The highlight of our last full day in Istanbul was our visit to Topkapi Palace. This palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans from 1465-1856, and now also contains Muslim relics such as Mohammed's cloak and sword. It has been beautifully restored and maintained, and the tilework and grounds were breathtakingly beautiful.
We were lucky to get there before the hordes of cruise ship tour groups arrived, so we got to explore the courtyards and the harem in relative peace before the whole place became a madhouse. What I found interesting about the harem is that it wasn't a place for debaucherous full-on orgies with hundreds of beautiful women like we've come to associate with the word. In fact, the word "harem" simply translates to "a sacred inviolable place; female members of the family" and the women were heavily guarded by eunuchs. The sultan was allowed to take four wives--one of which was his main wife, and frequently they didn't want the extra burden of additional wives! It seems that the rest of the girls were there mainly as decoration, and frequently were slave girls from other lands who, after a few years of service were granted their freedom.
After we'd spent a couple of hours touring the palace, we decided to take a break at the cafeteria located on a terrace overlooking the Bosphorous. We ate strawberries and cream, put our feet up and enjoyed the sparkling water and even a little dolphin show while we mustered up more energy for the rest of the day.
Our next stop was at the lovely Suleyman the Magnificent Mosque (isn't that just the greatest name--I think I'm going to ask that people start calling me Angela the Magnificent). This mosque isn't on the standard tourist route through Istanbul--it's one of those extras that people add in if they have the time. This made for an extremely peaceful atmosphere. We took off our shoes, I donned my scarf, and after looking around inside for a little while, we just sat down on the carpet and enjoyed the quiet.
The following day, we made an attempt at going out to the old city walls, but we couldn't figure out the transfer on the metro system, and quite frankly, I was exhausted. We decided it wasn't worth the trouble to risk missing our flight later in the day, so instead, we went back to the hotel for a quiet morning, then we were off to Cirali beach. It was another spectacular flight from Turkish airlines, though of course we got held up again due to my gargantuan stomach. Even though it was just a 50 minute flight, we still got a snack, drink service and this precious picnic box with a sandwich a side and dessert. I have been so spoiled for ever flying again. Once we arrived at Antalya airport, we had booked a transfer car to take us out to Cirali, and after a brief moment of panic when we couldn't find our driver, we were soon on our way to the beautiful Hotel Nerissa. We arrived at the hotel in the evening, so we wandered the grounds for a while, then had an amazing dinner on the grounds. We actually ended up eating all of our meals at the hotel, and it made for a very relaxing, resort sort of experience.
There's not much to say to recap the next two days. We spent our time sleeping in, laying by the pool, floating in the pool, going to the beach, laying by the Mediterranean, floating in the Mediterranean, and eating. The beach was absolutely glorious--just a few feet out from the shore, the depth dropped to about 15 feet, which is perfect for me as I have a horror of the ocean floor and like to stay as far above it as possible! The water was crystal clear--even in the deep water, you could look down and see the rocky bottom of the ocean. It was definitely one of the top ocean experiences we've had.
I was really surprised by how taken I was with Turkey. I had a lot of ideas about what it would be like, and while it certainly lived up to my expectations, what I was most surprised by was how kind and welcoming the people were. I didn't expect anyone to hurl curses at me or anything, but I think Americans tend to have this ingrained concept that all Muslim people hate us and that is just so far from the truth. The men were considerate and kind to me, and I felt an almost protective vibe from many of the people I came in contact with. I would encourage anyone to add Turkey to their travel list, and to experience the beauty and culture for themselves. I'll leave you with a quote that I feel summed up my experience with expectation vs. reality when it came to everything I thought I knew about Turkey: