Besides returning to Santa Margherita, Istanbul was probably the city to which we'd both most looked forward.  Enigmatic, extravagant and exotic, Istanbul lived up to our expectations and more.  I only regret that  we had but two days, and we'd made the huge mistake of spending them on a tour bus.  We'd opted to take one of the cruise line's shore excursions to maximize our time, thinking that Istanbul would be difficult to navigate with the differences in not only language, but alphabet too.  We couldn't have been more wrong: Istanbul is as clean, modern and cosmopolitan as any other European city we've visited.  At least the tour was informative and took us to almost all of the city's main attractions.

We started at the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque or "new" mosque, since it was only built 400 years ago.  The largest mosque in Turkey, the Blue Mosque is an extravagant amalgamation of domes and minarets and tiles and colors and lights.  The cavernous blue and red and green tiled sanctuary is even more fantastical than its imposing exterior.  

We put back on our shoes and strolled across the Hippodrome to the Basilica Cistern, which dates back to the 6th century, and is definitely the coolest water storage facility I've ever seen.  We descended a large stone staircase and entered a dark and chilly underground chamber punctuated by a network of ancient stone columns and arches.  Astounding.

We ascended to the street, where we squinted from the glare of the intense sun.  We boarded the tour bus to the Spice Bazaar.  All of our senses were instantaneously bombarded with the aromatic fusion of cumin and cinnamon and cardamom and jasmine; the rainbow of mounds of spices, jellies, dried apples and dates; the calls of the storekeepers and the haggling of customers; the soft and sweet, marshmallowy Turkish Delight that we sampled at every stall; amidst the flurry of people swarming the 400 year-old gallery.    Suddenly starving, we inhaled a mouthwateringly flaky Napoleon of feta and spinach before the tour guide announced we were heading to lunch.

For some reason, either Celebrity Cruise or the tour company, we're not sure which, decided an "authentic Turkish lunch" was best held in some creepy Renaissance Fair-esque auditorium of the Best Western Hotel. At least the mezze was pleasing.

Our next stop was the famous Grand Bazaar, which is like the Spice Bazaar on ecstasy.  Enamored by the kaleidoscope of mosaiced lanterns, it didn't take much convincing to get Joey to bargain for one.  One lantern, one silver tea set and one new suitcase later, we darted through the crowd to catch the tour bus.  The tour guide was kind enough to call us honeymooners (I suppose the length of our union compared to that of most of the people on the bus would be relatively short), which seemingly excused our tardiness to the rest of the group.

Joey holding our tea set

The bus took us to a boat on the Bosphorus, for an afternoon cruise to the Black Sea.  Then we headed back to the ship for what was supposed to be a nap.  Exhausted from the sensory assault of the day, we ended up only seeing Istanbul at night from the deck of the ship.

The Hagia Sophia facing the Sultan Ahmed Mosque  

The following morning we reboarded the tour bus for the hard sell an "informational session" on Turkish rugs.  We learned why we should buy one hand-woven rugs are so expensive valuable.  Our next stop was Topkapi Palace, home to the sultans of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years.  The Palace allegedly holds the rod of Moses, the footprint of Mohammed and the sword of David, in addition to an impressive collection of jewels and an emerald dagger made famous in a 1960's movie.

From there we drove to our final destination, the Hagia Sophia.  First built in 537, the Hagia Sophia was initially a church, then a mosque, and now serves as a museum.  I'd always wanted to visit this mammoth beauty and the green and gold mosaics, massive iron chandeliers and elaborate carved stone did not disappoint.  As trite as it sounds, they really did save the best for last.

Click here to see the rest of my pictures from Istanbul.

No comments:

Post a Comment