A Short Visit to Turkey


April 6 - After a light lunch, we set off to the bazaar area in Kusadasi, Turkey. The idea was to prepare for the world’s largest (3000+ shops) bazaar in Istanbul – but more about that later. Sal found an excellent price on a leather jacket (very chic). Beset by Turks with bargains, we politely ignored most of them. When we came to a carpet shop, we had to stop to admire some especially fine looking silk carpets. A young man (very low key and pleasant) took us inside, asked if we would mind speaking some English with him. Although he clearly understood that we were not buying, he wanted to share his carpets with us if we had the time. Well, who could resist? He showed us a 1600-knot per square inch silk decorated in a multi-colored floral pattern and border design that was lustrous and soft. It took almost one year to make and was obviously his pride and joy – as it should have been due to its exceptional quality. He rolled out and shared several other favorites while talking of their patterns and meanings. His shop, Private Collection, held many lovely treasures and would be a reliable place to buy.

We braved the gauntlet of sellers, passing other shops, then stopped to buy an eye-catching carpetbag to carry home our purchases. Virtually all of the passengers had gone on the escorted tour of Ephessos and the House of the Virgin Mary. We had been there and done that and really were not interested in the miles of walking involved.  We were fortunate to have some friends contribute photos of the site.  A first timer has got to see it though.

April 7 We were up and out of our cabin by 11 a.m. after coffee, shower and shampoo. It was a very lazy morning and we’re feeling rested. We took a turn around the upper decks, and sat to watch the Turkish coastline go by. It is a beautiful day – 70 F and slightly overcast. We seem to be traveling with the best of weather as usual. We arrived in the Golden Horn near the port of Istanbul around 5 p.m. We sailed past the Agia Sofia, Sulimenhet Mosque, and the Topkapi museum.It is a spectacular shoreline with these monumental sites. We can see the bridge over the Bosphorus, many mosques, and tall buildings that make it a modern looking city. Tomorrow begins our adventure in Istanbul, so we plan to make this an early evening. After a superior dinner, we went for a stroll on the upper deck to enjoy the evening lights. This is quite a city!

April 7 - here we are in Istanbul. Guess what? It’s closed! This is the last two of a four-day vacation allowed for the return from the Hadj. The Grand Bazaar and all of the small shops and restaurants throughout the city will are closed – this is actually to our advantage. There is no traffic and no crowds. There were ten of us on the tour bus as we rode through the older part of town and across the Galatia Bridge as our guide Aseyla pointed out mosques of note and other historic features.

Our first stop, Sultanahmet Mosque is a massive structure with six minarets. As the story goes, the Arabic word for gold and the number six sound the same. When the architect decided that a solid gold minaret was too wasteful of money, he built six minarets and told the sultan that he had misunderstood his instructions. The interior has a truly rich pattern of floral tiles and the variety of blue tiles for which it has been called the Blue Mosque. The stained glass windows have fantastic floral motifs, there are gilt inscriptions on the walls and pulpit, ornate wrought iron balconies, and a delicately carved muezzin box. It felt very open and airy despite massive marble pillars supporting the dome. In front of its entrance were an obelisk from Karnak, a three-stranded bronze pillar from Delphi, and a modern Egyptian obelisk that had lost its gold and bronze panels to the Crusaders.

Across a broad avenue and through a park area is the Agia Sofia (church of sophism or thinking). It is in a process of restoration and is known for having the widest and flattest dome of any church (the new St. Peter’s is bigger). A Christian church under Constantine, Byzantine under Justinian, stables for the Crusaders, converted to a mosque under Meni II, it became a museum under Ataturk as Turkey’s gift to the world. Aside from the four green marble pillars from the temple of Apollo and four red marble pillars from the temple of Jupiter, the capitals were rococo Corinthian. Walls were covered with slabs or red, green, blue and gray marble from Egypt and Italy that were book-ended and appear to have faces in them. The cupolas were bordered with Byzantine scribe work, mosaic tiles and paintings. Domes carried mosaics in gold and cobalt and natural colors rendering images of the Virgin Mary, Christ, etc. Doorways were arched and topped with mosaics of emperors and saints. Ceilings we covered with brilliantly painted and gilt frescoes.

The tour stopped at Bazaar 54 (an upscale Harrods-like store) for a quick explanation and sales pitch about carpets and the opportunity to spend some money. Then we spent some time taking a look at the smaller shops and stores along the main street and down by the large, closed public bazaar.

The passage through the first gate at Topkapi Palace opens to the Agia Ireni (church of peace) on the left and the expanse of courtyards and gardens to the right. We started our tour by viewing the porcelain collection (14-18th century Chinese and some Japanese). These pieces are displayed in the kitchen hall (the food for the 6,000 occupants of the Sultan’s complex were prepared and served from here). The Chinese collection is arranged chronologically, starting with Celadon (jadeware), through Ming, and to Imari. All of the Japanese collection was from the 18th century. Most striking was an urn with lifelike parrots, a huge bowl with a flight of egrets, a jewel-topped coffee service, and the koi pattern plates and urns.

A six course lunch was served in the 101 year old Konyali Restaurant that has a splendid view of the Marmasa Sea. After glutting ourselves, the group proceeded to the jewel and treasure collection. This include finely made chests, service pieces, etuis, bibelots, jewelry, censors, the Topkapi dagger (hung above a ten pound emerald), the Spoonmaker’s diamond, and the throne given by Shah Nadir to Mahmut (inlaid, heavily bejeweled, carved and quite stunning). The costume collection contains silks, brocades, fur caftans and robes from a wide time span. Respite came inside a cool blue suite of rooms that held relics of the Prophet.

This concluded a full day tour of Istanbul. Aboard the bus and heading back to the ship, Aseyla pointed out the newly constructed train station and the old Istanbul-Gare, end of the Orient Express line. It had a perfectly restored engine from the classic old train displayed.