We arrived in Turkey early yesterday afternoon. After a brief nap, we (my wife and I and three others) walked from our hotel (the Doubletree Istanbul Old Town, within the ancient Byzantine walls, which faces onto the cardo of ancient Constantinople) to the Grand Bazaar. Then, having walked back, we caught a free shuttle from our hotel to the Bucoleon Fish Restaurant, where we had a wonderful meal of fresh sea bass, served family style. The food was excellent, but the best part was to be eating out on the terrace at sunset, looking down on the little that is left of the Great Palace of Constantinople (which was founded by none other than Constantine the Great in or around AD 330 and which remained the imperial palace of the capital until the infamous Crusader sack of Constantinople in AD 1204) and across them to the Sea of Marmara and the mouth of the Bosphorus. The restaurant is named after the palace.
Today, we met our guide, Seyhun, whom my wife and I have been with on two previous occasions in Turkey, and headed for a tour of both the adminstrative and harem portions of the Dolmabahçe Sarayi, the lavish baroque and rococo palace in which the sultans of the Ottoman Empire lived during its last phase, after 1855. (They went into considerable debt to build it — among many other things, it’s said to feature 14.5 tons of gold, which I calculate to be worth roughly $800 million dollars at the 2 September 2012 gold price) — during a time when the empire was in steep decline, politically and financially; long after the empire collapsed, until 1955 to be exact, the Turkish Republic was still paying off its creditors for the lavish overspending of its last, decadent, rulers, who showed no particular interest in the business of governing but had plenty of hobbies and very expensive tastes. There’s a pretty obvious lesson to be learned from the story, I think.) Then we attended all three hours of meetings at the Istanbul Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which, though small, is certainly much better established than it was when my wife and I last attended sacrament meeting in Istanbul, many years ago. I was pleased to see my old friend Gordon Thomasson and his wife at sacrament meeting — they’re winding up a visit to Turkey — and I lost no time in successfully recruiting him for involvement in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture. Afterwards, we strolled through the late medieval spice market (aka “the Egyptian market”) and paid a visit to the Mosque of Rüstem Pasha, a small gem designed by Sinan, the greatest of the Ottoman architects, and beautifully decorate on the interior with blue Iznik tile. In the evening, smitten by the view and the food, we headed back to the Bucoleon for sea bass and sea bream. The view was just as beautiful as the night before.
I fell in love with this city many years ago, when I first visited it. I still find it almost infinitely fascinating. I would write more, but my head keeps threatening to crash into the key board. We slept long and well last night, but jet lag is a tenacious foe.
PS, next morning: Jet lag is not only a tenacious foe, it’s an insidious one. I originally titled the journal Element. It’s not Element. That’s the journal of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology, with which I’m also involved. The proper title is Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture. Sheesh.
Posted from Istanbul.