the draw of sunshine, water and an oracle or two made Greece our destination for 2018 Continue reading
Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny and we knew it was a perfect day for a cruise on the Bosphorus. We ate at the hotel buffet and made it across the bridge by 9:15am. We were trying to get to the IDO boat docks by 9:30am. Even though the boat wasn’t scheduled to leave until 10:30, we had read that on nice days people start to queue up early for the best views and today was no different. About 50 people were already in line so we paid for our tickets (25 lire round trip) and managed to find great seats on the side of the boat looking out at the European side of the city as we departed. These seats proved to be an excellent choice. Palaces, embassies and a castle were on offer as we made the 90 minute trip down the Bosphorus to our docking point: Anadolu Kavagi, which is located on the Asian side of Istanbul. We enjoyed a nice walk up to castle ruins and then ate lunch seaside. On the menu…fresh fish, of course. We had prawns in butter and friend calamari and then concluded the meal with chicken shish kebabs. We were in the little fishing village for about 2 hours before the boat made the return trip back to Istanbul. It was an absolutely delightful way to see the city and catch a quick glimpse of life on the water in Turkey.
Our trip to Istanbul began with a crazy thought: since we’re in Europe, why don’t we go to someplace we’d never think of visiting because it would be just too far away. Only two places came to mind: Africa and Istanbul. This spring, we chose Istanbul. We utilized the services of our local German travel agent at the train station. Not only does she speak excellent English, she also lived in Istanbul for a year and recommended we stay in the new city where the nightlife was. And, Tim and I thrive on nightlife!
On Thursday afternoon, we boarded our flight from Munich to Istanbul at 2:30pm. It was a quick 2 hour flight to the city. Upon arrival, we paid 20 euro each for a Visa and we were on our way. The hotel we booked sent a limo driver and car to pick us up. This is the best way to go when arriving at a large and busy city. I’m not certain we would have found our way to the hotel if we had relied on public transportation. Traffic appeared to zip along and after crossing under the Valens Aquaduct (4th C AD and the major water supplier to the Roman city) we were at our hotel in 30 minutes. We dumped our bags in the room and made our way outside to explore the town. We found ourselves walking on Independence Avenue, the busiest commercial shopping street in Istanbul. It’s a pedestrian walkway filled with thousands of people darting in and out of shops and restaurants. Tons of street food is available including roasted chestnuts, corn on the cob and ice cream.
On Friday morning, we headed across Galata Bridge which spans the Bosphorus in front of the New Mosque and made our way to the three top attractions: Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern. (we left Blue Mosque for another day). It is quite remarkable to see the number of mosques that dot the cityscape. For some reason, I thought there would be one or two major ones but in fact, there are numerous mosques each for a different neighborhood. The city is busy and everyone appears to be in movement. And, it is quite cosmopolitan. People from all different nations and religions make the city their home. There were fishermen on the bridge already at 8:30am and by the time we made it to the palace, 15 minutes before it opened, the ticket line had already snaked through the ropes. But, it was a beautiful morning and the promise of seeing life as a sultan up close was tantalizing.
Entry tickets to the palace cost 20 lira, and if you want to see the Harem a separate 15 lira ticket is required. The palace was built soon after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453. We strolled through the palace grounds, oohed at the jewels and weapons on display and then made our visit to the Harem. I was struck by the simplicity of the palace; walls are lined with iznik tiles and windows feature lots of colored glass which allows for tons of light to flood the space. Although women in the Harem lived well in comparison to their friends left in the city, I don’t think it was an easy life being kept captive in the Harem. From the Harem rooms, glimpses of the city across the bridge could be seen and I imagine girls would take a peak and imagine what it would be like to visit Galata Tower, built by the Genovese in the 1300s.