19-May - Istanbul, Turkey

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May 19th 2016
Published: May 19th 2016
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The Blue Mosque in Istanbul Turkey
Hello from Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey and capital of the old Ottoman Empire. We arrived on another bright sunny morning and we’re happy to have left those rainy days of Spain and Italy behind. We are nearing the end of our cruise and we certainly don’t want to have any more weather issues.

We got up and got dressed. Our arrival in port was not until after 9:00 this morning, so we had time for a good breakfast in the dining room. Janet had her Bacon & Eggs and David had another good Omelet. Of course there were pastries and fruit, with juice and tea. Then we still had a little time before reporting to the Symphony Dining Room downstairs for our tour departure. We sat in the Piazza for a while before going to the dining room and eventually leaving on our tour.

We had originally planned to see as much as possible by taking the most ambitious tour that was available. However realism took hold earlier in the trip and so we’ve cut back to a tour called “Easy Istanbul” which does not involve as much walking and hopefully would not

the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul Turkey
be as exhausting. So if you wonder why we didn’t “do this” or “see that”, the answer is that we just decided to ration our energy to make sure there is some gas left in the tank when we get to the Athens excursions (it’s too late to adjust any of those plans). So here is what we did today in Istanbul.

Our bus started by taking us out of the port and across one of the two bridges here from Europe to Asia. This first bridge was built in 1973 and prior to that anyone transiting from one side to the other had to take a ferry boat. We made an official photo stop to get a couple of pictures “from the Asian point of view” and then we headed back across to Europe. Istanbul is the only city located in two continents although it is all within the same country. Janet waited in the bus while David went down to the shore of the Bosporus Strait (not a river but instead a wide channel connecting the Mediterranean to the Black Sea). He collected a genuine Asian pebble and smuggled it back into Europe.


1973 Bridge to Asia across Bosporus Strait

According to our guide (Kenan) Istanbul has roughly 15-18 million residents, with 2/3 of them living on the European side. There are also approximately 1 million refugees currently in Istanbul, fleeing from elsewhere in the Middle East. There are somewhere between 90-100 million people living in Turkey but Kenan said that 90% of them live on the Asian side where the bulk of the country is located. So if you live on the Europe side of the strait you basically live in Istanbul.

Turkey applied for admission to the European Union many years ago, but they have not been accepted. It happens that today is Turkey’s Independence Day and is a national holiday. After WW-I they started a revolt against the Ottoman Empire and in 1923 they finally succeeded in tearing down the empire and establishing their own country. Back in Ephesus there were large banner with someone’s face hanging next to the Turkish flag. This was their version of George Washington, who led the revolt that led to the formation of the country – we cannot recall his name at this time.

Our next stop was at a restaurant in the old

Inside Hagia Sophia Mosque - looking up
city, located within a short walking distance of the 2 most famous mosques. We walked over to the open-air restaurant and they served us coffee, or tea, or soda, with cookies as a snack. There were also modern facilities for our use which he strongly recommended versus some of the alternatives later in the tour. Getting down the stairs was a bit tricky as it was a tight spiral staircase with people going up and down at the same time. We were there about 20 minutes; just enough time to have a snack and take care of whatever else was needed. Interestingly, there was a Hookah Menu on each table and lots of Hookah Pipes in one corner of the restaurant.

We next walked a short distance to a viewing point outside the Blue Mosque which is also known as The Sultan Ahmed Mosque. The Blue Mosque was built in the 16th century to outshine the neighboring Hagia Sophia Mosque. Our original tour included a visit inside the Blue Mosque, but it would require removing your shoes and walking in your socks throughout the mosque. Those who have been there before have raved about the inside, but

Some Stained Glass Windows in Hagia Sophia Mosque
walking without shoes (even if the floor were quite smooth) was just not something that Janet could do. Even with her shoes she was keeping pace with those who use canes but it was painful for her walking on the cobblestone sidewalks. Anyway, we were given some information about the mosque - it’s not blue on the outside but is somewhat blue on the inside via all the inlayed mosaic tiles and beautiful stained glass windows. This is the only mosque with 6 minaret towers to call worshiper to prayer. David was able to take some pictures while Janet was able to sit on a bench and listen to our guide using our listening devices.

Then we walked the opposite direction and went to the Hagia Sophia museum. It is also known as St. Sophia, the Church of Holy Wisdom. It was originally built in the 6th (more than 1000 years before the Blue Mosque) by Constantine the Great, and was later rebuilt by Emperor Justinian to be a "queen church" of the new Ottoman Empire. It is considered one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. This used to be a mosque but has been

Entrance to the Grand Bazaar - Istanbul
converted to a museum instead. Because it is no longer a place of worship, we were able to leave our shoes on although the tour now had to pay an entrance fee for us.

Before we could enter the museum, everyone had to pass through a metal detector and we almost got left behind from the group, but Kenan came back for us. At the Hagia Sophia there currently is a lot of repair work going on inside. Scaffolding covers about half of the interior, but even so we were able to see many of its mosaics and marble pillars. There is a remarkable looking door which is situated to face directly toward Mecca. While it was a mosque, the Islam religion required all the images to people to be covered or hidden from sight. After we were given a tour of the building, Janet was able to rest while David took a bunch of photos. While we were leaving, the minarets from the mosque starting announcing the “call to prayers” and it was extremely loud where we were standing. Again later in the day (5:00) we could hear the call again from our ship in the

Inside the covered portion of Grand Bazaar

Inside the museum are huge circular plaques with Arabic writing. Our guide knew what they said, only because they are the same in every mosque – not because he speaks Arabic. They were the names of Allah, Mohammed, and several others. These plaques are 7 meters in diameter whereas in the Blue Mosque they can barely be seen. Kenan said that back on some specific date in1928, Turkey converted overnight from Arabic to the current Roman style lettering and practically nobody can read the Arabic now, but they are a key feature in all the mosques.

While driving to and from the old town, we went past the Suleiman Mosque. It is the largest mosque in Istanbul. We also drove past several sections of the original city walls – there are still about 8 miles of this wall in various sections located around the city. Throughout the old city (and parts of the new city) the roads are really narrow and hilly the bus was seriously challenged not to hit anything. At one point the driver shut off the air conditioning because the grade was so steep that he needed all the power

Some of the outdoor shops in the Grand Bazaar area
to climb slowly around vehicles and up the steep hill. There is one other cruise ship in port today – the Artania. It happens that this is the original Royal Princess, which was sold several years ago before our current ship was christened with the same name. We were glad there weren’t several big cruise ships in port, or the tourist attractions would have been dreadfully crowded. As it was, we did just fine in each of the places we went.

Anyway, the next stop on our tour was at a shop very near the Grand Bazaar. We were brought inside and given refreshment of apple tea or soda and potato chips and then given the opportunity to browse through the jewelry and selection of hand woven rugs. We also had the availability of their restrooms. This was pretty much a sales call, but we declined both products. The last item on our itinerary was about an hour of free time to explore the Grand Bazaar. Janet declined and was provided with a chair to be able to wait for everyone else to return for the bus pickup. Let’s pause at this point and clarify a statement

Part of the old City Wall - Istanbul Turkey
about the Coke – in Cartagena it was pretty bad, but the Coca Cola on the ship and her in Istanbul was the classic taste that we are used to getting in the USA.

David went to the bazaar and found it quite interesting, but he managed to avoid any serious negotiating with any of the shop keepers. There is an outdoor and an indoor portion, but in each case they are a large collection (Kenan said it was the largest covered market in the world with over 4.000 shops) shops where you can find lot of different things to buy. If she had been in better condition, then probably Janet would have enjoyed strolling past the shops but not enjoyed the immediate sales pitch if you looked seriously at anything. In any case, the bus picked us up just before 3:00 and we returned promptly to the ship.

The process was fairly quick to get back on the ship, although the bus had to be inspected by the Turkish police before it could be admitted into the port area. They ran a mirror under the bus looking for anything that did not belong,

View of Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia Museum as seen from our ship
but never bothered to check the inside of the bus. We got back on the ship pretty quickly and went to our cabin. David went up to the upper deck to snap another few photos and then brought some snacks back down to the cabin for us to nibble on (coffee for Janet and a Newcastle for him). Dinner was still two hours away and we didn’t want a whole meal that soon beforehand but we needed something. Anyway, it also gave Janet a chance to take an hour’s nap before going to eat.

Tonight is the final Formal Night of our cruising. We got all nice and spiffy in our formal clothes and went to dinner. Tonight we took our bottle of Champagne with us that we had won at the Captain’s Circle during the previous cruise, instead of getting wine with dinner. For whatever reason there was no one else in our 5-table alcove so we got impeccable service. Janet had the Shrimp Cocktail and Roast Tomato Soup. David had Poached Pears with Blue Cheese Crumbles and BBQ Chicken Broth. For our entrée, Janet followed Jerry’s advice and had the Braised Short Ribs and David had the Lobster and Prawns. For dessert Janet had the Cherries Jubilee and David followed Joyce’s advice and had the Love Dream Boat chocolate mousse. Somehow we finished the captain’s champagne and then had our after dinner liqueurs. It was a very good dinner once again, but quite intimate this evening.

We went to the Princess Theater this evening for another performance by the West End Men. This was a group we had seen on the previous part of the cruise, but we had enjoyed them. It was the same sets of songs so you’d probably call it a “repeat”, but it was nice to sit and have someone serenade us. Then we could go back to the cabin and have a good night’s sleep before our last port call tomorrow.

Before we forget to mention it, cruising is a lot of fun, but it doubly enjoyable when you share it with some friends. In Alaska we had our relatives the Sieberts joining us, but we also had made good friends with Barbara and Mike McChord. This cruise we really made some excellent friendships with Jerry and Joyce. We hope that these good people realize how enjoyable they have made our experience and we hope that somehow we’ve done a little to make their vacation better too.

That’s about all for tonight. We will talk to you again tomorrow.


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