Today was our second full day in Istanbul of the trip, and we had originally planned to do a free walking tour of the old town in the morning. However we couldn't find a suitable one which didn't involve going back inside the Hagia Sophia, so we decided to give that a miss and go straight to the Dolmabahçe Palace on the shore of the Bosporus instead. We'd been told that if we only go to one of the Ottoman palaces (the other being Topkapi Palace), to prioritise this one since it is the grander and larger of the two. On arrival we had to pass security and get tickets, which were by far the highest priced tickets we have seen for anything on the trip so far at 300 Lira per person (about £15). Turns out this included an audio guide so the price wasn't high by European standards, and the Palace and surrounding buildings were large enough to take a few hours to see properly. Strangely the audio guide required you to leave one form of ID or US$100 per person as a deposit, which was a bit annoying to find out after reaching the front of the queue without Melisa's ID on me.
Once inside the palace grounds we headed over to the main palace building first, but on arrival it turned out that buggies were not allowed inside, and Lucy had just fallen fast asleep for her morning nap. We instead walked to the Sultan's Harem building just behind, and found it to also be a no-buggy zone. At this point we thought it best to go inside one at a time while the other waited with Lucy napping outside. Melisa went into the Harem first, and then I went in after. The Harem audio tour was mostly about how the women associated with the Sultan lived, with the reception rooms, living quarters and baths of the Sultan's wives and the Mother Sultan being on show. We had both been expecting something along the lines of the Alhambra or the Alcazar with ornate Arabic-style architecture, but instead it was a bit like walking into a European Palace with a mix of (according to the audio guide) Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical styles. This is probably explained by the fact it wasn't actually particularly old, only being built in the late 19th century, and heavily influenced by the Sultan's desire to live more like his contemporaries in Europe. The separate marble bathing rooms were perhaps the most unique feature compared to a European palace, along with the large Turkish rugs throughout. The most interesting room of the Harem was the room where Ataturk spent the last days of his life, the bed he had died in, along with some portraits of him and a beautifully stitched Turkish flag. Turns out Ataturk had used this very palace as his official residence in his latter years as President. This room and a number of adjacent rooms on this side of the buildings also had lovely views directly out onto the Bosporus.
After we had both seen the Harem Lucy had just about woken up, so we headed back to the main palace building, left the buggy outside, and carried Lucy in with us. In hindsight it would have been better to do this building first as the majority of visitors do, since it was similar to the Harem (some of the corridors looped around different corners from some of the rooms from the Harem), except quite a bit grander. That's because these were the reception rooms where the Sultan entertained foreign heads of state and dignitaries, along with the huge Ceremonial Hall which was the most impressive room of all, housing the Sultan's throne, and being where state ceremonies took place. The style was similar to the Harem, with notable features being the crystal staircase and the huge chandelier hanging in the Ceremonial Hall, which was made in England and shipped to Istanbul to be assembled by hand over a couple of months.
With the palace having taken quite a bit longer than we expected, we didn't have time for a casual stroll back along the bank of the Bosporus, but got a taxi instead. That's because we had to pick up Summer for her vet appointment at 3pm, which involved walking up the very steep hillside in Galata which we had also climbed yesterday evening. It was even harder work during the muggy daylight hours, and we were rather sweaty when we reached a cafe for lunch near the vet.
We had a great plan for the rest of the day, which was to first rest up at the apartment so Lucy could have a good nap in her cot, before heading to the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar in the early evening before dinner. However, as we left the apartment about 6.30pm for the bazaars, it had started to drizzle, and we then noticed on Google Maps that it said the Grand Bazaar was closing soon. I thought that cannot be right, but double checked online and sure enough it closes at 7pm. We were both surprised, since we had expected it to be a bustling evening destination like the bazaars we have seen in places like Qatar, Oman and more recently in Sarajevo. Luckily we have a bit of spare time in the morning, since we can't leave Istanbul without seeing the bazaars.
As an alternative plan we wandered around Karaköy near our apartment, with a lovely newly developed promenade along the Bosporus with a high end shopping mall full of trendy independent shops, cafes and restaurants. It was nice to see the Bosporus up close again, and the water was rather choppy this evening as the rainy weather passed by. The highlight of the evening was probably going to a high end Turkish sweet shop, where they have rolls of different types of what they call Turkish Delight, but isn't like the Turkish Delight we know from back home. It is more like a marshmallow rolled with different fillings, mostly nut based, but we also found an Oreo variety which was delicious.
Tomorrow should be a fairly busy day now with the bazaars in the morning and then the drive up to near the Turkish border.
We don't want to take any chances with getting Summer back into the European Union tomorrow, so we went to a vet near our apartment today in Istanbul to get her paperwork in order. This meant an Animal Health Check stamp in her pet passport, and an external deworming treatment. The vet (Pet Center Istanbul) was very friendly and helpful, and the whole thing cost just under £30 which wasn't bad at all.
There was a problem with the charger overnight and I woke up to a message on the car app saying 'charging interrupted' with the battery only at 83%. Luckily we didn't need the car at all today so I went to the charger and reconnected which seemed to do the trick to get it to 100%.