On our Own in Old Istanbul
Trip Start May 03, 2013
10Trip End May 22, 2013
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Turkish 2313 10:00AM Izmir 11:10AM Istanbul
At about 7:30 am, we depart from our hotel with our smaller group. Everyone except us and Mustafa are going back to the States. More goodbyes when we land in Istanbul and the others head off for their international flights. The 3 of us go to the luggage area where we confirm Mustafa's phone number to call if we have any troubles- unless we're in jail, of course. He has been a great guide with a fabulous sense of humor, frank and knowledgeable about his country and its lengthy history, and very capable of herding us for the past 16 days- without losing a single lamb!
An agent with Jeanne's name on a placard is waiting for us outside luggage claim
We get settled in and try to set up the little safe. After following the directions, the safe is locked, but we have no luck reopening it. The desk clerk comes in to open it and demonstrate the work flow to program our password. When we point out the inconsistencies with the printed directions he comments that "the directions are not quite so correct.'
We had a sandwich on the plane, so we're not hungry and decide to head out to the Arasta Bazaar which is a short walk from the hotel. Jeanne had a recommendation on their shops. We check at the desk for directions (just down the block!). Then, with my little Istanbul guide book and map in hand, but as usual not too sure about the directions, we head out. And snap some photos of the backside of the Blue Mosque- we're THAT close! We spend the afternoon doing lots of shopping. The little bazaar is open and not roofed in, but somewhat shaded by the arching and close roofs
We walk back to our little room and relax. Later we head out for dinner and nearby find a roof top restaurant above a small hotel (a bit more upscale than our own- it has an elevator) with a view of Blue Mosque. Back at the hotel, we have some questions for the young desk clerk- where's a mailbox? is there a pickup to the Dervish show? The answers are not as expected so we decide we'll check again in the morning. The end of our first night on our own in Istanbul!
Tuesday May 21 Day 19/4 Istanbul
We can sleep in today since we have no scheduled events until the Whirling Dervish show at 7:30 pm. We walk up the narrow, circular and dark stairway to the top of the hotel to reach the breakfast room
After breakfast, we decide to go with Mustafa's recommendation to visit the Basilica Cisterns. We stop at the desk again to get directions to the Cistern and ATM's. The young clerk (a woman this time) confirms they have not set up transportation to the show, but explains how easy it is (HAH!) to take a tram. She does confirm that we can take cameras. And she offers to drop off Jeannie's post cards. Very agreeable!
We walk back through the bazaar and on to the Sultanahmet Park between the Blue Mosque and Aya Sophia. We find the ATM as directed. Isn't that amazing- we're not lost!
It's very warm again with plenty of sunshine. We get in line for the Cistern and get pretty hot while waiting. The Cistern is large and wet and cool. The tall decorated pillars as lit up and that is pretty much the only light available. It creates a very memorable experience. We take our time going from one end to the other, but after only an hour we've done the whole thing- including the ubiquitous souvenir gauntlet. When we rise back up into the sunshine, we start looking for the tram stop we'll need that night and to check into the 'how to purchase a token' process
Satisfied that we'll be prepared, we walk to the nearby park for a shady rest where we decide to see the nearby Aya Sophia Tombs, the final resting places of 5 sultans (and their relatives). We walk over toward the backside of the Aya Sophia and stumble across the entrance. We have a nice time-very few people are visiting them. Each one of the mausoleums are like a miniature of the Blue Mosque, with decorative tiles mostly colored in shades of blue. We have to take our shoes off for each one. We leave them outside the door with a few others and they're always there when we get back.
When we leave, we see a site that catches our eye and begin to walk further down the street toward it. And then realize- it's the Topkapi Palace! We're just not used to seeing it on foot from this direction. We walk back to the Cistern area to the row of nearby restaurants. We had our first quickie lunch in the area when we visited the Blue Mosque- oh so long ago! We have a very nice late lunch- more kebaps- and then walk back to 'our' bazaar- our landmark for the road home. We almost get lost again on the way. It's a pricey place to use as a landmark- we have to buy some more stuff while we're there. We also take the opportunity to visit the Great Palace Mosaics museum
We leave for the show at 6 just in case. We have some problems getting tokens from the machines- I'm not sure if we used the wrong coins or it's their condition. It's a minor issue and we have a nice ride- just 2 stops- on the tram. But it happens again! We think we know where we're going, but walk down the wrong street- we're lost again! We ask a doorman at a hotel for directions and his response is "Turn right and it's the second street on the left." Have we heard this before? We do end up in the right place and for once there's actual street signs. But I'm disappointed when we find out that there's no photography allowed.
The show is mesmerizing with it's set patterns repeated over and over. We're sitting in the front row and I'm on the 'center' marker.We're so close I could almost reach out an touch them. I feel like I'm part of this pattern. It only lasts an hour and it's still a little light when we leave
We walk back to our hotel through the park with the Aya Sophia and Blue Mosque on either hand. They are both lit up for the evening. Photographers are all over the place, and I'm glad I had my camera with me for the show! Even without a tripod, it's a pretty great photo op! When I've finally exhausted every possible angle, we walk back through 'our' bazaar again to reach 'our' hotel. It's very peaceful now and cool in the dark- and we don't buy anything. We stop for a late snack at a pub on the way and then head back to the hotel. It's a pretty fabulous last night in Istanbul and last night in Turkey.