Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul — I’ve wanted to see this place since I was a kid reading adventure stories…the epitomy of exotic lands. Photos of the jaw-dropping Blue Mosque on the harbor with its piles of domes and fairy-tale minarets inspired a lot of my fiction, particularly recent books like Crystal Doors: Sky Realm and the Terra Incognita novels.
And the city certainly didn’t disappoint. As the ship pulled in at sunrise, I went off to get coffee for us, and I saw the giant orange sun rising out of the mists on the eastern horizon. From our cabin balcony, we watched the arrival in port with looming domes and towers mixed in with modern buildings. With our breakfast Reb and I each ate one of the oranges that Kostas had picked for us in Greece, then we joined Mom & Dad for the tour.
The Blue Mosque was one of the most enormous and ornate buildings I have ever seen. We took our shoes off (on the wet marble steps because it had rained the night before), then carried them inside with thousands and thousands of tourists. Even so, the place dwarfed us.
From the Blue Mosque we walked to the underground cisterns, a huge subterranean grotto filled with water and fish and sculptured columns (apparently a scene in “From Russia with Love” was filmed here). Then we went to St Sofia, a large Eastern Orthodox cathedral that was converted to a mosque and then converted to a museum. (The biggest attraction there was the bathrooms, since we had been walking around for hours and the line stretched around the building.) Next stop was the Topkapi Palace, the sultan’s home with extensive grounds, harem, many state jewels on display, an old library, and a museum of “sacred relics.”
For lunch, our group gathered at an “Ottoman home” (really, a bed & breakfast), where we were served a traditional lunch of eggplant, beans, stewed lamb, salad, baked rice pudding, and incredibly strong tea. Afterward, we saw a demonstration on Turkish rug weaving, then were turned loose in the Grand Bazaar. Outside, the tourguide warned everyone about scams vendors run, how they pick pockets or steal credit card numbers. Forewarned, we wandered in the shops, which were very interesting.