Day 9: Istanbul–a study in contrast

10/19

We traded columns and cathedrals for spires and minarets today.

It was about 9am when we pulled into the port at Istanbul. Even before that, we were up on deck taking pictures. So much to see, even from the ship!

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There were birds flying around that I thought were a strangely-colored type of seagull at first. Turns out they were crows! Can’t wait to show Daughter Dearest the picture I got–one perched on the deck rail about three feet from me.

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We did the usual meeting-in-the-Stardust-Theater thing. Paul and I were in one of the first groups out, which comes in handy when you consider the crowds that amass toward the middle of the day anywhere we go. Turkish police had us go through their own security scan when we got off the ship–why, I cannot fathom. Perhaps we were suspected of carrying contraband toilet seats? Dunno. But whatever…

Okay–on the bus and off we went. We passed the train station, and were told that this was the very one that Agatha Christie used in her book, “Murder on the Orient Express”. Cool!

The Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia really do have to be seen to be believed. They. Are. HUGE. And the contrast in architecture as we approached–medieval walls and marble palaces within a breath of each other–incredible.

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A brief aside: Scheduled tours are great for learning about a place and getting around without worrying about parking, buses, and maps. However, they certainly keep your wandering down to a short limit. Sometimes I wonder if the trade-off is worth it.

We visited the plaza (?) which was once known as the Hippodrome. It’s a brief walk to the mosques from there. I picked up almost zero info about this area–even though we all had our individual devices for hearing the tour guide, I still was more interested in getting pictures.

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Once again, some brief info from Wikipedia:

The obelisk was first set up by Thutmose III (1479–1425 BC) to the south of the seventh pylon of the great temple of Karnak. The Roman emperor Constantius II (337–361 AD) had it and another obelisk transported along the river Nile to Alexandria to commemorate his ventennalia or 20 years on the throne in 357. The other obelisk was erected on the spina of the Circus Maximus in Rome in the autumn of that year, and is today known as the Lateran obelisk, whilst the obelisk that would become the obelisk of Theodosius remained in Alexandria until 390, when Theodosius I (378–392 AD) had it transported to Constantinople and put up on the spina of the Hippodrome there.

 

I should probably throw in some Wikinfo about the Hippodrome too. No, it’s not where large watery critters play football–although that would be something to watch:

The Hippodrome of Constantinople (Turkish: Sultanahmet Meydanı, Turkish pronunciation: [sulˌtanahˈmet] or Atmeydanı) was a circus that was the sporting and social centre of Constantinople, capital of theByzantine Empire. Today it is a square named Sultanahmet Meydanı (Sultan Ahmet Square) in the Turkish city of Istanbul, with a few fragments of the original structure surviving.

The word hippodrome comes from the Greek hippos (ἵππος), horse, and dromos (δρόμος), path or way. For this reason, it is sometimes also called Atmeydanı (“Horse Square”) in Turkish. Horse racing and chariot racing were popular pastimes in the ancient world and hippodromes were common features of Greek cities in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras.

 

There is way too much info about it to impart here. This will have to suffice. Come along; we have mosques to explore.

We went to the Blue Mosque first, which is still a functioning place of worship. As such, it was expected of visitors to conform to certain requirements regarding clothes and shoes. I’m okay with that–all faiths have customs that symbolize respect, including my own. Therefore, it was no problem to put on a head-covering and remove my shoes. Just wish the scarf they supplied would have stayed on my head a little better. It kept slipping off–I was really wishing I’d had a hatpin or a staple gun by the time the visit was over.

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It’s a fantastic place inside–almost as cavernous as St. Peter’s Basilica. In fact, it’s the fourth-largest place of worship in the world. The aforementioned Basilica, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and (fill in the blank–I don’t remember) are the only ones larger.

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I was the last of the group out, and our guide had gone in to look for me (Good luck with that–the crowds were already thick). Fortunately, we both came out at about the same time. I had turned off my device because it was all just static in my ear–very irritating. But I was only about a minute behind everyone else. See, that’s what I mean about being on a short leash.

We walked a short distance to the Hagia Sophia, which is now a museum (which meant we could leave our shoes on–hooray!).

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Outside its walls were large artifacts that remained from the original Hagia Sophia, which was built in 532AD.

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This website has some great info on the Hagia Sophia, which wasn’t even touched upon during the tour:

http://www.livescience.com/27574-hagia-sophia.html

In the front area of the building there were a lot of food carts selling chestnuts, broiled corn, and a pretzel-like bread. I was getting hungry, and wished we could stop and get something. However…not going to happen.

The outside of this building is incredible:

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Again, it’s impossible to set down on paper all of the impressions that bombarded me inside that massive building. But we certainly took enough pictures! I think we pretty much covered the whole place with our camera lenses.

 

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Too soon, it was time for the next leg of our tour. The bus made its way through crazy traffic (there are 18 million people living in Istanbul), and eventually we got to our next stop.

But first (and there’s always one of those): a walk through an upscale store and down a tiny elevator to a subterranean room, where we were attacked–by rug sellers.

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Granted, those rugs were lovely. But they were far too expensive for the two of us to even consider. We did get to have a lovely cup of apple tea while we watched the demonstration, so it was a decent trade-off.

Then back up and out the door–and from here we were on our own for a bit. Yay!!

Paul and I headed straight for the Grand Bazaar…

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…which is incredible. (I know I use that word overmuch–but it’s really the only word that comes to mind.)

First things first–of course, the apple tea is now wanting to jump ship, if you know what I mean.

OK–there’s the public toilet.

And…the place to pay your way in.

Fuggettaboutit…I am not paying a euro or Turkish lira or whatever to dump personal ballast.

Anyway–on with the show:

This place is comprised of tiny shops cheek-by-jowl with each other, lining tiny, labyrinthine streets. Kind of like the most crowded, confusing outlet mall that has ever been built.

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And every one of these shops has a vendor in front of it, trying their hardest to convince passersby that their goods are the absolute best in the world. Cripe, I had one guy follow me past at least three stores, trying to get me into his shop. He don’t know me very well, do he…

We did stop at one place that had Turkish Delight in bulk, rather than just in boxes. I let Paul pick out what we were getting, after I sampled several flavors; I was more interested in the flavor of the atmosphere than in food. The press of the people inside the shop was getting to me as well.

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Not that the passageway outside the place was less crowded, but at least people were moving past and not just standing in place.

Just before we left, I was able to pick up a couple of items. Didn’t seem like much, but it was enough for now.

Or so I told myself, until we got back to the meeting point. There I succumbed to a couple of street vendors, simply because the prices seemed right–read that “cheap”.

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Boy, those vendors collected around me like lions around a fresh kill. I managed to struggle out of the slavering horde with two scarves, six or seven bracelets, and seven coin purses. All for a total of €15.00. I call that a bargain. I probably would have gotten more stuff if I hadn’t run out of cash. I didn’t have any currency–Turkish lira, euros, or US. (They take them all.)

Our group was then treated to lunch. (Well, “treated” is probably the wrong term–after all, it was included in the tour.) We all trooped through a good number of streets, almost getting run over a lot,

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before reaching our destination–the top floor of the Yasmak Sultan Hotel.

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The food was great–well, mostly. The appetizers were somewhat hard to figure out, until I overheard the guy at the next table describing everything to his party. That helped–I was able to avoid the hummus (it doesn’t agree with me) and only had a taste of the dried-tomato stuff (whatever it was called).

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Next up was a vegetable spring roll, a chicken “casserole” (soup, actually), and rice. I had the spring roll and some of the rice, but the soup was too spicy for me.

Dessert was baklava and a couple of other creations.

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I topped out my sugar tolerance with the baklava, so Paul ate the rest.

Back to the bus, after a visit to the hotel’s plumbing (no toilet seat again).

We tooled on down to the harbor, where we boarded a ferry boat.

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It took us around the harbor (did you know that Istanbul is in both Europe and Asia? I didn’t know that until this trip), down the Bosporus Strait, and up to the mouth of the Black Sea. Along the way, our guide told us all about the history of the more important (older) buildings we were seeing. Summer palaces of rulers and the like. I couldn’t understand her over the PA system. She sounded like the adults in any of the “Peanuts” cartoons. That was a deterrent, along with the tinnitus problem I have.

(A word to the wise–NEVER go to indoor concerts without earplugs. You’re welcome.)

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This trip took about an hour, and it was fascinating to see all of the various eras displayed before me. What was really cool was that Europe was on the left side of the boat on our way down the Strait, while Asia was on the right. Interesting contrast–on the European side you couldn’t look anywhere without seeing a minaret, while on the Asia side they were few and far between.

Speaking of minarets–we did hear the call to prayer a couple of times. Didn’t see anyone praying, but I suppose that’s done more inside than out in public.

Our voyage successful and our cameras filled with pictures, we returned to the dock and boarded the bus to return to the mother ship. Just a mile or so and we would be back on terra (shippa?) cognita.

Ah, but this is Istanbul. A single detour, and we were seeing more of the city than we had originally intended. No matter–we still got to where we had to go. This driver was a pro.

We got back onto the ship after successfully passing Turkish and boat security, then just rested in our cabin for awhile. Didn’t even go out when the boat pulled away. Personally, I was camera’d out for the day. A pod of singing killer whales in top hats could have tap-danced across the bow of the ship and I wouldn’t have pulled out my camera.

Okay–we did get a sunset picture–through our cabin window (which explains the triple lights in the sky):

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Dinner was had, writing materials were gathered, and I have been happily sitting in the library for some time now. The only (slight) annoyance is the odor coming from the Cigar Lounge on the other side of a (closed) door not four feet from my chair. I will NOT miss the smell of burning tobacco in any form when I get back home.

Our zoo is expanding:

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Tomorrow: An afternoon in Ephesus

 

 

 

 

 

 

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