2012 April 5 – Day 25 – Istanbul, Turkey (Day 1)

Istanbul (formerly called Constantinople) is the only city in the world that spans two continents.  The Bosporus strait that separates Europe from Asia runs through it and as you cross the bridges you are welcomed to Asia, or welcomed to Europe depending on which direction you are heading.Hagia Sophia – built in the 6th Century by order of Emperor Justinian who was determined to build the word’s most magnificent church.  It took thousands of workers more than five years to complete.  For 1,000 years it was the largest church in the world. Hagia Sophia was an Orthodox Christian church and was later converted into Muslim mosque.  It is now a museum.The Sultan Ahmed Mosque – called the Blue Mosque due to the blue tiles adorning much of its interior, is considered the national mosque of Turkey.  It was built between 1609 and 1616 during the reign of Sultan Ahmed I.

Istanbul is Turkey’s largest city and the chief commercial and cultural center.  The city was founded in the 7th Century BC as Byzantium, renamed Constantinople in the 4th Century BC by Roman Emperor Constantine, and again renamed Istanbul in the 10 Century AD.  Istanbul in Greek simply means “the city.” Our ship docked at noon and stayed put for three days.  We did a two-part tour on days one and two that took us to the major ‘must-see’ spots in the city.  Day three we visited the stunning palaces of the Ottoman Empire.  Needless to say there was photos, photos, and more photos taken all three days.  And we were blessed with beautiful weather as well. We left the ship at one and went to the famous Spice Market in the Grand Bazaar; which sells everything and anything and is a huge labyrinth,  jam-packed full of tiny shops and many, many people.  It was very noisy with all the conversations and the shopkeepers vying for customers.  We walked straight through the middle of the main aisle, turned left and went to the end of that aisle which took us to an exit.  From the Spice Market we walked to the Bascilica Cistern.  The Cistern (also known as the Underground Palace) was built during the reign of Roman Emperor Justinian in the 6th century.  It is a huge, one-two acre, underground fresh water reservoir.  The ceiling is supported by 336 Corinthian columns; many of them different shapes and heights with bases adjusted accordingly.  Perhaps they were an early recycling project; using columns from old fallen or abandoned buildings.

The bus took us back to the port and we boarded a motorboat for a one-hour cruise on the Bosporus Strait, considered one of the most beautiful waterways in the world.

We cruised up the Eurpopean side before turning around and returning on the Asian side.  The shoreline is home to many old traditional wooden Turkish villas and 19th-century Ottoman palaces.

Lots of folks sit along the shore and watch the comings and goings on the busy waterway.                          It’s Asia on the left and Europe on the right.            Many of these homes would sell for 25-30 million Euros.                     There are more than 135 mosques in Istanbul.  Beylerbeyi Palace and one of the summer houses on the grounds.These young fellows were having a lot of fun jumping into the water.  I can’t imagine it would be very warm in early April, but they didn’t seem to mind.The tulip was developed in Turkey and later taken to the Netherlands.  Turkey has a one-month long tulip festival every year and there were flowers blooming everywhere.  It was very pretty.

Istanbul was the end of the first leg of this 64-day cruise.  There were 100 new guests arriving.  I never did find out if anyone got off.  Our first day was great with a very interesting afternoon tour.  The next day’s tour was all day – eight hours seeing the sites.

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