The Ruby Princess docked at Istanbul this morning shortly after sunrise. I was on the top deck watching this mysterious city coming to life. Istanbul, Turkey is the only city that spans two continents, Europe and Asia. The European side, which has the most of the history, spans to what is called the Golden Horn. The Asian side is called the New City. The Bosphorus Straight separates the two continents and the city is linked by the Bosphorus Bridge and another bridge.
The history of Istanbul goes back to 650 BC. It was first conquered by the Persians, then the Greeks, and then the Romans. The Roman Emperor Constantine the Great renamed the town after himself and it became the second capitol of Rome. Constantine was responsible for spreading Christianity throughout the Roman Empire and Constantinople became the center of Christianity. Then In 1054 when the church split into the Roman Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, Constantinople became the Eastern Orthodox religious center. The city was taken over by the Paleologos dynasty in the late 14th Century and in 1453 the Ottomans conquered the city and it became the center of the world of Islam. The Ottoman Empire stretched from Austria to Persia to Egypt to Morocco. It was broken up into many countries and Turkey became a republic after World War One.
Today Turkey is a modern secular Islamic Republic, with the emphasis on secular. It is trying hard to become a member of the European Union and our guide mentioned that a lot. The population is about 12 to 15 million with at least 70% living in Istanbul and surrounding area. Nine-five percent of Turkish people are of the Islamic faith, however, our guide said that some drink alcohol, he likes bacon, most of the women do not wear traditional Islamic clothing, and they love tourists.
We were on another tour and left the ship early at 7:45 am. Our guide was a very intelligent guy called Gukhan. We would be Bus Pink #4 today. The first stop was a Turkish carpet & jewelry store called Galata where we were treated to Turkish coffee, about the consistency of mud but a real morning eye opener. We watched a live demonstration of how carpets are weaved, thread by thread, using a double knot and tie. I was so impressed I bought a small one for our living room and they are shipping it home for us. I only did that after Princess guarantees the quality and delivery. We boarded our bus and we were off to the see the old Roman Hippodrome and the Blue Mosque.
The Blue Mosque is a place where Muslims come to pray daily so there are certain rules you must abide by when entering. Everyone removes their shoes and puts them in a plastic bag. Women must cover their shoulders. MA was aware of this and thought she had dressed appropriately with a long skirt and a shirt with sleeves but apparently she didn’t pass the Mosque police sleeve test and they made her wear a shawl to cover her arms.
Surprisingly, they allowed photography inside. I cranked my D3s to its highest ISO and took some photos of this amazing place. The huge center dome is covered with blue tiles and is supported by four pillars which the Turks call elephant legs. We listened to our guide explain not only about the place but also about his Muslim faith. From there it was a short distance to the Hagia Sophia Museum. The museum was originally a Christian church, then it became a mosque and today it is a museum. This is another massive Byzantine structure with huge domes and pillars inside. The church in Venice is modeled after this original Christian church.
I must tell you about the street salesmen. No matter where we walked we were constantly bombarded with vendors trying to sell us something; “genuine” fake watches, spinning tops, carpets, wooden flutes, cold water (which we bought), felt hats shirts, scarves, flutes, and souvenir books (which I bought). There were also food and drink stands selling pomegranate juice, boiled corn, candy, and a Turkish pretzel called a “simit”.
It was getting to be lunch time and Pink #5 headed off to the Bosphorus Straight water front where we boarded a tour boat for a Turkish lunch and cruise. There were about 150 of us on board from four tour buses. The boat has a dining deck where we ate lunch and a top deck for viewing. We sat down to eat and were served some really interesting food, most of which I sampled. Here is the lunch;
Appetizers: Feta cheese with parsley, fresh grape leaves stuffed with rice, hummus with pastrami, chicken breast with garlic, eggplant with onions in olive oil
Hot Appetizer: Pastry with minced meat & yogurt sauce
Palace Cuisine: Beef wrapped in eggplant served with rice
Dessert: Apricot dessert with cream, flour Helva or Turkish delight
Beverages; Unlimited soft drinks; water, tea and Turkish coffee
The tour boat docked and we were off to our final site; the Topkapi Palace which was the home of the sultans who ruled the Ottoman Empire. I can tell you these guys had a lot of money. I enjoyed the story about the guy who found a huge rock and didn’t know what it was so he sold it for three loaves of bread. The bread salesman took it to a jeweler who realized it was a huge diamond. The Sultan found out about it and confiscated it for himself.
Our tour ended and we were deposited at the harbor and boarded the ship. We sailed away from Istanbul at sunset. Now we’re off to Mykonos, Greece. See ya!