Black Sea/Mediterranean 2007:
Day 3 - Istanbul, Turkey


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Black Sea/Mediterranean 2007: [Day 1 - Athens] [Day 2 - At Sea] [Day 3 - Istanbul] [Day 4 - Varna] [Day 5 - Odessa] [Day 6 - Sevastopol] [Day 7 - At Sea] [Day 8 - Kusadasi] [Day 9 - Rhodes] [Day 10 - Limassol] [Day 11 - Cairo] [Day 12 - At Sea] [Day 13 - Athens]

Friday, May 4: We awoke to one of the destinations we were most anticipating: Istanbul! In the spooky haze of sunrise, Debbie spotted a Maersk ship docked on the Asian side of Istanbul, which we think was Maersk Deike Rickmers.
As we approached the city, we could see the first of two bridges in the distance. Istanbul is located on the Bosphorus Strait where it meets the Sea of Marmara.
As we approached the dock, the sights were beautiful everywhere. Here's Dolmabahçe Palace along the waterfront ...
... and here's just another lovely mosque. Mosques are scattered all over the city, and they never stopped being fascinating to us.
We had a full-day tour (booked through the ship, as we always do), and were off the ship in no time. Debbie was taken with these banners advertising Istanbul's tulip festival. What incredible luck to be visiting when over three million city-planted tulips were in bloom!
We crossed a bridge that took us to the old part of the city. That's a huge mosque in the background, but much smaller than the Sultan Ahmed Mosque we were scheduled to visit later in the day.
In fact, here it is. Also known as the Blue Mosque, it is positively radiant in the morning light. We couldn't wait to come back to see the interior.
However, our first stop was Topkapı Palace.
The palace has a series of gates and outer courtyards.
Here's a small model of the palace grounds. The harem is the collection of buildings shown at the right.
Ahhhh, tulips. The gardens were covered with tulips of all colors.
We toured the Treasury, but we weren't allowed to take photos. That means that we got to see the famous Topkapı Dagger (featured in the movie "Topkapı") but you don't get to. Sorry. Once we stepped outside onto a grand marble balcony, we had a clear view of the dock where the Maersk ship was located.
What is this and what does it say? We don't know, but the brass raised lettering is pretty.
This little guy was one of several stray cats who lived on the grounds. We met him after touring the armory, the bakery, and the kitchens.
Our tour included a visit to the Harem, which is the personal living quarters of the Sultan and his family.
This ornate room is one of the baths.
The rooms were decorated with paintings and mosaics.
You'll want to take a look at the larger versions of these photos.
This room was home to the sultan's son, the crown prince. The windows are protected with ornate metal forged into six-pointed star designs.
After our visit to Topkapi Palace, we stopped at a carpet and jewelry merchant. We were escorted to the carpet demonstration room downstairs, served Turkish apple tea in glass cups without handles, and shown a demonstration of carpets. The carpet demonstration consisted of a salesman speaking while his assistants unroll one carpet after another. Eventually, the wood floor was completely covered with layers of carpets.
We opted not to buy a carpet or view the store's jewelry counters, and headed to the Grand Bazaar just a block away.
The Bazaar is a huge complex of lanes, and every single store has at least one salesman who will walk up to you trying to sell you something. If we glanced at something in a store, we'd immediately be set upon by the proprietor. Sometimes, we'd be accosted by people trying to take us to a store located elsewhere. If you know us at all, you know we love to shop but hate to be hassled. Total money spent at the bazaar: $0.
This is another entrance to the bazaar. We caught our breath and plunged back in so we could return to the other entrance.
Our meeting spot in front of the carpet store was in a modern pedestrian shopping area. Shopkeepers were a little less aggressive here, but that's not saying much.
Back on the bus, we spotted some familiar sights. This photo of El Torito is for Tom ...
... and this photo of McDonald's is for Debbie.
By this time, it was shortly after noon, and we passed men gathering for prayer in and outside mosques ...
... and in city parks.
There were police cars and crowds outside of one mosque we passed, so our tour guide speculated that a celebrity or politician was inside.
We passed the entrance to Dolmabahçe Palace, and it was even more impressive than the view from the sea.
We ate lunch at Çırağan Palace, which has been restored and converted to the Kempinsky Hotel. The buffet was overflowing with local foods, including hummus, lamb, baklava, olives, and all manner of tasty goodness. The excellence of the food was matched only by the excellence of the view -- the Bosphorus Strait, the Bosphorus Bridge, and the hotel's swimming pool that seems to blend into the Strait.
The grounds of the hotel are beautiful. We took a short stroll after our meal.
This photo was taken from the waterfront looking back toward the hotel.
We saw many branches of this bank throughout Istanbul (and even one in Bulgaria!). Tom was delighted to see his initials everywhere, but had to face the hard truth that TEB did not refer to him once we saw the full name of the bank.
We visited the Hippodrome next, where the Obelisk of Theodosius is located.
Our tour guide, Vildan, told us all about the Hippodrome.
Finally, it was time to see the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque).
There is a large courtyard just inside the main entrance. From here, we went to a tourist entrance to remove our shoes and enter the mosque itself.
It's not as blue as we expected, but it is more magnificent than we expected. The domed ceilings in particular are impressive.
Chandeliers hang from long wires attached overhead.
Worshippers did their best to ignore the hushed tourists, who are kept behind the roped-off area.
Outside, we were treated to more of Istanbul's tulips. Tulips originated in Turkey, long before they were brought to Holland.
It's a short walk between the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
The walk took us through beautifully landscaped grounds.
Here's another cool tree we haven't seen before. It looked a lot like Indiana redbud trees, but it was a little different.
Outside Hagia Sophia, the impressive display of tulips continued.
We entered through massive doors ...
... and entered the impressive building. Originally a church, it was converted to a mosque, and shows signs of each. It's a massive structure with dark walls and coloring offset by natural light.
There are large circular signs on the wall ...
... and iron chandeliers hanging from the ceilings ...
... and beautiful details throughout the building.
When exiting the building, a large mirror over the exit door reflects this mosaic, prompting visitors to turn around to see the actual mosaic.
Our tour drawing to a close, we headed back to the ship, visible in the distance in this shot.
It's Friday.
Sail out is one of our favorite parts of cruising, and leaving Istanbul was a real treat. Small boats and ferries fill the strait, but our giant ship had no problem moving into the traffic lane.
At this point, our ship still needed to turn around, because this is a view of the Bosphorus from the back of the boat, and that's the direction we needed to be heading.
Once the boat was turned around, we grabbed some deck blankets and situated ourselves at the front of the top deck so we could enjoy our cruise through the Bosphorus Strait.
We passed the hotel where we had lunch ...
... and passed under the Bosphorus Bridge.
By the time we passed under the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, the sun had already set so we headed to our cabin shortly afterward ...

... where Zul had a towel elephant waiting for us.

Day 4 >


Black Sea/Mediterranean 2007: [Day 1 - Athens] [Day 2 - At Sea] [Day 3 - Istanbul] [Day 4 - Varna] [Day 5 - Odessa] [Day 6 - Sevastopol] [Day 7 - At Sea] [Day 8 - Kusadasi] [Day 9 - Rhodes] [Day 10 - Limassol] [Day 11 - Cairo] [Day 12 - At Sea] [Day 13 - Athens]

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