Night at the Museum of Awesomeness, Istanbul

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8th Jul, 2013

This weekend, Nessy was invited on a private night-time tour of the Rahmi M. Koç Museum in Istanbul. They call it a museum of industrialist legacy, I call it the museum of awesomeness; an absolute essential on every traveler’ s list of must-see places to see in the ancient Turkish city…

As the pinkish sun sets over the rooftops of Istanbul, when the last visitors have left, we begin our visit, wandering around a vast echoing playground that houses everything and anything a curious mind could imagine.

From a 300 foot world war II submarine to rare 18th century miniatures, almost every object in the partially open-air museum has been personally sought and collected over a lifetime by Mr. Rahmi Koç, Turkey’s biggest industrialist, entrepreneur and philanthropist.

An off-beat billionaire’s cabinet of curiosities, this unexpected museum on the riverbanks of Istanbul needs almost a day to cover every corner. We have the night, so let us begin…

To get our bearings, we’re standing on the museum’s 1950s ferry boat docked at the shores of a Bosphorus inlet, looking at the tail end of one of the most well-loved airliners ever built, the DC-3.

The entire museum is situated on some very unusual Istanbul real estate, including a historic shipyard and a 12th century government foundry, transformed from derelict, last used for storing methylated spirits.

A closer look at the DC-3…

The popular airliner that flew during the 50s and 60s is casually perched atop a replica of Turkey’s first airport terminal, an Air France terminal.

Calling all passengers flying Paristanbul* Airlines…!

*Stolen from the name of my local Turkish kebab shop in Paris) 

Next, we head inside to check out a full-sized train station…

And whad’ya know! The Mussolini Express train has just pulled in…

All aboard the train to fascist Italy!

Commissioned by Italian dictator Benito Musollini and made by Fiat in 1937, as I stand before this great machine, nose to nose with the symbol of fascism (the ornament under the Fiat logo) I can’t help but recall that infamous phrase, “At least Mussolini made the trains run on time”…

Inside it gets a little eerie, walking down the empty creaking aisles, picturing the passengers in their seats, looking out their windows with expressionless faces of oppression.

I wonder what happened to the driver if the train didn’t leave on time…

Across the station, I spot a rather more cheerful-looking train car …

This one was the Imperial Coach of Sultan Abdulaziz, built by a British company for him to travel across Europe in 1867 and meet the likes of Napoleon III and Queen Victoria. They were surely impressed…

Now let’s skip across the shipyard to get a look at the cars!

(The museum employs around 80 master artisans, some of which are working late, restoring an old Turkish fishing boat).

Hot wheels!

There are just too many beautiful cars to photograph here, and conveniently no security guards to prevent me from hopping inside one and imagining the wind in my hair. I should probably keep moving…

Good thing we didn’t linger in that pink cadillac because the guy who keeps those babies nice and shiny at night is moving in with his polishing cart! But enough larking about, it’s time to see the star of the show, so let’s head back outside…

… past a nostalgic street of 19th century shops; a clock repairer’s, an apothecary, a toy shop, a blacksmith’s and other lost trade stores…

In the Bosphorus she awaits, after the German war plane, on the other side of the steam ferry…

There she is.

Originally the “Balao/Tench-class USS Thornback, built in 1944 at the Portsmouth Naval shipyard, this submarine saw service in the US army during the Second World War against the Japanese and again during the Cold War. In 1971, she was transferred to the Turkish Navy and gave thirty years of valuable service under the name TCG Uluçalireis.

The sun is nearly set now and there’s talk of skipping the inside tour. But knowing I would never again have the chance, I ask really, really nicely. So the nice man switches it “back on” for us.

And down the hatch we go…

The staircase leads us straight to the torpedo room…

Bunk beds hang directly over torpedoes. Try catching a peaceful wink above one of those …

The air feels incredibly thick and the space is tighter that I could have imagined. I’ve only been inside for a minute.

But for the sailors, there would have been no way out for a quick breathe of fresh air…

The captain’s quarters…

Bunk beds (more like coffins..)

The dining room.

Hunt for Red October…

Hmmm, I wonder what this button does.

Diving officer’s check-off: Shall we dive, snorkel or surface?

The engine room: There would have been no “normal” sailors aboard this submarine. Everyone here had a vital skill set and a job to get done.

I welcome the sight of the night sky…

At the surface, our attention is brought to the holes in the floor. In the event of a rescue mission, if rescuable at all, divers would have relied on these holes in the pitch black of the deep ocean to count the number of sailors trapped in each compartment.

And this is where we end our night at the museum. I could have stayed on the hull of that  submarine all night, looking out at those scattered Istanbul city lights, hearing the ghostly hum of the call to prayer.

We haven’t even seen half of what this unique museum has to offer. Unmatched even by the famous Smithsonian museum, do not leave Istanbul without a visit to the Rahmi Koç Museum.

How to get there: http://www.rmk-museum.org.tr

Museum website: http://www.rmk-museum.org.tr

I’m off to the Grand Bazaar today, I’ll see what I can find us!

:::

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