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.