Here we go… with just a little under two months before we set off on our next adventure if I want to make sure that you are totally bored with me and my trip then I better get cracking! So let’s take a look at our first destination; Istanbul, Turkey.
Want to be wowed with my knowledge of history and such? Way back when (okay so far not very impressive) Istanbul used to be called Constantinople. Now, I have never professed to being an expert on ALL things.. just travel related things! So I did what I do best in these instances and Googled!
Back in 1453 the seige of Constantinople and the subsequent capture of Constantinople marked the end of the Roman Empire, an imperial state which had lasted for nearly 1,500 years. The fact that I didn’t realize that Constantinople played such an important part in the downfall of the Roman Empire I would like to blame on the poor schooling back in the 70’s rather than perhaps non-interest in my teen years…
So… a pretty important place both way back when and now… We will have a good amount of free time in Istanbul… the first full day… and then the next day until the evening when our ship departs. I am betting that my jet lag will be major as it usually is when going over the pond. I try my best to get as much out of myself that first day without sleeping until the evening, trying to reset my inner clock, but after 50 years that clock is pretty stubborn.
But if so inclined here are some of the highlights that I might want to pay a visit to: (and with the help of my friend Google while some of these you might well know or have heard about, some of these will be brand-new (to you) ).
The Grand Bazaar:
There are 5,500-odd vendors in the Grand Bazaar. Shopkeepers cajole and entreat passers-by in a dozen languages, determined not to permit visitors to indulge in such a non-commercial activity as sightseeing. You are not dealing with sales clerks but most likely the owners themselves, or at least a trusted brother or nephew. Many still pay their rent in gold – a hefty seven kilos per year for shops on the main avenue.
Fortunately, the perception that hardcore hustling is bad for long-term trade has finally started to sink in among the bazaar traders. Visitors will find the Grand Bazaar a kinder, gentler place than it was years ago. But even the sagacious Mehmed the Conqueror, who founded the covered bazaar in the 1460s, would have been surprised by the plasma screens overhead in the bazaar’s 65 alleys.
Serious shoppers should come armed with a notepad, a calculator for working out exchange rates and plenty of time – three hours is about the minimum needed for a purchasing expedition here. When you find something you like, jot down the price and the location of the seller. Then find the item elsewhere and get more quotes. Continue for as long as you have the patience.
Google to the rescue again! Having never heard of this sacred building before, I came across a very interesting explanation Haghia Sophia Review. I wanted to just do a little synopsis for you on the blog but after reading a couple of paragraphs I felt that everything was really pretty interesting and as I know what appeals to me might not interest everyone (I thought that the fact it once held the finger of that doubting Apostle Thomas was pretty cool…..) so for a quick read just click on the link. It reads like a soap opera!
Glad to hear that this Palace is located right behind the Haghia Sophia… so see one see both. The Palace was the hub of Ottoman power for over three centuries, until it was superseded by Dolmabahçe Palace in 1853. For lavish decor and exquisite location, it rivals Granada’s Alhambra. (I will have to be the judge of that though… when we went to Spain a couple of years ago I had thought that the Alhambra was magnificent). But they say that at least half a day is needed to explore Topkapı and that
given the high entrance fee you might want to take a full day to get your money’s worth. We might be a little pushed for time so the must-see features are the Harem (although there’s an extra charge), Imperial Treasury and the views from the innermost courtyard. Now the Harem? I might never get Matt out of there!
The Church of St Saviour in Chora
Often overlooked because it’s so far off the beaten track, for Byzantine splendour this church (also known as the Kariye Mosque or Museum) is second only to Haghia Sophia. Built in the late 11th century, its celebrated mosaics and frescoes were added when the church was remodelled in the 14th century.
Depicting all manner of Christian iconography, from the Day of Judgement through to the Resurrection, the works here are arguably the most important surviving examples of Byzantine art in the world, both in terms of their execution and preservation. Ironically, this Christian art owes its excellent condition to the church’s conversion to Islam in the early 16th century, when the frescoes and mosaics were covered over. They remained concealed until their rediscovery in 1860.
Built by the Emperor Justinian at the same time as the Haghia Sophia, it was forgotten for centuries and only rediscovered by a Frenchman, Peter Gyllius, in 1545 when he noticed that people in the neighborhood got water by lowering buckets through holes in their basements.
It’s a tremendous engineering feat, with brick vaults supported on 336 columns spaced at 13-foot intervals. Prior to restoration in 1987, the cistern could only be explored by boat (James Bond rowed through in From Russia With Love). These days there are concrete walkways. The subdued lighting and subterranean cool are especially welcome on hot days. Look for the two Medusa heads at the far end from the entrance, both recycled from an even more ancient building and casually employed as column bases.
I hope that this article has peaked your interest a little more into Istanbul. While the Grand Bazaar is a “must” there are so many other interesting places in the city and on the outskirts that Istanbul is a great destination for more than just a day or two… so many times when I am setting up a client with a cruise that starts or ends here… or a tour, they chose to spend some extra days on their own to discover the city… and you will find that the prices for tours and hotels in Turkey these days are very reasonable!
Next week’s blog will outline our next stop on the cruise Kusadasi, Turkey… so you know we will be talking about Ephesus!!