Tips for going to see this attraction:
1. Get there at 9 am. We got there at 10 and the lines were already long. By noon the lines were fairly insane.
2. Avoid the big long line for tickets and use the automated kiosks. We didn’t know they existed until we got up to the front of a very, very, very long line. You can’t get tickets for the harem tour at the automated machines, but the harem line was quite short, contrary to what the guidebooks told us.
3. The longest lines while I was there were for the Treasure Room and to see the relics. And I mean long lines. Go to those first when you get there at 9 am. And then go to the harem.
4. Have a guidebook with good information about the Palace? Bring it with you. They don’t pass out free maps and the audio tour was missing information that I had previously read. I would recommend hiring a guide if you want the full experience. I casually tried to sneak in on several tours because the information they were sharing was so rich and detailed. It was a struggle when the tours turned out to not be in English.
5. Take a break on the lawn and people watch. This site brings together so many people from all over the world and it’s fascinating to watch them all interact.
Today we stumbled across a man named Mike, or rather he stumbled across us because we were sitting looking at a map and he came and asked if we needed directions. I didn’t need directions, but I did have lots of questions about Istanbul’s history that Mike took to answering. After explaining that Turks are really from Central Asia and that the Ottoman Empire really started to break up after World War 1, Mike invited us into one of his many shops to look at textiles. “Don’t worry,” he assured us, “I’m not trying to get you to buy.”
Mike does a lot of dealings with designers in New York and Boston and gets about triple the price for his rugs there than he does here in Istanbul. When he said he wasn’t trying to get us to buy, he really meant it.
He showed us the pillows that are made in a ikat style, some silky, some velvety. We browsed through the jewelry and he told of us artist friends who design pieces that are very well known. And we saw more pillows and patchwork jackets of different styles. And then we went upstairs.
Upstairs was a world of carpets. Old carpets, new carpets, naturally-dyed, and naturally Turkish. When Mike spoke about carpets, his world lit up. He truly loves carpets and textiles. “I’m turned on by textiles,” he said.
While we sat in the upstairs he gave us the information about carpets he shares with the design students who come to visit him. Important things to look for in a carpet: 1. High quality wool with lanolin (meaning the wool was taken off the sheep while it was alive and still has some fat in it) 2. Natural dyes because they will never fade. We then drank chai and watched as one guy (who seemed like an apprentice of sorts) rolled out rug after rug in front of us until there was about a foot of rugs piled at our feet. All of them newly made rugs from villages throughout Turkey. All of them high quality wool. All of them naturally dyed. And all of them beautiful. And so, so soft (wool rugs get softer and better with use).
Mike even rolled out one of his favorite rugs for us as an introduction to his love of textiles. The rug was a beautiful rug, well loved, from the 18th century. A 300 year old rug that was soft and worn and still held the same colors as when it was originally knotted (It’s the natural dyes).
We spent about four hours with Mike chatting about Turkey, and rugs, and hearing stories about his adventures. It was four hours I am eager to share when people ask me about my travels. And four hours that I am so grateful he was willing to share with a couple tourists who were looking at a map on the street.