Today brought us to Istanbul, our first “Do it yourself” port. We disembarked the ship at 8 am and intended on catching the tram up to the Sultanahmet area. However, the crowds and congestion were unnerving so we opted to take a taxi instead. That was our first adventure of the day. Our taxi driver was very nice, but caused us to catch our breath a few times as we skirted past trucks and oncoming cars. I’m so glad he lived up to the city’s reputation of crazy driving, and even more glad that we arrived in one piece.
Our first site of the day was the Blue Mosque. The building is cream on the outside, but has many blue tiles on the interior walls, hence the name. I was surprised to be told told to cover my arms but not my head, as my shoulders were already covered. It was rather hit and miss on what was requested of people, as some covered heads while others did not, and some people were let inside with shorts. Regardless, we were happy to comply with what was asked, out of respect for their wishes and beliefs.
Next up was the Hagia Sofia, a truly remarkable structure built from 532 to 537 AD. Not only is it the oldest, best preserved Byzantine structure in the world, the history of it is remarkable. It was a Greek Orthodox Church, but was then taken over and converted to a Mosque. The blessing of that conversion is that the building was preserved by the conquerors, instead of destroyed. The unfortunate part is that the beautiful mosaics depicting people were covered up by marble slabs, hiding and/or destroying the amazing pieces of art. It was especially stunning to compare it to the ruins of St. John’s Basilica which we visited in Ephesus yesterday. The two structures were very similar when built, yet their fates were quite different.
The Underground Cisterns were the next area to be explored. We followed it up with a yummy lunch at The Pudding Shop. Recommended by many guides to Istanbul, it did not disappoint. It felt great to sit and relax and be rejuvenated by A/C and Coca-Cola.
Our final site in Istanbul was Topkapi Palace. When we first entered I was not overly wowed by this former home of the Sultans. However, the longer we stayed, the more I discovered the exquisite treasures to enjoy. The objects on display from the treasury were impressive, but what I enjoyed even more was the beautiful tile work in the buildings. There were two specially remarkable rooms on the edge of the Palace, set on a spacious patio overlooking the harbor. One was the Circumcision Room (also used as the Summer Palace), the other the Library of the Privy Chamber. While these rooms served unique purposes, their level of rich detail was awe-inspiring.
Upon departing Topkapi Palace, we boarded the tram to take us back to the port. To say that our tram was crowded would be quite an understatement: it was only my hubby giving our dear friend a final push inside that kept him from getting smashed in the closing tram doors. Eek! We clutched our bags and purses tight, as such a situation is the perfect scenario for pickpockets. I am happy to report that our public transit experience ended uneventfully, and we made it back to the ship with 2 hours to spare.
Lisa is the travel loving, animal adoring, Mickey Mouse hugging owner of Dreams Delivered Travel.