Lira each. You divide by about 3 for Sterling so this was about £27 for an hour’s journey to our hotel in Turgutreis. The first thing we noticed was that almost everyone smoked. Our car reeked of it.

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Our hotel was lovely, having been built on the site of an old hotel only a year or two before. It was very modern and featured a spa, indoor and outdoor pool and private pier which we later jumped off to go snorkelling. But tonight I needed dinner before bed. Luckily there was a family-run outdoor diner just next to the hotel. I had some kebabs bursting full of flavour next to a Turkish family who were having dinner with their little one at about midnight.

 

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The next morning after a great sleep I opened the curtain to heaven on earth. Before us was the light blue of the pool and just in front of that the darker blue of the sea framed by the sun blazing down from the bright sky. I went onto the balcony and was dazzled. The light was so bright that my camera malfunctioned and all the pictures that day came out white. We spent most of that day getting accustomed to the brightness, squinting British tourists sweating in the sunlight.

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We thought we’d take in the local village and the new culture. It was a 15 minute walk away and we could walk along the seafront to get there.

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We saw lots of dogs and a few cats, both pets and strays.

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We passed a lot of cafes and restaurants with shouts of “hey bella take a look at our menu” “hello how are you English?”.

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Turkish delight

We also went down a street with tourist tack shops and also a bakers and tailors. The tailors was very busy with many alterations being made on the spot.

 

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Bougainvillea brought bursts of colour to the white buildings.

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I had some ice cream made of natural fruit juices, pistachio and blackcurrant. The locals were very friendly and cheerful.

We walked past the empty expensive shops in the harbour, admiring the tiled walls and the figureheads of Turgut Reis – the sailor who gave the village its name.

 

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After that we spotted the villlage mosque in front of a McDonalds and headed for it.

We weren’t sure whether we would be allowed in but it appeared that all was welcome. We were both wearing long dresses so we took off our shoes, donned scarves and entered an oasis of calm. There was one big carpet on the floor divided into sections for prayer and lots of beautiful tiling and chandeliers, with a big one hanging from the high elaborately painted dome in the centre.

 

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It was empty apart from some scholars buried in their books in the corner, prayer beads in hand. We took care to be quiet and had a rest there for a while. We heard later that the mosque had only been built about 5 years before.

On the way back we went to the supermarket to get lunch. There was fresh fish by the entrance and a man was picking out what he wanted for about £7.

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Then there was a vast array of fruit and vegetables piled up and further down were dried fruit and nuts of all varieties.

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On our way back we saw plenty of statues and flags with Ataturk (or “father of the Turks”). Ataturk was an army officer and the Republic of Turkey’s first president who ruled unchallenged from 1923 until 1945. He was responsible for wide-ranging social and political reform to modernise Turkey. These reforms included the emancipation of women and the introduction of Western legal codes, dress, calendar and alphabet, replacing the Arabic script with a Latin one. He briefly made the fez the compulsory national headdress and people faced heavy fines if they wore a turban. He was and still is treated almost like a religious figure, with one portrait description even describing him as “immortal”. In almost every city there is a statue of him.

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After filling our bags with local delicacies we headed back to our hotel for some sunbathing on the pier. The next day we planned to go over the border to Kos in Greece.

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June 1, 2014 · 8:55 pm

Istanbul Day 1 – Tokapi Palace

Kebab pizza

Kebab pizza

After the magnificence of the Haggia Sophia we refreshed ourselves with a visit to a traditional restaurant where we ate kebab main meals (when in Rome, or rather Istanbul!). I had it with the hot spiced apple tea again. It was sweet and revitalising and I couldn’t get enough of it. I then had a tea but I had to ask for milk – if you don’t they just serve it black! Every drink is also served with mounds of sugar cubes as well as having it added. After a while I began to appreciate the EU sugar limits.

Lamb kebab. Photos copyright literarylydi

Lamb kebab. All photos on this page copyright literarylydi

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delicious cous cous salad

We then continued our tourist experience by buying up boxes and boxes of Turkish delight and nougat. Massive blocks of the stuff were chiselled off.  They had an array of colours and nuts, it was quite a display. The Turks are very fond of anything with nuts in. 342

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We then went to the Tokapi Palace (Tokapur in Turkish pronunciation), where we marvelled at the variety of styles of 16th-17th century tiled walls.

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We walked in ancient regal rooms with 16th century bronze and tile fire places. Odd things with pointy tops. Every so often there would be a little courtyard, sometimes with a fountain.

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I got the impression the Turks were also very fond of these, which seemed logical given that Turkey is usually lovely and warm, unlike the bitter cold that day. I had forgotten gloves and I soon lost all feeling in my hands.

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The best bit of the palace were the imperial treasures, which at one time only the royals could admire. I had never seen anything like it. Such a large amount of incredibly valuable precious-stones, gold and diamonds, all glistening and dazzling in two rooms, crammed together in a breathtaking display of opulence. There were bronze and ivory thrones from the 16th and 17th centuries, every inch dripping in rubies and emeralds. I asked my boyfriend whether I could have some ruby or emerald jewellery for Christmas. Even if we won the lottery I doubt that is possible, but one can dream. I was like a magpie in the dragon’s cave of the Hobbit. I had never seen anything like this before.

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The gold was highly polished and almost blinded you in its magnificence. The diamonds looked thoroughly transparent. These were the literal jewels in the crown of a vast and wealthy Empire that had at one point stretched all the way to “threaten the gates of Vienna”. Incredible given that they started off as a nomadic desert tribe. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photographs.

We saw the Harem where the Emperor’s many wives and the black Eunuchs that served them were housed. The quarters of the Eunuchs were the most modest rooms in the palace, quite small but still richly decorated with painted tiles.

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We saw the religious artefacts (the Prophets beard, bits of the Kaa’ba in Mecca and so on). These were the busiest rooms and there was a hushed solemn silence throughout the crowd.

The Library of Ahmed 3rd was built in 1719 for use by royal officials. Today its books are stored in the Agalar Mosque.

The Library of Ahmed The Third was built in 1719 for use by royal officials. Today its books are stored in the Agalar Mosque.

We saw the library and as the sun went down we walked through the gardens to the edge of the palace. Here there was a viewing platform with a little seat. The city stretched away on the other side of the river. It was quiet and rather romantic and we took a picture against the sunset.

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The building’s illuminating lights came on and after three hours touring this vast complex it was time to go, we were told the palace was closing.

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I had enjoyed feeling like a princess and would have to make do with our “palace” hotel instead that night. As we walked out we saw that the place was guarded by armed soldiers. The Haggia Sophia looked even more dominating in its floodlit glory.

We walked back using the GPS on my boyfriends phone, winding around narrow dark streets, all the while passing burnt down houses standing as they were, dilapidated houses that surely were not safe to live in, disturbing alley cats scrabbling at the rubbish, some of them with infected eyes.

We crossed a railway and navigated for a while longer through the gloom – there were few street lights. Thankfully the streets were largely deserted and we finally made our way back to the hotel.

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December 26, 2013 · 2:45 pm