Kathryn and Ken's European Vacation
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Day 29: Istanbul, Turkey
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Day 29: Istanbul, Turkey
Day 30: Kusadasi, Turkey
Day 31: Rhodes, Greece
Day 32: Alexandria, Egypt
Day 33: Cruise at Sea
Day 34: Corfu, Greece
Day 35: Dubrovnik, Croatia



MS Rotterdam


Sunny and hot with a high of 28°C


Day 29: Tuesday, October 3, 2006     Istanbul, Turkey

A Tale of Two Continents

Currency:  Turkish new lira
Language: Turkish

Istanbul, historically Byzantium and later Constantinople, is Turkey's most populous city, and its cultural and financial center. The city covers 25 districts of the Istanbul province. It is located on the Bosphorus strait, and encompasses the natural harbor known as the Golden Horn, in the northwest of the country. It extends both on the European (Thrace) and on the Asian (Anatolia) side of the Bosphorus, and is thereby the only metropolis in the world which is situated on two continents. In its long history, Istanbul served as the capital city of the Roman Empire (330-395), the Byzantine Empire (395-1204 and 1261-1453), the Latin Empire (1204-1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453-1922). The city boundaries cover a surface area of 1,539 square kilometers, while the metropolitan region, or the Province of Istanbul, covers 6,220 square kilometers.  According to the 2000 census, the population was 8,803,468 (city proper) and 10,018,735 (metro area).

The weather was much better on this day than our first time through the Bosporus.  We had an early breakfast because all of our party had decided to take a Shore Excursion called

"Panoramic Istanbul".  This turned out to be a big mistake.  It sounded real good in the brochure: Europe and Asia meet in the city of Istanbul. See the best of both continents by motor coach. In Asia, your guide will point out Beylerbei Palace, and in Europe, the ancient city walls, and Suleymaniye Mosque. Next, you'll see the Hippodrome, where ancient Byzantine entertainment spectacles such as gladiator fights and chariot races took place. This beautiful elliptical-shaped park features an obelisk from Egypt dating to 3000 BC. Finally, you will visit the Blue Mosque with its six minarets and stunning blue interior. En route back to the ship you will also glimpse the Topkapi Palace and Byzantine St Sophia Church, and stop for a chance to shop at the Grand Bazaar. NOTES: Expect dense traffic conditions in Istanbul. Shoulders and knees must be covered and shoes must be removed before entering any religious site.

Our tour started by taking us across the first Bosphorus Bridge to the Asian side of Istanbul.  The problem was we were driving in the last part of the early morning rush hour.  According to our tour guide, of the 10 million people in Istanbul, 4 million go from the Asian side to European side each morning and back again in the evening.  He said it takes him 2 hours and 50 minutes to get to work.  The same trip on a Sunday takes 20 minutes.  Because we were going against the traffic flow, it did not take us too long to get across the Bridge.  The bus took us down close to the water and we got a quick glimpse of the Beylerbei Palace behind a brick wall.  Then the bus driver took over 30

View of the first Bosphorus Bridge from the window of our tour bus

minutes to turn the bus around and get back on to the Bridge.  All in all we spent an hour and a half just to say we had crossed from Europe into Asia and back. 

We finally arrived at the Hippodrome, centre of sporting life, and the scene of games and riots through 500 years of Byzantine Ottoman history as well.  It's now a calm city park called the Horse Grounds because of its function in Ottoman times.  It features an Egyptian obelisk brought to Istanbul in 390 AD.

On one side of the park is the famous Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmet CamiiThe cascading domes and six slender minarets of the Blue Mosque dominate the skyline of Istanbul. In the 17th century, Sultan Ahmet I wished to build an Islamic place of worship to rival the Hagia Sophia, and the mosque named for him is the impressive result. The two great architectural achievements stand next to each other in Istanbul's main square, and it is up to visitors to decide which is more impressive. The six minarets caused quite a

The Blue Mosque

scandal, as the mosque in Mecca also had six minarets. The problem was solved by adding a seventh minaret to Mecca's mosque. The mosque is huge, with a capacity of about 10,000 people; among the first experiences for a visitor to the mosque is coming to is the courtyard. Ablution fountains around the courtyard allow Muslims to prepare to enter the mosque by wash their face, arms, neck and feet as well as mouth and nose. here is a portal on the left hand side which is entrance for the local people. Upon turning to the left, one comes to the main entrance of the mosque. The shoes must be taken off and put into plastic bags. The courtyard is tiered and marble steps take visitors from one level to the next.  Being inside the mosque makes one feel small. After the gate, one meets the breathtaking interior of the mosque with its chandeliers and blue tiles. The mosque is all surrounded by beautiful 

A Side Note: Before we entered the mosques, several of our group paid money to an attendant to go down a set of stairs to use the washrooms.  We noticed these "pay-as-you-go" restrooms all over Europe. Some of them are more heavily guarded than most military bases.

17C Iznik tiles which give its name to the Blue Mosque. It is all carpeted with prayer rugs because people must put their forehead on the floor andtherefore the floor should be soft and clean.  The building is nearly a square and covered with a dome of 23.5 m in diameter and 43m high. There are four colossal standing columns of 5m in diameter which give the basic support to the building. The mosque has 260 windows which let the sunlight diffuse into the building quite nicely. They were filled with stained-glass in early 17C but they were restored later.  I took a lot of photos in the Mosque.  Some did not turn out because flashes are not allowed.  I have put them in a photo gallery below.

As you leave the Blue Mosque, you cross a small park and come to the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), now known as the Ayasofya Museum, was an early Christian Church and later an Eastern Orthodox church which was transformed into a mosque in 1453 by the Turks, and converted into a museum in 1935.  It is regularly considered one of the greatest and most beautiful buildings in history. Its conquest by the Ottomans at the fall of Constantinople is considered one of the great tragedies of Christianity by the Greek Orthodox faithful.  Our

Hagia Sophia

tour did not allow us any time to go inside the Hagia Sophia. 

We climbed back onto the bus and were driven a short distance to a carpet factory near the bazaar.  We then spent an hour listening to slick salesmen try to sell us a carpet.  Although it was interesting to find out the difference between various carpets and how they are made, this was another wasted hour.  The only thing of real value on our excursion was the Blue Mosque.

Our tour was over and we only had to walk a couple of blocks to the Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar (or Covered Bazaar, Kapalıçarşı in Turkish)  is one of the largest covered markets in the world with a surface of 30.7 hectares, 61 streets, 10 wells, 4 fountains, 2 mosques and over 3 thousand shops and has between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. It is well known for its jewelry, pottery, spice, and carpet shops. Many of the stalls in the bazaar are grouped by type of goods, with special areas for leather coats, gold jewelry and the like. The bazaar contains two bedestans, or domed masonry structures built for storage and safe keeping.  The Bazaar is a colorful place, and with peddlers shouting their wares and customers bargaining, it is always abuzz with activity.

Kathryn (in pink pants), Carol and Arlene (in black pants) inspect bags at the entrance to the Grand Bazaar

A visit to the Grand Bazaar offers a unique shopping experience steeped in the flavors of Turkish life and culture.  The ladies were in seventh heaven.  Ken decided to leave them to it and walked back to the ship, about 2.5 km. He knew he had to head north and downhill to reach the water.  He would walk a block, turn left or right then right or left, always try to keep the sun at his back. It took him 25 minutes to reach the water, moving on streets, lined with shops selling turned wood, kitchen items, new and used clothing, toys, backgammon sets, and everything else imaginable.  At the bottom of the hill you'll come to the Egyptian Bazaar (Misir Çarsisi, also called the Spice Market). Inside, the jewelry and tourist shops are taking over, but there are still lots of shops selling dried fruits, nuts, teas, spices and natural remedies. Outside, in the surrounding streets, it's still a great food market for the locals.  Ken, who was the only man amongst the

Partial Istanbul Map - not to scale

thousands of people wearing shorts, received lots of looks and a few whistles - from the men.  Here are some photos he took on his walk along the crowded streets of the Eminonu quarter.


Ken finally made his way down to the main road that runs along the water, passing by the Yeni Cami (New Mosque).  He could not cross the road because there was a fenced railway track for the public tram which ran down the middle of the road.  He walked west to the Galata Bridge which would take him over the Golden Horn.  The Golden Horn is a horn-shaped fjord on the European side of Istanbul and is fed by two small streams. It is a natural harbor where Byzantine and Ottoman fleet and commercial ships were anchored. Today, it's surrounded by parks and promenades with ancient sites around it. Its name may come from the color of the water when at sunset it shines with a gold color because of the reflection of the sun. 

Because he could not get across the tracks, Ken had to cross on the west side of the Galata Bridge.  The first thing he noticed was the large number of men fishing off the bridge on both sides.  Halfway across the bridge there was a tower with an opening and stairs leading below the bridge.  Ken went down and now he could cross underneath the bridge to the east side.  He noticed that the bottom of the bridge was full of shops.  He climbed the stairs in the tower on the east side of the bridge and finished crossing.  Once on the other side he made his way down to the waterfront and made the long walk along the pier to our ship.  The total trip took 90 minutes in the hot sun and he was exhausted

Galata Bridge with fishermen on top and shops underneath

by the time he got back.  A dip in the pool, a cold beer and a nap on the Sea View deck revived him.  As he stood on the deck at the back of the ship, Ken was amazed by the number of ships entering or leaving the Bosporus.  Facing east first and doing a 180° turn to the west, he counted a total of 30 vessels of all shapes and sizes from ocean-going tankers to small local ferries and fishing boats.

The ladies caught a shuttle bus back from the bazaar.  Dinner that night was informal and we saw a Transylvania entertainer named Dima Belinski who played several instruments including the "Draculaphone", a series of cymbals, horns and whistles attached to a suit which he donned and played.  Very entertaining.

I took the photos below from the back of the ship.  It is a panorama of the entrance to the Bosporus from the Sea of Marmara.  I could not stitch it into a single photo because I was too close and the ships were moving but they will give you some idea of number of ships in Istanbul at any one time.

These photos start with looking northeast at the first Bosphorus Bridge over the Strait and sweeping to the right to the southwest, finishing with looking up the Golden Horn

Click here for a slide show of Day 29 photos.

Day 30

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