On our Own in Old Istanbul

Trip Start May 03, 2013
Trip End May 22, 2013

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Monday May 20 Day 18/4 Izmir to Istanbul
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 have a long wait though for the van, and it's pretty stuffy and hot until we get the AC worked out. We have a nice drive down to the wide and busy Kennedy street- where did the name come from? We arrive at our little hotel. Jeanne had been prepared with the knowledge the hotel didn't have an elevator, so we ask for help with luggage. Hah! - our room is on the 1st floor right around the corner from the desk. The room is pretty small with little space for us and our luggage (now bloated with souvenirs and gifts). It has a small "garden patio" surrounded by a wall and barbed wire. If you stand on tiptoes, you can look over the train tracks below and on to the Sea of Marmara. The little patio is not very attractive, with boarded up equipment (air conditioner?) and the wire, but  with the additional table and chair and swing set, it's trying very hard.

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. It has a very comfortable feel- just a single long block of connecting shops on either side with awnings to supply some shade. I get saffron, Turkish delight, a scarf, a CD of the musician Mustafa had been playing on the bus, and a trivet based on the Inzik tile design in the Blue Mosque. We stop in the Cafe Meşale at the end of the bazaar and have a delicious snack of stuffed peppers with yogurt dressing and a pastry like flat bread. It feels like we're 'locals' since we're not with a large group or a on fixed schedule anymore.

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. Duck through a low narrow doorway and we're on the sunny small veranda- looking at the backside of the Blue Mosque.

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. You don't have to dig too deeply in Istanbul to find something of historical interest.The museum displays many of the floor mosaics in situ. It's a much smaller version of the mosaics in the terrace houses that we saw in Ephesus and the grand Zeugma museum. I imagine that, for the wealthy, having your home decorated in this way was the norm- but how wonderful that it survived for us to see.

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. The moon is out at about 75%- not quite a full moon, but lovely. We easily find our way back to the tram and have a quick ride to the Sultanahmet Park- we're pro's now!

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.
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