Well, it’s been a heck of a day so far! We started our first full day as always, with a business session. Although I refrained from doing an interpretive dance as I’ve often threatened, my presentation went well. The whole morning ran smoothly and we ended right on time. Too bad that was the most relaxed we’d be all day!
As we gathered to get on the buses to head to lunch at twelve thirty, we realized that none of the companions were with us. Apparently, they had yet to return from their tour (from which they were supposed to be back at the hotel by noon at the latest). We eventually sent one bus on while I waited with the second bus for the companions. They arrived, but wanted to freshen up for the afternoon - who could blame them - and it turned out that they were late because they had waited in line at the palace for twenty minutes to be allowed in for an English-speaking tour. I felt like Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer when he says, “That information would have been useful to me YESTERDAY!” So we ended up waiting for them to come
back down (five minutes turned into more like fifteen for some of them, but in all fairness, the tour company had gotten them back really late), and also picked up some other stragglers. We left for lunch forty minutes late, and with a half hour bus ride ahead of us, I was not thrilled.
But it was out of my hands, so I just tried to figure out how I could adjust the rest of the trip so that it wouldn’t happen again and make it as pleasant as possible for everyone. As we drove to lunch, our guide pointed out various sites along the way, and as we approached the Bosphorus Bridge, I realized that we were beginning to go drastically uphill. I’m desperately afraid of heights, and thought it’s a fear that’s improving, this was still pretty high and I could feel my lungs closing up. I tried not to look as the big bus lurched around the curvy, curvy road. We eventually got up pretty high and had to turn right and head down a little bit to reach the restaurant. This was where I really started to have trouble, since it felt as though the
bus was going to simply crash off the side of the 7 hills, as they’re known (I think, I was only half listening to the guide). This was also where the bus driver started to have trouble, since that’s where he bumped right into a Mercedes. He slammed on the brakes and only bumped him lightly, but it was with enough force (and since we were facing downhill), that we all flew forward a little and bumped the seat in front of us. It became obvious once again how little Turkey resembles the US when the driver didn’t even get out of the bus to see whether there was any damage. The other driver did get out to examine his bumper, and that was the last we saw of him as we headed on to the restaurant.
Fortunately, after that series of almost (and I mean almost) comical incidents, the restaurant for lunch was beautiful. We were dining at the Sunset Bar & Grill, and had a number of tables set outside just by the shrubbery-lined edge of the top of the hill. We had a beautiful view of the Bosphorus and the bridge, and that, coupled with a
cool breeze, made for a delightfully pleasant lunch. There was a lot of food (four courses), but as long as you paced yourself, it was fine. We began with a mushroom risotto, which I thought was a bit salty, followed by a Caesar salad and three rounds of beef in some kind of sauce, and a delicious chocolate tart with a raspberry sauce and mango sorbet - I’m a big fan of the chocolate/fruit combination! My lunch companions were also wonderful, so it was a nice respite in the middle of a rather stressful day.
At three, it was off to the afternoon tour. We had spoken with our host to get them to push back dinner to eight instead of seven, and move the Grand Bazaar to tomorrow instead of today. So we would be seeing the Blue Mosque and Sofia Hagia…or so we thought. The Blue Mosque and Sofia Hagia are in the old city - even further past the offices of our local firm. In fact, we had to cross the Golden Horn by taking the Galata Bridge to get to the other part of the European side of Turkey. This process took an hour, instead
of the promised half hour. It was okay, because the guide gave us a very informative talk while we were traveling - unfortunately, he sounded so unenthusiastic that it was almost comical. My seatmate said that she felt that he was like a bad date! He was knowledgeable, and from him, I learned that the Bosphorus is not actually a river, but is a strait between the Black Sea and another sea. So that was useful information!
Although it was always planned to leave lunch at three, the guide told everyone that because we were running so late, he was also going to cut out seeing the Blue Mosque. A lot of people were very disappointed, since it had taken so long to get there, and we wouldn’t be able to see if although we were right there. But we unfortunately can’t have it all ways, and if people want the extra time to decompress before heading right to dinner, this was the best solution. There was a lot of grumbling as we went into Sofia Haggia, but there are only so many hours in the day to accomplish a lot, and we did give everyone a free afternoon
tomorrow, not to mention that we've arranged for buses to take them on the tours that they missed out on today!
But anyway, Sofia Hagia was beautiful - apparently, it's a former patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum. It's famous for its inner dome, which was unfortunately undergoing renovation, and is considered to be the epitome of Byzantine architecture. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
After we finished at Sofia Hagia, it was off to catch a boat back to the hotel. I think that helped with some of the angst over missing the other tours - man, I am not looking forward to the post-conference survey! - and it really was a lovely way to travel back. There was a cool breeze, and some great photo opportunities, so I think everyone enjoyed it.
Hopefully tonight's dinner goes a little more smoothly - we are off to another fish restaurant - blech. But they've arranged for a non-fish menu for anyone who wants it! (That includes me). So I'm crossing my fingers that it's fun and easy!
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