A Tale of Two Continents !

Trip Start Sep 22, 2009
Trip End Oct 14, 2009

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Ruby Princess, Princess Cruise Line

Flag of Turkey  ,
Friday, October 2, 2009

Wow!  We woke up, opened the curtins of our cabin and almost immediately, the light of a thousand years of history beemed in from all directions!  It seemed that my visual perception and mind couldn't comprehend everything I was seeing so quickly.  It was definitely "awe" inspiring! 

We begin our day in Istanbul with a tour to the Sultan Ahmet area to visit the Hagia Sophia (St. Sophia). This massive sixth century building is the third church to be built at the same location. The first church was built in 360 CE, but burnt down in 404, during the reign of Constantine.

The second was erected between the years 404-415, but shared the same fatal destiny as the first one, burning down during the Nika revolt in 532, during the reign of Justinian.

Afterwards, a new structure (the existing one) was ordered from two famous architects -- Isidorus and Anthemeios. It was completed and opened to the public on December 26th in 537, on Saint Stephen's feast day. 

Some of the greatest mosaics created in Byzantium can be found in this Great Church. For example, on the west side of the so-called Catechumena is the large mosaic of the Deesis (Intercession of the Holy Virgin and Saint John the Baptist before Christ). The mosaic is assignable to a date shortly after the Restoration (1261) and had been probably commissioned to express the city's gratitude for the victory of Michael VIII Palaeologus (1261-1282), which put an to the Latin occupation. The mosaic is executed in fine tesserae of soft hues and the figures are set against a background of gold. The wistful and grave expression of the faces reflects a profound spirituality. It can be said that the surviving mosaics in Hagia Sophia represent the main phases of mosaic art in the Byzantine Empire, during the period between the ninth and thirteenth centuries.
Today, the Hagia Sophia (St. Sophia) is no longer a church, nor a mosque but a museum!

Next we visit the Hippodrome (At Meydani) which today is named Sultanahmet Square.  Having a seating capacity of 30,000, it was often used for sporting and political events and was decorated with obelisks and monuments. The 3500-year old Obelisk, Istanbul's oldest monument, was brought from Egypt and installed by the Emperor Theodosius I in 390 AD. 

Finally, we come to the Blue Mosque, known as the "Sultan Ahmet Mosque" (Sultan Ahmet Camii) by local people, and built by Sultan Ahmet in 1609. Foreigners have taken to calling it the "Blue Mosque" because of the beautiful blue Iznik tiles decorating the interior. The architect who oversaw its design was Sedefkar Mehmet Aga, better known as a student of Sinan (the greatest architect in the Ottoman Empire). Not only was it built to serve as a mosque, but its huge surrounding complex also held a medrese (theological school), turbe (tomb), hospital, caravaserai, primary school, public kitchen and market.

In the afternoon, we have free time to explore the Grand Bazaar (Kapali Çarsi) for shopping or simply for strolling through its labyrinth of merchandise and hawkers. The Grand Bazaar is Turkey's largest covered market offering excellent shopping: Turkish rugs and carpets, glazed tiles and pottery, copper and brassware, leather apparel, cotton and wool, meerschaum pipes, lots of jewellery, especially gold!  Apparently, there's about 4,000 kiosks in the Grand Bazaar!  It seemed like there were more!

The drive back on our little tour bus was rather interesting as we navigated through the streets of Instanbul, including what appeared to be residential and commercial areas of the city.  Once  on Kennedy St, we continued toward the Golden Horn, which refers to the Bay of Istanbul, the body of water which separates the "old" and "new" parts of European Istanbul.  

The Galata Bridge crosses the Golden Horn at its mouth, connecting Eminönü and Sirkeci in Old Istanbul to the south with Karaköy (Galata) and Beyoglu (Pera) to the north.

This short river may have gotten its "golden" name because it was the commercial heart of the city, serving as the principal harbor of Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul for 2000 years, until the mid-20th century. Markets still abound here, and the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce has its offices right on the shore.

Back on the Ruby, the dress wear tonight was "anything white"!  The reason, the "White Hot" Deck Party!  Thus, we wore our brightest whites to dinner before heading to deck 15 for the party!  Junction 21 played all the hits, from ABBA to LADY GAGA!  We did lots of dancin'!  There were streamers and confetti!  And Conga lines too!  It was a great fun and good opportunity to burn off even more calories! 

Tonight as we partied on during the White Hot deck party, the Ruby sailed south down the Aegean coast of Turkey to Kusadasi, a popular resort town of about 50,000 residents and vacation spot for many northern and western Europeans.  It's also the closest city to the ancient Greek city of Ephesus!  Tomorrow, we visit more ruins!  

Good Night!  Cheers, Rick & Elsie! 


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