We arrived safely at the airport after flying business class from Cairo. The man who expedited our airport transfer was a godsend. Marcus? Thank you.
What a relief to be in Istanbul after staying in dirty, scary Cairo for several days. Istanbul is cool and green and on water, in fact it straddles the Golden Horn which divides Asia Minor from Europe. It is a beautiful city.
We stayed at the Erasin Taxim Hotel. Interestingly, I thought it was wonderful-clean, sleek, modern, well-staffed and outfitted but other family members thought it was awful. I think it’s simply POV. They like American Colonial and want it big. I’m fine with small, compact and modern. The hotel is near Taxim Square. We walked there in the evening which just happened to be the anniversary of the day the Turks overtook Constantinople. There was excitement in the air and crowds in the streets. Some of the crowds were having a labor demonstration and there were hundreds of police armed and outfitted with riot gear watching the demonstration. It was both frightening and exhilarating.
Because of the demonstration we were detoured off the main way and I am so happy this happened. We walked through streets that were humming with the voices of thousands of people crammed into tiny cafes where they were smoking and eating and drinking and enjoying life. There were markets selling lovely, fresh fish, vegetables that looked bright and full of life. Fantastic.
On the way home we found the younger folks all eating and smoking hookah at a café near the hotel. They kept it close and turned in early that night.
Next morning we rose and enjoyed breakfast on the terrace before loading our bags onto the bus and departing for our day-long tour of the highlights of the city.
We went first to the Blue Mosque. This is the stand-out for Martina’s entire trip. Her very favorite thing we did was visit the Blue Mosque. It was beautiful.
Then, the Underground Cystern. I had heard of this, read the name maybe, but not seen photos or explored it at all. What an amazing experience. Down about 4 flights of stairs from a busy Istanbul street there is a huge room with a roof held up with columns robbed from many, many pagan temples. The columns are mix-matched and fantastic. Two of them are held up by marble blocks into which are carved the heads of Gorgons (Medusa). The Medusas are not right-side up. There are electric lights but they are dim and at some point there have been fish put into the water. The look like Koi and they sparkle as they swim above the coins that glint from below them where people have made their wishes. The girls and I all tossed in coins and added our wishes to the stew.
Mark and Evelyn were sick and so they stayed on the bus and rested.
After the cistern we took a short stroll to the Hagia Sophia. Astonishing both in opulence and architecture. Impossible to absorb in a 30 or 60 minute visit. All of us were wearing out by this point. Istanbul is crowded and hectic and we did a lot of walking and hustling and listening and it really does wear one down. Probably best, because our next stop was the Grand Bazaar and there’s enough energy in that place to power the world.
We got back on the bus and off again outside the Bazaar. Mark and Evelyn came with us now. Mark, Martina, Travis, Randall, Charles, Quinn and I stayed together and wandered into the labyrinth of the quintessential Turkish Bazaar. We sprinted past the opening phases of carpet shops, jewelry stores and leather goods markets and went into the depths looking for a hookah, scarves, sun glasses and a glass orb. Other things as well, whatever was on our lists, you know. There is so much color, sound, scent and motion that it is disorienting and by the time we came out I had a rocking headache but was also excited by the experience. It’s like a huge flea market where everyone carries the same stuff, in different combinations, and they try and sell it for hugely inflated prices.
After that we limped our way to the cruise ship and went through the hassles involved in all that. Not too bad, all things considered. Then we unpacked, heaved a huge sigh of relief and either took naps or went to a bar.
Next day, Sunday, was a free in the city. The girls, Mark and I went for a walk off the ship but quickly figured out that Sunday is a quiet day in Istanbul. I became light-headed from hunger and we reboarded, ate lunch and napped until family dinnertime. My sister ordered a cake for her husband who was ill with dysentery in Egypt on his actual birthday.
The ship set sail about an hour behind schedule.
We should pass through the Dardenelles in about 2 hours. Yawn. I don’t think I’m going to be awake that long. Greece tomorrow.
(I have left this post in a basically unedited journal form. Please pardon any verbs that don’t agree or other grammatical or syntactical errors.)