After our recent island idyll (see below), we woke up April 25 to find ourselves in The Big City – Istanbul — the storied metropolis that bridges the gap between Europe and Asia. We were on the program that extended our two-week ship experience for two more days, but without the ship. Instead, we disembarked to go aboard the Grand Hyatt Istanbul.
The essential three-part Istanbul experience was accomplished in the first morning, while our land-based staterooms were being readied: Two legendary mosques and a famous museum.
The “Blue Mosque” turns out not to be blue, at least not on the outside. The official name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Our guide showed us that the more popular name comes from the colors of the tiles on the inside of the 400-year-old religious structure. We had to take off our shoes to explore the interior. Not to worry; the floor is covered by a very large and clean (what else?) Turkish carpet.
Then it was shoes back on for a short walk away to the Hagia Sophia, a former mosque and former cathedral, but it’s now classified as simply a historic structure. This one is even older – first dedicated in 360 A.D., but rebuilt or repurposed several times since then. The gigantic dome and four minarets dominate the city’s skyline.
Last on the morning agenda was the Topkapi Palace Museum. Incredibly dense crowds had the same idea, but all managed to shuffle through the courtyards and exhibit rooms somehow. I remembered the 1964 film, “Topkapi”, revolving around the attempted heist of the emerald-encrusted gold dagger of long ago. And sure enough, the thing itself is still there hanging in all its glory on a gold thread.
The next day, we took the opportunity to travel to the storied Grand Bazaar. As entertaining as the objective was the ability of the buses to navigate many of the narrow streets and difficult traffic without suffering a scratch. At one point the passengers on our vehicle applauded the driver for his urban dexterity.
Like many major cities in the world, Istanbul proved to be a stimulating, exciting experience. It is all the more so for its eastern and western influences, physically and philosophically joined by the bridge across the Bosporus. Later, we took the opportunity to have an off-campus meal in a well-known local restaurant called the Topaz.
For the cruisers who chose the Aegean Odyssey, Istanbul seemed the ideal capstone to a rich and varied fortnight of explorations in the old world.
April 28, 2012
Photos by Robert W. Bone