November 13th, 2009 – by: martinikitty13
Our first glimpse of Istanbul
Was kept up all night with a hacking cough - arghh.. I think the constant heat and air conditioning is wreaking havoc on my throat. Breakfast and going to the gym helped somewhat. Then more time in the spa. We weren't scheduled to arrive in Istanbul until 1pm so we had lunch in the main dining room: crispy mushrooms (yum), papaya (really sweet) and pork & shrimp fried udon (quite good). We went on to the observation deck as the ship was entering the Bosphorus (sp?) Strait which cradles Europe and Asia - cool, huh? The views entering Istanbul were amazing! The harmony between the old and the new was really quite spectacular.
We hired a private guide and driver through Ekol Travel.
Our guide (Aran) was very experienced and had been doing tours for over 14 years and his english was excellent. Our first stop was the Blue Mosque (built between 1603-1617). It was an architectural marvel - gorgeous domes and Byzantine tilework. We managed to beat all the crowds and had time to take pictures and explore the grounds before busloads of tourists started arriving. We then walked through some quaint cobblestone streets towards Topkapi Palace - which was a palace for the sultans. It was huge with spacious courtyards and buildings. It was amusing to see the sultan's office, which basically consisted of a bed and a small fireplace. I would like to do my work in bed and pj's all the time - that would be awesome! They had various exhibits of costumes, jewelry etc where photos were not allowed. Again, our guide managed to squeeze us in before the crowds. My favorite was the jewelry exhibit - huge emeralds and diamonds galore - there was an 86 carat diamond! and the Topkapi Dagger was absolutely gorgeous! While I was glad we beat all the crowds, I did feel Aran rushed us. I am a pretty fast walker and even I was breathing heavily by the end of the tour. I hope the tour tomorrow is at a slower pace.