After exploring the Spice Market, everyone met at a nearby dock to board a boat for our cruise on the Bosphorus. The Bosphorus is a strait that connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and Istanbul straddles the Bosphorus. We cruised up the strait along the European side and down along the Asian side admiring all the beautiful homes and estates lining the its banks.
We started the tour on Monday evening with an orientation/get-to-know-you meeting, and then headed over to the Blue Mosque. It was within walking distance of our lovely hotel, Hotel Obelisk. You may be looking at the photo and asking, "why is it called the Blue Mosque?" Its name is derived from the tiles on its interior. It's official name is Sultan Ahmet Camii.
When it was converted to a mosque, they covered the walls but did not destroy the Christian symbols. It was very interesting to see Christian symbolism alongside Islamic symbolism.
First, we started the day with an incredible breakfast ... no continental breakfast at Hotel Obelisk. We had cherries, apricots, oranges, olives, tomatoes, eggs,fresh yogurt with honey & preserves, and much more. Then we met at the entrance to the Basilica Cistern. Underneath the city, this cistern is the size of a cathedral. It now holds about a foot of water on the floor of the cistern in which koi goldfish swim. It is capable of holding 80,000 cubic meters of water! As we walked around on a raised pathways, they played music that helps to give a mystical feel to the place.
Our next stop was the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. Before entering, we sat down as a group and had tea together. But due to still feeling a little jet lagged, I didn't spend much time in the museum. My mom and others, however, really enjoyed exploring this museum. I chose to quickly browse the museum and then head back to the hotel to rest a little before going to lunch and heading off to our next activity.
What a day! How did we pack so much in? And this was only the beginning of two incredible weeks.
We ended our day at Albura Cafe, a peaceful restaurant with delicious food. After that we headed back to the hotel and crashed!
We spent this morning at Topkapi Palace. This was the home of Ottoman Sultans for nearly four centuries. We first explored the Harem, the living quarters of the Sultans and their many wives. Sidar taught us so many interesting little details ... we felt as if we'd entered the world of the Ottoman royalty.
As we were finishing up in the Harem, we could hear music coming from the largest courtyard in the palace. Knowing that we were in for a treat, Sidar encouraged us to hurry toward the music. What we found was a delightful cultural experience: the Janissary Band. In Ottoman times a band such as this would accompany the army into battle. I read somewhere that the music gave morale and courage to the soldiers. If you watch my video and hear the music, you may be able to imagine the Ottomans marching to battle.
My mom and I watched the band until they marched away and then explored the rest of Topkapi Palace during our free time there. The Imperial Treasury was impressive ... silver, gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, jewels, jewels, jewels! The views of the Bosphorus was pleasant and relaxing ... oh, the luxuries that royalty has enjoyed!
The Spice Market was definitely one of my favorite places in Istanbul. It's so full of interesting sights and smells.
At this point in the day, my mom and I separated and I had the first of my treasured "solo" walks in Turkey. I loved being able to quietly walk around watching people all around me. I wandered around the Spice Market for a little while and then headed out to the surrounding streets. I found myself in areas where there were no other tourists ... and where none of the vendors tried to sell me something. And I soaked it all in ... mother and child sharing a tender moment ... the throngs heading wherever it is they're going ... men leisurely chatting, sharing the day's news ... life so much the same, yet so different than life where I come from. I watched, listened, and slyly took as many pictures as I could.
Our cruise ended in Kadikoy, a part of Istanbul on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. Along with several other "cousins," we ate dinner at Yanyali Fehmi Ottoman Cuisine ... the food was delicious! After dinner we boarded a night train to take us to Ankara.