Our adventure in Greece and Turkey continues aboard the Celestyal Crystal, a cruise ship with 800 plus passengers and several hundred crew. As we got on board, while waiting for our room to be cleaned, we had some beverages on the pool deck. I had to stay there for a while because the crew messed up our drink packages and cards. After finally getting them to fix it, I got in to the elevator to go to my cabin. The second indication this ship was not quite up to snuff was when I had to ask a crew member to help me because the elevator wasn’t moving. He got in and physically shut the doors.

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The bridge that crosses the Bosporus and links the European and Asian parts of the city.

Later that night it became apparent this cruise was doomed. I explained the collision in the first post of this trip series so I won’t go into it again. Instead we’ll skip to day six and our day in Istanbul.

On our drive in to this European/Asian city, I was impressed by the size of it. The city is home to more than 14 million people and is one of the largest cities in the world. For thousands of years it has played a major role in human history. Once called Constantinople, it was a center for Christianity before Muslims took over and Islam became the main religion. After a few hours of sleep at the Hilton, we were back on the bus and on our way to explore two very famous religious sites, a palace, and a spice market. Getting there involved crossing the Bosporus Strait as Istanbul straddles Europe and Asia on both sides of the straight between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea.

The Topkapi Palace

Some actors in the courtyard of the Palace.

Some actors in the courtyard of the Palace.

Our first stop was the beautiful Topkapi Palace, a major residency of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years of their 624-year reign (1465–1856). The Palace was a city within a city and access to the inner courtyards was limited. It served as the residency as well as hosting government meetings and functions. We walked around the various buildings that held beautiful ancient artifacts including some very cool sabers, armory, shields, and more. We didn’t have time to see all the buildings and artifacts but I did view a room with paintings of the sultans going back hundreds of years. It was interesting to see how the fashions changed through the years.

IMG_2608The Blue Mosque

The famous mosque in Istanbul sits just across a garden from the Haggia Sophia and around the corner from the Topkapi Palace. Its real name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque but is commonly referred to as the Blue Mosque because of the rich blue tiles that adorn the walls and ceilings. This Islamic religious structure is not only vast—reaching nearly 80 feet to the dome (inside)—but also beautifully decorated with ceramic tiles, stain glass windows, chandeliers, and carpets with lovely designs. It’s too much to describe here in this brief story, but photos show how the designers and builders put their hearts and talent into this active place of worship for many Muslims. The men were seen sitting in the main part of the mosque as they prayed and listened to an Imam reading some text. The women had to stay on the outskirts. They explain that is has to do with the way they bend and kneel to pray and how having women in front of the men would be “distracting.”

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Upon leaving the Blue Mosque, we turned in our scarves and put our shoes back on and then traversed the streets and gardens to make our way over to the very famous and ancient Haggia Sophia.

This marvelous and historical structure was built in the 6th century. For a millennia it functioned as one of the largest Christian cathedrals in the world. When the Muslims took over the city in the 15th century it was converted to a mosque and the minarets were added. In 1935 it was turned into a museum.

IMG_2781I found it to be not only beautiful but also interesting in that both Christian and Islamic elements were seen throughout the building. Gorgeous paintings on the ceilings of angels, large chandeliers, marble designs and so on caught our eye. It is an epic example of Byzantine architecture and is decorated throughout with mosaics and marble pillars. It’s hard to describe the feeling of being in this ancient church but the photos capture some of its glory. There was scaffolding covering parts of the building as its restoration is a continuous process.

Unfortunately we were limited on time and had to move on to the last stop, which would have been the grand bazaar, but alas, it was Sunday and it was closed so we spent a few minutes in the spice market.

The Spice Market

We had a few minutes to walk the street paths of the spice market before it closed. I just loved the colors and smells of the packed stalls. The shopkeepers attempted to entice us to come see their wares—there were many stalls with tourist items other than spices. DSCF3144I found a few presents to bring back home (confession—I fibbed when I told the custom official “no” when asked if I had any spices). At closing time we made our way back to the wonderful hotel and our big comfortable beds and an actual night of sleep.

After a glorious night of sleep we enjoyed the tastes of a wonderful buffet breakfast (which I shared with a cute kitty on the outside porch) and then on to the airport for an early ride to our next stop—and my next blog post.

Enjoy the photos and a video of an old fun song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”

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The Galata Tower in Istanbul

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The spice market

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The back side of the blue mosque.

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Two guards on duty at the Topkapi Palace.

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Blue Mosque

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Blue Mosque

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Blue Mosque

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Blue Mosque

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The door to the entrance of Haggia Sophia originally had a cross. It was changed to an arrow when it became a mosque,

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Kitties everywhere, including this one outside Haggia Sophia.

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Haggia Sophia

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Haggia Sophia

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Haggia Sophia

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Haggia Sophia

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Haggia Sophia

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Haggia Sophia

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