April 17-19, 2009. A hotel representative was waiting for us as we got off the plane. When we arrived they told us we had been upgraded to a suite because they had overbooked our room. As you can see we lucked out
As we were on our way we saw many interesting places in Istanbul
The Ministry of War with armed guards and fountains at a hotel.
We walked along the Archeological Park, seeing our first ruins.
Continuing the exploration, we came across a war monument and one of the ubiquitous mosques in town.
Pat & I thought it was a famous mosque; it wasn't, but we went in anyway, had to remove our shoes and cover our heads. Inside it was beautiful, a typical sample of the work on the interior of other mosques. This one was a "working mosque", used for worship.
We returned to our hotel, admiring the flowers in parks along the way.
April 18, second day in Istanbul:
After checking into our ship, we took a taxi as we left the dock. Our driver was very knowledgeable and took us across the Bosphorus Sea to the Asian part of town, since Istanbul sits on both continents, Europe & Asia. Along the way we passed the Military Palace,
and we crossed a bridge connecting Europe & Asia. Many people were fishing under it, and we talked to a fisherman. We rode the ferry on the way back, and spied the Blue Mosque. We also saw a display of the famous Turkish rugs
Haghia Sophia, or Church of the Holy Wisdom, was our next stop. Only St. Peter's in Rome surpasses it in size. Converted into a mosque in the 16th Century, all its Byzantine mosaics were plastered over. They were not re-discovered until 1936, when Ataturk made it into a museum.
There's a prayer room still, as well as some sort of sanctuary chapel. Also we saw ornate doors, windows, a library, and a gigantic amphora made out of a solid piece of marble.
Today, mosaics and frescoes of saints, emperors, and Christ enliven the vast space.
Next stop was the Basilica Cistern, very near Haghia Sophia. It is a huge water reservoir built by Justinian in 532 AD. We descended underground via a stairway and used walkways over the water to explore the mysterious cavern. it was very dark, but we could see fish swimming under our feet. Well worth a short visit.
After that we went to see the famous Blue Mosque, so named by the more than 20,000 shimmering blue-green tiles interspersed with 260 stained glass windows. The contrast with Haghia Sophia was remarkable. The inside of this mosque is positively uplifting.
As we were leaving, a group of burka-clad women went in, and on the outside we saw this sign, which exemplifies the marriage of the old and the modern as it takes place in Istanbul
We started walking to our next destination, which was the Grand Bazaar. On the way to it we passed by an obelisk,
an outdoor food market that sold fish and produce,
and a very busy downtown shopping area which Pat thought it was the Gran Bazaar.
I knew better, and we kept on walking. A merchant finally understood where we wanted to go, and following his directions, we found the Grand Bazaar.
I now realize what they mean when they say something loaded with stuff in disarray "looks like a Turkish bazaar". Outside there were market stands as well.
Having seen enough merchandise for one day, we returned to the ship and had a delicious gourmet dinner in the Main Dining Room. We turned in, looking forward to Topkapi Palace the following day.
Sunday, April 19 - We spent the day at Topkapi Palace, a setting for state occasions and royal entertainment. Initial construction started in 1459, ordered by Sultan Mehmed II. The complex is made up of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings. There were guards at the entrance, and we talked to them. We went in through the Main Entrance.
The Imperial Harem compound is where the sultan lived with his mother, consorts, concubines, children, and his royal retinue. We spent most of the time exploring this dwelling. We found it extremely interesting and fascinating. All the rooms were connected through hallways and courtyards. Only a few are open to the public, and in those we could appreciate the luxury and comfort in which the Sultan's family lived. There were beautiful tiles and frescoes adorning the walls, comfortable couches, cozy fireplaces, and bath enclosures sporting running water.
There were two levels of rooms and galleries, surrounded by beautiful gardens. From the top level one could see the Bosphorus Sea, and other splendid views.
On the way out we saw some ruins, even here, more ornate corridors, and we met a group of Turkish girls who were delightful, and very happy to talk with us in English. Then we said goodbye to Topkapi Palace.