Our 2013 Mediterranean Cruise allows us to enjoy Istanbul, Turkey for a few days. As I said in my previous blog, we were not sure if the ship would dock at this fabulous port of call because of recent demonstrations and unrest here. Just a few days before, the captain confirmed that we were able to do the scheduled itinerary as planned. Lots of cheers from passengers when that was announced!
We arrive very early in the morning, before sunrise and we dock right in the middle of Istanbul with great sites all around us as we approach the city. So, of course we heard the morning call to prayer echoing from around the port from all of the mosques we could see in the distance.
We had an aggressive plan to see many sights and we were able to complete all of the major attractions that we wanted to see. Via a shuttle bus service, we get right into the heart of the major sites like the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome Park and the Hagia Sofia which are very close to each other, making a visit to each a must! We stop by and see the ancient sculptures (320 AD) that are about all the is left from the Hippodrome within the park area. They include the Walled Obelisk, Obelisk of Thutmose III, and the spiral iron Serpent Column.
Moving along we head to the Hagia Sophia a former Greek Orthodox Cathedral completed in 537 AD, it was considered the largest cathedral anywhere in the world for almost a millennium. Since 1935 it is a museum and it has a massive dome with incredible paintings, columns, and floors. It is a must see in Istanbul!
Just a few hundred meters away from the Hagia Sofia is the Basilica Cistern. An underground maze of the largest cistern in Istanbul, capable of holding 80,000 cubic meters of water. Is now a tourist sight, so only a few feet of water is present in the eerily lit walkways from one end to the other. It is fun to find the Medusa heads that are a part of several columns.
Strolling along the area we discover the Topkapi Palace, not a part of our plan but we find a tour guide who convinces us to go inside and he will conduct a private tour for us. We were not disappointed! Originally built as the main residence for the Ottoman Sultans, it is a unique structure where the use of painted tiles was the norm. As we walked through the Palace we saw many rooms with incredible painted tiles of all kinds in the rooms of the Harems.
Now, we are finally ready to head over the Sultan Ahmed Mosque better known as the Blue Mosque. It is a fully functioning mosque, so decorum like no photos, no shoes, no shorts, and women head coverings are required. It is harshly patrolled, so do not attempt to go there if you are not prepared! Constructed in 1616, the upper level is dominated in blue paint with 200 stained glass windows, hence its nickname the Blue Mosque. With a capacity of 10,000 worshipers, it is a very large mosque indeed!
Exhausted from a full day of sightseeing, we decide that the Grand Bazaar was going to be the next day project! Jane had a place in mind inside the Grand Bazaar to visit a tile man who had painted some tiles for her years ago, so we ventured into this massing shopping mecca. Covering 61 streets, including over 4000 shops, we are immediately lost, but Jane gets us to the destination of her shop keeper! I suddenly realize that Turkey has some really handsome men! Of course by that time we have turned into so many streets, we end up leaving from the complete other side and have to maneuver our way back to our starting point to get back to the ship shuttle stop.
Our evening the day before concluded with another call to prayer and here are few night time pictures from our overnight in Istanbul, Turkey which concludes our stay in this fascinating city!