Troy is not just about the giant horse, but it’s the first and last thing you see when you visit. There’s also another giant horse in nearby Canakkale, where many visitors stay. That’s the one from the movie, and it has even more impressive shoulders than Brad Pitt.
Just after the entrance and obligatory gift/tea shop there’s a guy dressed as (kind of) a Trojan warrior. He looked a little dozy/maybe drunk when we first arrived. He quickly perked up at the first busload of Chinese tourists and charmed the pants off them.
His gig was dressing people up and taking their pictures in front of the local big Giant Horse. It’s a little lower budget than the movie one, but still impressive.
After the Giant Horse, the ruins might be a little underwhelming. Much of the site has been excavated, but the place is so darn old that it’s a bit of a mess. There are structures credited to approximately 8 cities built one on top of the other over the centuries.
The highlight for us was finding a dead end in the wooden walkway that takes you over the ruins. The dead end meant that guides were not shepherding busloads of Asian tourists through that part. We sat and threw pine-cones into the archaeological dig for almost an hour. Freedom!
The site is big enough to find quiet corners out of the way to contemplate the history of the place. The site is not so big that you have to hustle to see it all. It is just right.
It is definitely not the most impressive ruins in Turkey by a long shot, but it makes a mellow day out from Canakkale. Most people could do it in a short morning. Of course, it took us all day.
Ok, where were we. Ah yes, Istanbul not Constantinople.
One of the most surprisingly cool things we saw in Istanbul was the Museum for the History of Science and Technology in Islam. The name is way too long, but the stuff inside is really interesting (more so for nerdy engineer types, I’ll admit). The kids really enjoyed it and there was no lineup and hardly anyone else inside!
The Museum for the History of Science and Technology in Islam
The rest of the family were not so sure about this one, but the lack of lineup was a selling point. Once they saw all the astrolabes and scale models of ancient pumps, they were hooked!
This was one of the many homes of the Ottomans (emperors, not furniture). The kitchens are warehouse sized, the living quarters are a gold plated labyrinth.
As you can see, the wax figures are creepily realistic and the living quarters are lavish. And big, too. Check out the fireplace in the servants dormitory.
Yet another spectacular thing to see in Istanbul, but on the other side of the Golden Horn is the Galata Tower. There’s usually a bit of an enormous line to get in, but it’s definitely worth it.
We stopped in the cafe on top for some tea and a piece of chocolate cake. The highlight for everyone was the small piece of Turkish Delight (lukuma) on the side of the tea saucer. We enjoyed the treat, but the kids LOVED the little plastic swords on which the swords were skewered. The Little Fella wanted more swords, so he went and asked the waiter. The waiter happily gave him another, with another Turkish Delight! By the time we went outside to the viewing balcony, they had at least 7 swords each!
Istanbul is one of those cities that is so hectic, energetic, and full of action. You have to have your head on a swivel the whole time you’re there. There are police cars driving on the tramway, people fishing off of every bridge and pier, mosques and towers everywhere. For us to see more than one major sight per day was impossible.
We stayed in the Sultan Ahmet sector of the city. It was only a short walk to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Basilica cisterns. There was so much to see and do that we didn’t even get inside the Blue Mosque. We were so close that we walked past it twice a day!
Just getting to a major monument like the Hagia Sophia involved so many side-trips, stops, and distractions that it took half a day. Carpet shops, people watching, and sidewalk cafes for tea occupied a lot of our time. Well, not carpet shops but carpet sellers… verrry chatty guys.
The Basilica Cisterns
Back in the day, the plumbing was weird. Really, really weird. Under the streets of Istanbul, not far from the Hagia Sophia there are ancient cisterns. The basic idea was to store water underground so that the palace wouldn’t run out of water. For some reason, they did a fair bit of decorating down there.
The columns holding up the roof are carved, and some of them are quite elaborate. The most bizarre carvings are the two giant Medusa heads in the back corner.
Apparently in normal times there are fish swimming around the base of the pillars. Imagine the water quality back in the day. At the moment the fish are corralled into one corner near the Medusa heads, for renovations and refurbishment. The rest of the cisterns have just a few puddles on the floor.
You would think the Medusa heads are the strangest thing in the place, but that honour belongs to the weeping column. This is one of the only columns that is completely carved with a sort of teardrop motif. The theory is that it is carved in remembrance of all the slaves that died during construction.
The strange part is the hole in the side of the column. I’m not sure which came first, the people’s fingers or the hole. Apparently people think that it is a lucky hole of some kind, so they stick their finger in and swipe it around. We did not partake.
The Hagia Sophia
The enormous, impressive Hagia Sophia has suffered a couple of identity changes in the past. It was built as a Roman church, burned down, rebuilt, demolished, rebuilt, etc. This went on for a while and then the current version was built and then finally converted into a mosque. I’m not a historian, check out the whole history here.
The front view is already amazing, especially with the opposing view of the Blue Mosque.
The massive bronze doors tower above a marble step worn away by millions of feet. Then you step into a cavernous interior that could contain its own weather systems.
It really is awe-inspiring, breath-taking, super-spectacular. The main dome is enormous, and there are mosaics and half-domes in every direction.
Around the upper galleries there are golden mosaics depicting the folks that coughed up the cash to build the place.
It’s very easy to get swept up in the beauty and awe. It’s tempting to think that ancient buildings like this were built with a higher standard of workmanship. Look at this.