Dr. Romance's travels continue... 11/26/42 Monday Istanbul (Richard's 65th Birthday!)
Merhabar! How would you like one of the oldest, most historic and most beautiful cities in the Mediterranean for your birthday? That's what Richard got today -- Istanbul on his big day. We took the shuttle bus into the heart of town, where Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque
and the Grand Bazaar are all pretty close together. The guide on the bus points out the highlights as we drive, including the Suliman Mosque and the "New Mosque" which is 500 years old, but new by Istanbul standards. We won't have time to see it all, and we are already vowing to come back to Istanbul. Bus dropped us off at the Bazaar, and we walked about 10 minutes straight up Nurosemaniye Street, to the Blue Mosque.
We are accosted many times on the way, in Turkish fashion, by shopkeepers who want to know where we're from, and to lure us into their stores. Finally we meet a very nice young man who speaks excellent English. Richard is very wary of him at first, but he says very forthrightly that he'll show us how to get to the Blue Mosque if we will visit his carpet store afterward. So, we agree -- it's sort of like a free trip somewhere in exchange for listening to a timeshare spiel. On the way, we hear the call of the muezzin, calling people to prayer. Our volunteer guide not only shows us to the Mosque, he gets us in during prayer time, when tourists are not allowed -- he speaks to the guard, and voila! we get to take our shoes off, put them in a plastic bag, and carry them inside. It's fascinating to watch the Muslims pray, bowing their heads to the ground over and over. What a lovely ground to bow to! The Turkish carpet is stunningly beautiful, covered with designs and flowers. The mosque is huge, with verses from the Qu'ran in gorgeous calligraphy on several walls near the top. It has a dome ceiling, gorgeous blue stained glass windows in Arabic design, and blue mosaics on the walls. We wait until the people finish praying and then take some gorgeous pictures.
There are steps, and steps, and more steps. Outside the mosque is yet another small bazaar, with a restaurant and about 8 shop stalls. We buy a lovely blue plate, hand painted, for our dining room wall. Then, the obligatory visit to the carpet store. The young man, his work done, disappears as soon as we go inside. He's probably gone off to find other pigeons. We are ushered up four flights of stars, given the customary Turkish apple tea (no tea, really,Muslims don't drink caffein) and shown breathtaking carpet after carpet. If the prices were more reasonable, we'd probably have one, but they begin at $3,000, and finally get down to $1,400, which is still 3 times what we'd be willing to pay. When they leave the room, Richard and I joke about having that gorgeous carpet in front of our fireplace, covered with Pugsley's hair. It just doesn't fit our lifestyle. So, we part amiably, having used their clean little restroom one more flight up.
My knees are not liking all these stairs. We cannot get into the Hagia Sofia, because it's closed on Mondays, like all museums in Turkey. We decide we're too tired to see the Topkapi palace, which is another long walk farther away from where we must meet the bus. So, we'll save that for our next trip.
We head back, stopping on the way to buy roasted chestnuts (Which I remember from my NY childhood) from a street vendor, and various things at small shops along the way. One shopkeeper has beautiful woven purses, like rug fabric, but he's too high -- we walk away, and he comes down to a really low price, so we about face and buy some, but then he seems angry at us (although no one is forcing him to sell -- it's his price) so we don't buy more at his store. We keep walking, it's not easy on the cobblestones, and we find a little shop with copper plates with handcarved designs. The man in the shop shows us how his carving works, he is very warm, we buy a lot from him, and when he finds out it's Richard's birthday, he gives him an enormous "evil eye" about 6 inches in diameter, with a lovely beaded hanging cord. It's now hanging on the lamp on Richard's side of our bed. His wife is very friendly, too, and gets a big kick out of my few words of Turkish. I guess not many tourists try the language. I buy a silver chain that Richard likes as one of his birthday presents, and he's a happy camper. Finally, we're back at the Grand Bazaar , exhausted.
We wander through a bit, but it's way too big -- hundreds, maybe a thousand shop stalls, and most of the merchandize is the brand-name stuff we don't like; like Guess clothing, expensive watches, and questionable fine jewelry. So, back out onto the street, where we finally find an Istanbul T-Shirt for me, and at the last minute before the bus arrives, we find a shop which has Turkish bead bracelets. I buy two, at $5 each, and after we get back to the ship, and I have a chance to really look at them I wish I'd bought 10 more. But, a very satisfying day in a stunningly beautiful city. There are birthday balloons on our cabin door, and a special birthday dessert with a candle and off-key singing for Richard at dinner.
I brought birthday cards from home, so now they're magneted to the wall in our cabin.
11/27/07 Tuesday (surprise)
Today we were supposed to dock at Mykonos in the afternoon, but the captain comes on the speakers in the morning to say the weather was bad, and the pilot can't come aboard the ship, so we're passing on Mykonos and going on to Port Said, Egypt, to get there on time. I don't think anyone is very sad about this, we all need an extra sea day to rest up from our touring. If you see enough ruins, you begin to feel like a ruin yourself, from all the walking over uneven surfaces.
We luxuriate at sea, swimming, having lunch, taking a nap, more penny slot machines. In the afternoon we saw a movie "No Reservations" with Cathryn Zeta-Jones, which was shown in the big theater on a large screen. It was one we had missed at home, and we enjoyed it. In the afternoon, Richard went dancing, but I'm saving my knees for Egypt. I had a lovely dinner with Mark and Linda, because Richard wanted a night off. We're becoming great friends by now. They are delightful to spend time with, and Mark and I had a rousing political discussion.
Another delightful day at sea. Tonight, we have a special cocktail party for the "most traveled passengers", so we're looking forward to it, and we have to pack for our overnight in Egypt.