We said goodbye to Asian Turkey as we made the 30-minute crossing at the narrow part of the Sea of Marmara to the European side of Turkey. Our first stop that day was the Haiga Sophia, that magnificent cathedral to mosque in Istanbul’s old city area. This is a really great place and I was very happy that I’d be spending two free days around this environment! There is a large parklike setting with the Haiga Sophia, the Blue Mosque (The Sultanahmet Mosque), the Topkapi Museum, and the Grand Bazaar all close together.
The Haiga Sophia was a riot of scaffolding, so it was hard to get a good sense of the place. It is amazing architecturally, but it is in serious need of a facelift– thus the scaffolding. A few of us climbed to the second floor, but there wasn’t much in way of a view. We decided to save the Blue Mosque for the next day as it was loaded with tourists– both foreign and Turk, as it was still the holiday. This gave us the opportunity to get to the hotel and have the rest of the day free. I got a cab and headed straight to the central bus station (Buyuk Autogar) to get my ticket to Thessaloniki for the 19th. All went well and I was out and back to the hotel in an hour. I stopped in a restaurant close to the hotel Dedaman and over the course of time, more and more of my fellow travelers came in. We ended up talking till 11:00 and enjoying a long, pleasant meal.
The next morning, we headed for the Topkapi Museum. It was quite crowded, but we got in relatively quickly. There are many rooms that you exit and enter from the outside as they are located in a rectangular court layout. This museum once was the residence of the Ottoman rulers, but they gave it up to live elsewhere in the city before they ended up in exile in the 1920’s. We only had two hours for the whole museum, so I was doubly glad that I was staying in the area on the 17th to the 19th. I saved parts of it for then. I did not want to rush through because I could return on one of the days. Some wonderful objects here, especially the jewelry and armory.
Some of us opted after to check out the old Roman cistern. Then it was on to the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet) and the remnants of the old Roman Hippodrome. The Blue Mosque was a lot less crowded than the day before, so you felt less rushed while enjoying the interior. The exterior is a real photo opt by day or night!
It was a busy last day as some of us took a boat trip along the Bosphorus to say goodbye to this wonderful and historic city.
A quick stop at the hotel to rest a bit and get ready for the final dinner. We ate at a nice place on the Bosphorus— and for only the second time the whole trip, it rained. Many goodbyes, cards and emails exchanged, and, of course, endless photographs. I saw a few more after dinner, especially John, Rita and Tammy– we hung out together a lot during the trip. Tammy left early in the morning and I had breakfast with Irv and Shelley. Going to miss them a lot as well. But they live in New Jersey, so we can always get together. Saw many of the Aussies at breakfast and said goodbyes again. They were really a nice group of people. We were very lucky.
After breakfast I flew out of there ready to check out the city on my own. Checked into the Balin Hotel, which ended up being a good choice as it was close to the action of the old city, but a 6-7 minute walk away. As I walked down the street, I realized that I was grinning from ear-to-ear! I guess I was just happy to be off on my own finally and not worrying about schedules and meeting times!
The next day, I was off on a mission to finish seeing the Topkapi, but life took me in another direction! As I passed the old Roman cistern, I made the left and started walking on Ankara Caddesi. I followed this steep, winding road all the way down to the Bosphorus near the New Mosque. I then ventured further and further getting blissfully lost in this maze of streets filled with small shops selling clothing, fruit, spices, nuts, home goods and coffees and teas of all kinds. The visuals and aromas from the coffees, teas and spices was thrilling.
Somehow, I came out again near the New Mosque and had a lunch of a sandwich, the delicious Turkish rice pudding, and tea sitting on the street enjoying life go by. The shop owner came out and gave me some hazel nuts covered in cocoa powder that they made at the shop. They were terrific, so I bought some to take back. He knew who he was dealing with!
I eventually made it to the Topkapi, but didn’t get there till about 2 o’clock. I saw a few rooms I hadn’t seen the day we went there on the tour including the clocks and the armory. Then I went to the Harem area. That was amazing. What a sheltered life they lead, but it was also one of great opulance and privilege!
I spent a few hours taking pictures at Haiga Sophia and the Hippodrome. After that, I spent some mindless down-time at Constantine’s Column feeding the pigeons! Then picked up some samit, a round bagel-shaped sesame-encrusted bread and the next morning scored a few boiled eggs from the hotel to enjoy on my trip to Thessaloniki. It has been a wonderful trip through Turkey, and I have the same expectation for Greece as well! On to the Acropolis!