Honeymoon Day 15: Istanbul, Turkey

Since Istanbul was an overnight port of call, we woke up and were able to plan our day without worrying about an arrival time. We really only had two main sites to see: the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque…and get a good Turkish lunch in town. We started out the morning with breakfast on the ship, and hanging out on our balcony watching a cruise ship pull up next to us. Now this was one of the most memorable events on the trip. A huge, and I mean HUGE Celebrity ship was pulling up along side of the Niew Amsterdam, so natually we were watching it cruise on by. I noticed, and mentioned to Matt that there were an awful lot of men in their underwear on the balconies of that ship. And all sorts of flags decorating the verandahs. We then proceeded to realize that that was all there was on this ship…MEN! And then the flags clicked…most of them were rainbows! This was a gay chartered cruise! Oh the process of deduction was wonderful.

Anyway, after our colorful cruise watching morning we headed into town, this time opting for the metro to take us to the Sultanahmet neighborhood where the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque were located. We hopped off the metro (very crowed metro) and headed through the Hippodrome to the Blue Mosque. We waited in line for a good 20 minutes before entering the mosque. We did not find it as impressive as the New Mosque, but it was still stunning. Your neck gets sore in Istanbul for all the looking at ceilings!

From here we went straight to the Hagia Sophia and stood in a very long line (yes, it was still hot but we were getting used to the ~100 degree weather at this point) to enter this iconic building. I of course had my personal history tour guide, Matt, telling me all about the Emperor Justinian building it, and the chaotic history of its rise as the largest church in the world, then a mosque, and finally a museum as it stands today. I was not prepared for how epic this building was. We walked in and were instantly engulfed by its majesty. Towering domes and pillars, beautiful Byzantine mosaics peeking out from behind the Ottoman plasterwork. It was fascinating to see Christian symbols alongside Islamic artwork, beautifully illustrating the tumultuous history of this church/mosque for the past 1500 years.

After the Hagia Sophia we really were running out of time in Istanbul, so we found a place for lunch near the Sultanahmet metro stop (great lunch!), visited the Basilica Cisterns (so so cool) then took the metro back to the ship. We cruised out of the harbor early afternoon, ushered out by one final call to prayer blasting from every minaret. What a stunning city. We will be back.


Honeymoon Day 14: Cruising Dardanelles to Istanbul, Turkey

Some things are not as they appear. For example, the itinerary stating that today we would be cruising the Dardanelles. Now this was not really something that we were dying to see (I had never even heard of the Dardanelles prior to booking the trip) but we thought it would be a cool thing none the less. Well, it may have been if we were not going through them at 6 in the morning. Yes. 6 am. I will be sleeping thank you! Short story: we slept through them. We spent the morning and early afternoon cruising our way to Istanbul…now this was something we were excited about! Istanbul was one of the main reasons that we picked this particular cruise. Plus, it was to be an overnight port of call.

We pulled into Istanbul around 3 in the afternoon, perfect timing to go see some evening sights and get dinner. We had scoped out our options for public transportation, and decided to just walk instead. As soon as we could, we got off the ship and headed for the Grand Bazzar. We walked across the bridge over the Bosphorus, and into a crowded square in front of the New Mosque. The Istanbul skyline is just peppered with the minarets at all the mosques. They are beautiful. Reminiscent of Aladdin’s palace with shining curved domes and iconic, towering minarets. We stood in the square along the Bosphorus, just soaking in the colors, sounds and smells of the city. People were rushing all around, women dressed in traditional Islamic coats, men sitting on steps eating corn and chestnuts, and everyone just living! This felt like a real place, not just a tourist destination, but a real live city. Matt and I bought some roasted chestnuts from a street vendor for 5 TL and ate them in the square before heading off the investigate the interior of a mosque.

The New Mosque was huge. It looked regal sitting alongside so much hustle and bustle. I put on my headscarf (flashbacks to Zanzibar!) and we headed in. It was such a treat to go inside a mosque as women were not allowed in the ones in Zanzibar. The New Mosque was impressively big from the outside, but that did not compare to how breathtaking it was inside. The multi-layered domed ceiling soared above our heads, adorned with the most beautiful blue, red, yellow and green tiles you could ever imagine. Every panel had a unique design, but all together it was a symphony of pattern and color. Absolutely stunning. I immediately felt the color and life of this place, so different from that of the churches in Italy.

From the New Mosque we headed to the Grand Bazaar by way of the local shopping streets. These streets were lined with shops, two stories tall, filled with clothing and bedding and everything else you could ever possibly need. I was intrigued by all the formal gown shops. They were everywhere! Every 8th store was selling unbelievably gaudy dresses. Think prom+pageant+volume and you may be getting close. I saw one dress that I was immediately drawn to. It was a lovely sea foam green encrusted with crystals. When I went to investigate further, we realized it was actually just fabric wrapped around a mannequin in the window of a fabric shop. I wish I had taken a photo of it! It was beautiful. I decided that next time we are in Istanbul I will have an evening gown made.

In the center of this local shopping district (nope, still not to the Grand Bazaar yet!) we heard the call to prayer. This was the first time Matt had ever heard it, and it was probably one of the most memorable things for him from the trip. The call echoed across every building, and just kept growing as more mosques chimed in. It was amazing to hear.

Finally, the Grand Bazaar! This ancient indoor market was filled with everything a tourist in Turkey could imagine. Scarves and rugs, pottery, lamps, postcards…you name it! And these guys were ready to sell it to you. Matt loves Turkish rugs, so we were inspired to browse a bit. Oh boy did the shopkeepers want to sell us a rug! What they did not realize is that we are just too dang cheap to buy one. When we told them that the price was too high they would lower it, or offer up something less expensive instead. Nope, that is not really what we meant. We want the $15,000+ rug, we are just not willing to pay for it! They sure were pretty to look at though. We did come out with a few souvenirs…a scarf for me (that we bought from a super sweet vendor), a Christmas ornament painted in the Turkish pottery pattern, and some honey from a little food store.

We wound our way back through the bazaar and out to the Spice Market, another key destination in Istanbul. We were wandering through just before closing, and sampled some amazing Turkish baklava. We were seriously considering buying some but it was closing in on 6:00. And when they say it closes at 6:00, they mean it! Stores started turning off lights and everything starting vanishing into closed doors. We felt like we almost needed to run out of the market just so we would not get locked in!

After the spice market we wandered off to find some Turkish dinner. We settled on a local street café that served decent food. Nothing too exciting, but it was good. Musakka, yogurt pasta salad, and lamb kebabs, all finished with some apple tea. After dinner we took our time wandering back to the ship, and pretty much went straight to bed. We knew that the next day would be our big day to see the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque.