Did you know that in Turkish the word for 'lion' is Aslan? As in C.S. Lewis' Narnia books. Between that and the enchanted Turkish Delight that the White Witch proffers to Edward, enslaving him and making him into a traitor, well, whatever was Lewis trying to say?
But I digress, as I often do.
Inside the walls, surrounded by beautifully kept and extensive grounds is the palace itself.
Now, the kids were getting a little worn down with all the touring, not-exactly-but-pretty-sure-where-we're-going, eat-when-we-can-and-NO-chicken-nuggets routine. In fact, the night before, Mike and I touched base with our travel agent Nevzat over a late dinner, leaving everyone else, who were too pooped to go out again, to eat what could be scrounged from the tiny corner grocer -mostly potato chips.
Mike and I had an honest and simple, if not showy, dinner in a threadbare, welcoming little place; slices of beef cooked with peppers and glasses of wine and some strawberries for dessert. The kids couldn't have cared less...they were happy they got to lie in bed and watch familiar cartoons, albeit in Turkish.
Now the next day, already having wandered through the Sunken Cistern and walked and eaten lunch and then walked some more and ridden the train and then waited in line, well, this is what Thomas thought of going to see the Dolmabahçe Palace:
Didn't even make it in the gate. But we pressed on, as is our duty as tourists.
Tourists are allowed in the palace only in guided and closely watched groups. No photographs. Pink flimsy plastic shoe covers, which only came in one size, were required. Unfortunately they were far too big for the kids and not quite big enough for the big American Man feet.
Ah well, we tried.
The tours were given in many languages, allowed in at staggered times. This worked well and we went in with one of the English speaking guides and about 40 others. Not unlike a large school of fish, we swished and bunched and spread out and re-formed again in a symphony of crinkly plastic shuffling shoe covers as we were rather quickly escorted through the palace.
And what a palace. Baroque, Neoclassical, and Rococo design swirled together with Ottoman elements, Dolmabahçe was created with one overwhelming purpose in mind; to disabuse the country and the world of the idea that Turkey's fortunes were declining, that in fact everything was better than ever.
The palace is overwhelming all right. Some places whisper money. Dubai, well, sort of within the confines of taste, boasts. Dolmabahçe screams until it is hoarse.
The palace is grand room after room, just under 250 of them, each one more opulent and over-the-top than the last. We dutifully padded along after our guide in our pink plastic booties, straining to hear her as she paraded us along. We kept to a pathway of carpet laid down just for us commoners, the velvet ropes keeping us orderly and away from furnishings and treasures.
Silks, mahogany and crystal, antiques galore, everything gilded, so...much...stuff.
I found myself wanting to spend my tour time looking at the paintings, of which there were, yes, many. But we had to keep hustling, so most of the canvases got less than a second of my art appreciation time as we were whisked by. There was also the very real worry of slipping and dying, trompled by the people behind you, what with the plastic shoe covers.
But, what kind of a tourist was I? I mean, the chandeliers kept getting bigger and bigger, with the promise of a 750 lamp 4.5 ton one for our finale. The tour guide assured us as we tried to take it all in, that everything that glittered was indeed gold; 14 tons of the stuff in the form of gold leaf was used to gild everything that wasn't moving from the ceilings on down.
Needless to say, it was kitchy, it was unbelievable, and if God had a rummage sale, I'm pretty sure this would exactly the sort of stuff he'd put out. Along with earwigs, naked mole rats, and politicians.
The sad thing is, the ploy to make Turkey look affluent to the rapidly encroaching West with this overwhelming show of wealth backfired; the cost to build the palace was so great it nearly bankrupted the state treasury...and they had to take out loans from foreign sources.
Whoops. Oh well, it was a nice try, and the last six Sultans of the Ottoman Empire wintered there. You have to put them somewhere, after all. It is also a very beautiful building, and they still occasionally use it for State occasions. I would have been disappointed if they didn't.
In the midst of this display of overreaching abundance, deep within the palace, Thomas did what kids do. "Mooooohmy! I hafta go potty!" (Implied: right now.)
Oh, criminy. I sought out the tour guide as soon as she had a moment and explained our predicament, making it clear that if I needed to take him out of the palace that I wouldn't expect to be let back in, but that we really needed a toilet, and pronto.
There was a flurried discussion between her and our other escort, a gentleman whose job, I am pretty sure, was to act as a dignified looking bouncer for any troublemakers, would-be thieves, or photographers. They decided the best thing to do was to introduce Thomas to some of the original indoor plumbing, a major talking point for a palace built in the 1840s, by the way.
So, Thomas in arms, I followed the tour bouncer back through several rooms, over velvet ropes, and through a discreet door to the employee bathroom. He kicked another employee out of there and then we had the marble squat potties to ourselves, where Thomas demonstrated how beautifully he is toilet trained now.
Like any proud Mamma, perhaps piqued by the total prohibition of photo taking on the tour, well, I took a shot of him peeing where the Sultans Had Gone Before. With apologies to sensitive viewers, the kind Palace employees, and to Thomas when he gets older (tough noogies dude, I'm you're mother!), here is the photo:
If nothing else, now I can hardly criticise the Ottomans for their poor taste and lack of mature responsibility. With a lighter heart and still-dry pants on Thomas, we rejoined the tour for the last bit, and soon thereafter emerging into the bright sunlight, not quite sure what to do with ourselves. There was a second tour one could take through the harem, but we were quite done by that point, thank you very much.
We took a few photos outside, the kids played in the gravel, and eventually we decided the only thing to do was to go to Asia for coffee.
Which is exactly what we did.