Friday, November 20, 2015

Istanbul, Turkey

October 17, 2015

This destination has been on my bucket list for a long time. It was great to finally make it.

I did a lot of research on excursions through the ship, tour guides and doing it on our own. With a lot of help from the Cruise Critic message board, and printouts from sites like Lonely Planet and Wikipedia, we decided to give it a go on our own. And it worked out perfectly.

As expected, our ship docked between two tram stations. Taking a guess after leaving the port area, we turned right and it was the correct decision ... the Findikli tram station was just a 5 minute walk. Across the street were two ATMs and I managed to pick the machine that gave me (1) 10 and (2) 20s Turkish lira bills instead of the (1) 50 another cruise passenger got. This was good because the tram token machine accepted a 20 TL bill maximum.

So I bought 4 Jetons (the name for the tokens) and we boarded the next tram, getting off at the Sultanahmet stop. I knew the general direction to walk (our first stop was the Blue Mosque) and looked for the six minarets above the tree tops. Couldn't find them ... until we got closer to the general area and saw that one of the minarets was being repaired and the top half was missing. So much for landmarks.  :)

We headed off to get on line to enter. I had purposely worn a top with longish sleeves and I had my own scarf with me to cover my head. (For those women without a scarf, they were provided free but not sure I'd want to wear a scarf that had seen lots of heads.) The building was amazing and I'm sure it would have been even more amazing if we did not have heavy clouds that morning. I would have loved to have seen sunlight brightening up the inside but we have to take what we can get.

Our next stop was the Topkapi Palace. We were early enough that there were no lines at either the ticket booth or the automatic ticket machines. We entered and went straight to the harem area which required an additional entrance fee. We were practically the only ones in there. Between the posted signs and the literature I had printed off, we had a good idea of what we were seeing.

The mosaics throughout the area were beautiful.

After the harem, we stopped for lunch at a self-service cafĂ© at the back of the palace. The weather was clearing and we got an outside table for two overlooking the Bospherus. I got two different main dishes, one basically chicken in filo and the other cheese in filo, cucumber and tomato salad ...all of which we shared, plus a platter of assorted Turkish pastries for dessert. It was perfect.

Knowing both time and energy were limited, we made the decision to see just two of the displays in the Palace, the Treasury and the Chamber of Holy Relics (based on suggestions in the literature I had). There were lines at both but both lines moved quickly. In the treasure, we got to see the Topkapi Dagger and in the Chamber of Holy Relics .... well, I think one would have to a believer to appreciate what was there.

Inside of the Aya Sophia taken from the upstairs gallery.
Our next stop was Aya Sophia. Having been a church and a mosque, it is now a museum.

One of the special features is the upper gallery where beautiful frescos are being found from the time it was a church. Climbing up the cobblestoned ramp was an experience in itself.

Finally ready to call it quits, we exited the museum and Jerry wanted to know where the tram stop was. We could see the glass covered station from where we stood and both of us were glad it was so close. We boarded a crowded car where (with our walking sticks?) two passengers got up and gave us their seats. Back to the Findikli stop, and our five minute walk back to the pier. It was a great day and we were both pleased with how well we had done it on our own.


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