Thursday, June 21, 2012

Life doesn’t get any better than this…

We are in the first city where I immediately said to myself, “Self, we have to come back here!.”

Because of the missed port of Mykonos, we were able to transit the Dardanelles—haven’t thought of that since grammar school geography!—in daylight. In fact we planned to, and did, enter the Dardanelles at 1700 so we planned a party. Actually TWO parties. All plans worked.

First we had the group of boat-builders I wrote about yesterday, followed by a group of about 20 a couple of hours later. For about two hours we travelled along the Dardanelles, the narrow passageway that is the entrance to the Sea of Marmara. Because it is only about a kilometer (an aside [are you used to my asides yet?]: is it pronounced KEE-lo-meet-er or kill-OM-ah-ter? I hear it both ways and even native Spanish speakers seem evenly divided on the question) wide, we felt very close to the land on each side. The terrain reminds me very much of the terrain around the wine country in the Napa & Sonoma valleys—if they were next to the ocean, that is. A good time was had by all! And we didn’t have to clean up! I love Carmello (our room steward)!

So the captain got us in early to Istanbul, not that it really mattered since our tour was going to start at 0900 no matter what, and we had such a brilliant sail-in in the early morning. With a little fumbling about while we were at the Patisserie (a brilliant meeting place suggested by Narelle for the private tours. It’s on Deck 5, almost always the disembarkation deck, has lots of seating, and it close by the debarkation point.) we got underway on our tour just about on time.

For a change, we have two smaller groups (13 & 14) instead of one big group of 27.

Yet another digression: the ship has been having an outbreak of some kind of intestinal bug. Enough people have succumbed to have The Captain made periodic announcements about washing hands. I deliberately put “The Captain” as capitalized because it seems this is a really serious problem. So serious that they are quarantining people. Initially for 24 hours after the last symptoms, now it is 48 hours. I mention it because the quarantine is so severe as to perhaps be counter-productive. Kathy, one of our friends on board, reported herself as having diarrhea and was quarantined for 48 hours. Our tour left at 0900, her quarantine was up at 1100; they would NOT release her even one minute early. She missed the tour and lost her money. You are, if you are quarantined, effectively a prisoner. Your key card (that lets you open your door and get on and off the ship and buy stuff) is cancelled and if you break that quarantine, you will be put off at the next port. If I am going to miss a tour and lose the money, why would I report myself? An ethical quandary if I ever heard of one. But if they are going to be so draconian I think they risk having people not report that they are sick. Kathy is an RN and had already quarantined herself and only reported that she had had diarrhea so they would know and she was locked in her room for 48 hours and missed a tour. Certainly would make me think twice about reporting to the ship if I were to become sick.

But on to much better things. Istanbul is awesome, beautiful, exotic, fascinating, intriguing, friendly, and for us on this trip at least, has fantastic weather. The sky is clear blue, not a cloud anywhere, the temperature is in the mid-70°sF (24°C), the city is clean and friendly. Our guide is Lele (pronounce LA-lay), which means tulip in Turkish and is the  national flower. She is as awesome, beautiful, exotic, fascinating, intriquing, and friendly as is Istanbul. And she has a lot of stamina because we walked most of the day! Would I recommend her as a guide? Absolutely! She is one of the best we have ever had; knowledgable and friendly, what more can you ask for in a guide? (She is the Managing Director of KSG, and —unsolicited testimonial, as they say on TV!)

We saw and experienced the best of Istanbul and definitely want to come back! The Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace including the Harem, lunch at the Pudding Shop very close to the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, and perhaps best of all, a stop at a Turkish five-generations-in-the-business rug maker.

The crowds at the Topkapi were amazing! So many that we really couldn’t see much of it, but we did get to go in to see some of the jewels. “Jewels” doesn’t come close to the immensity of what we saw. Most memorable to me was a bowl—a BOWL!—full of emeralds the size of small chicken eggs; so many and so large as to be almost unbelievable.

Then the Harem (pronounced by Lele as hah-REEM) was stunning! Lale had many stories about it, including that some of the Eunuchs apparently weren’t really eunuchs after all (their operations didn’t completely work) and there were, let us say, a few “accidents.” After a few decades of not knowing who the fathers were, they decreed that all eunuchs would be black so they could tell if a child was fathered by one.

And, oh! The tile work in the Harem rooms we saw! All handmade out of ground quartz, one tile took 72 days to complete and every room is covered in tiles, floor to ceiling. To think that the Turks just abandoned this palace in favor of another one!

The Blue Mosque is blue on the inside, not the outside; the Hagia Sophia is a marvel, a Christian church turned into a mosque but they preserved the mosaic portraits of the saints by plastering over them; the Grand Bazaar cannot be described, it has to be experienced! Four thousand shops under one very ancient roof, another 5000 on the outside surrounding it. We looked and wandered and bargained a bit but ended up not buying anything, probably because I was tired and cross by that time! But it was enough to just wander through it experiencing all the mass of humanity, the smells, the sounds, the sights of full burqa-clad women next to young girls in short-short skirts. Absolutely fabulous!

Best, perhaps, although how can I choose a “best” when it is all so wonderful? was an impromptu (because we were all so prompt in returning to the guide when we were told—like good little kindergartners, I suppose) visit to a rug factory. We were first offered a variety of drinks from Coke to “Lion’s Milk.” I elected to have some cold Apple Tea and Lion’s Milk which is some kind of anise-flavored liquor that starts clear and becomes milky. Quite good and a bit intoxicating which may account for why we bought a Turkish rug! It will go at the foot of our bed in our cabin—the one on Mt. Lemmon, not the one we live in now. We watched a woman who learned the Turkish way of knotting silk—different from any other rug-knotting technique in the world, a double knot—whose fingers moved faster than any of us could follow even when she slowed down to try and show us what she was doing! The owner, the fifth generation in his family to be in the rug business, showed us rug after rug after rug from various areas of the country; rug after rug done in various materials from silk ($16,000) to wool ($300) to cotton ($850); rug after rug done in styles from kilim to names I cannot remember. At the end I think the rugs covered a floor area about six meters by three meters and easily six layers deep. His helper just kept pulling out rugs and unrolling them on the floor as he described the design, the location, the materials. Just a fabulous experience.

Lunch was in a small (from the outside, anyway) shop very near the Topkapi Palace called the Pudding Shop. I would never have even looked inside, I would have assumed it was a sweet shop. Au contraire! It was one of the best, in terms of the experience, meals I have had. It’s a buffet-type restaurant where the staff serves you what you want and then carries your tray for you to your table. Lele told us to ask for a “mixed plate.” I got a plate full of Turkish foods of several types I could not possibly describe in terms other than interesting and delicious! Anybody going to Turkey? Find the Pudding Shop and give it a try!

Exhausted, we returned to the ship to rest up for the dawn ceremony tomorrow commemorating Gallipoli, a tragic battle in 1912 (I think I have the year right) between the Turks and the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand) troops. It was a complete disaster for the ANZAC and the source of their “lest we forget” quote that is on a monument to the military in every town in Australia (and presumably in New Zealand as well).

We also have to regroup a bit because we lost Stanley in the Blue Mosque. I should be able to find him again as soon as I can find a print shop. Since he travelled electronically to Sydney a tiny replica of him resides on my computer!

The weather is wonderful so we were able to finish a marvelous day with martinis on the deck.

A band at Topkapi

Entrance to the Harem

Some of the tile work

Closeup of the tile

Inside the Harem

this is all tile work; one of the Princes "privy" (living quarters)

Flat Stanley at the Blue Mosque
Our guide, Lele

The rug "knotter"

Inside the Grand Bazaar

The man in the orange shirt is brushing his teeth in the Grand Bazaar

Entrance to the Grand Bazaar

The view from our deck

More deck view

The Blue Mosque and crowds

Blue Mosque

This is one of many strays. Note how well-fed he looks. The orange tag on his ear means that he has all his vaccinations, courtesy of the Turkish government.

Entrance to Topkapi Palace Museum
A Prince's living quarters

A view of the swimming pool for the Harem women

The Queen Mother's apartments

A policeman on a THREE-wheeled Segway

Modern transport in Istanbul

Pam and the local beer

The BEST restaurant!

Inside Hagia Sophia. Best I could do since I lost my camera

Some of the remaining mosaics from when Hagia Sophia was a Christian church

Entrance to the rug factory

The beginning of the avalanche of  rugs

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! We have 4 days in Istanbul and now I know we are going to love it. We will definitely check out the "Pudding Shop"!