Day 8 - Istanbul, Turkey
I did NOT sleep last night. I think it was the malaria drugs, as I had some troubles after them the last couple weeks (we take one pill a week). I finally got up at 4:30 and read my book while waiting for the sun to rise. It was a good day to be up early, as we sailed from daylight on, through the Dardanelles - 40 miles of a channel (2-3 miles wide) similar to the Columbia Gorge only a shipping channel rather than a river. It included Gallipoli - where the Anzac's (Australians and New Zealand armies) joined the British in WW1 to try to take the Dardanelle Straight from the Turks. They got hammered - losing a lot of troops and lost the battle on top of it - it's an important battle in the history of those countries. I watched the passage from the Crow's nest (top of the ship) where Jim joined me at a normal waking hour and we listened to the narration along the way until an Australian passenger came to tell us the story and then proceeded to talk and talk and talk. We left for breakfast as soon as we could extract ourselves.
The plan was to be ready to jump off the boat as soon as we were docked today - we were ready and waiting this time. We wanted to get through the palace before it closed - it wasn't going to be open tomorrow unless you were on a tour. Our transportation choice was the tram - local light rail. We managed to find an ATM quickly and walked down the street along the tram tracks until we found the station. Our wanderings took us through the local hookah bar section of town - interesting. We managed to figure out the token sales and got ourselves on the right tram and headed to the old section of town. I very carefully took a picture of the name of our tram stop, but couldn't find it on the map. It wasn't until we went back that I realized I had taken the name of the tram department (prominently displayed at every stop). Fortunately we figured out where we were.
The city is huge, and the shops and people seem crowded together, but they have beautiful plazas and gardens, and open spaces too. I liked that they had free Wifi in the downtown square, but of course I hadn't brought my computer with me. The minaret's of the mosques were beautiful on the skyline, and the vendors were unique - selling grilled corn, apples peeled and sliced to order, watermelon cut with a machete, ice cream dipped with long poles, etc. Each city we have visited seems to have it's own special form of transportation - this one had pushcarts where we would watch people pushing boxes, construction materials, and vegetables (a lettuce cart with the vendor splashing water over the lettuce as he pushed it along the street to keep it cool) to their destination. As Sally said (and I just HAVE to quote, "it's BAZZAR to think that I'm here in Istanbul" (though to our great disappointment, we never made it to the bazzar).
We found the people friendly. On the tram, a man gave me his seat and made friends with Zach. We picked up a few "vendors's cousins" in the square, Hassan who we saw twice and another guy who didn't get around to giving us his name, wanting us to go to their shops to buy, but before getting to that part, we had quite lengthy conversations with them. It was all part of the culture of the city - strange and welcoming and a little pushy behind the scenes.
We made it to the palace, not knowing what to expect. We had not gotten enough Turkish Lira to pay full price for all of us, so we had to negotiate and show the boys passports with their ages to get a discount for them- giving us just enough. We were totally amazed by the palace. The buildings were beautiful, covered with lots of gorgeous tile with stained glass windows, but the amazing thing was the treasury. It started simple enough with ottoman clothing, but then the jewel encrusted items came next, and then things like a whole bowlful of emeralds, and huge diamonds and diamond covered medals given to the Ottoman Sultans from all parts of the world. Opulence. The variety of places the treasure came from really spoke to the far-ranging influence of the city .Jim was a little disappointed that everything was so "new" compared to what we have been seeing - we had been going back in time for the past few cities and this was like a jolt going to a much more "modern" place. The city itself seemed to be much more modern than the last few, though the narrow cobblestone streets showed that it had grown up in an age before modern transportation. There were a few ruins of old walls and buildings, but most of what we saw was built or rebuilt within the last 500 years.
We closed down the palace and headed back to our ship and went to sleep right after dinner.
Day 9 - Istanbul, Turkey
Pat wanted to join us for the day, so Sally and Pat grabbed a taxi (taksi) from the boat while the rest of us took the tram to the Blue Mosque. We didn't have a meeting place, so we went on in, hoping that Sal and Pat would do the same. We waited and waited and looked outside and waited. Finally I went outside to look around and found them waiting for us with a "guide", Murat. Sally had somehow gotten a taxi for the day and a guy who followed us around hoping to eventually get us to his ceramic "shop". We had an appointment at 11:00 for a cooking class at a hotel just around the corner from the Blue Mosque, so Jim and I and the boys went over to check in while Sally and Pat and her guide popped in to see the Mosque and then took the taxi over to the hotel. Fortunately he reserved the class just for the 6 of us, as we were running late by the time everyone got there and got settled. We donned our aprons and chef's hats and started chopping. The menu was red lentil soup, a green bean dish, a beef dish with a cheesy eggplant base, cheese pastries and walnut stuffed figs for dessert. They taught us to make tomato "roses" for garnish as well as how to cook the dishes and prepare the ingredients. The boys liked making the cheese pastries best - they were deep fried, and Noah kept commenting that it was just like making donuts (we did that once), so I guess that made an impression on him.
Pat was not having one of his better days, so he sat out in the other room quite a bit of the time and "rested". The boys took turns going out to hang with him. Zachary and Noah have really been great with Pat throughout the trip. From the very first minute he got off the plane, Zach has been Pat's self-appointed wingman, making sure Pat is heading in the right direction and has someone walking along at his own pace. He often chooses to hang back with Pat if Pat chooses to sit out from an activity (like touring a museum). Noah too has been very sensitive to Pat's needs - making sure he's included as much as possible with what we're doing.
Back to cooking - Mehmet is the manager of the Sarnic Hotel, and runs the cooking class along with his chef. The chef doesn't speak much English, but Mehmet is very personable and speaks very good English. He does the class once a day almost every day, and has made up the recipes himself or adapted them from cookbooks - changing the menu every day. It was wonderful to have a chance to connect with someone not looking for us to buy something. After cooking, we all sat down together to eat it. Usually they would have us eat on their lovely rooftop café, but while we were cooking it was pouring rain - an unusual phenomenon in the summer. Fortunately it stopped raining by the time we left, and it kept the air cool - a much-appreciated side affect.
The food we cooked was really very good. The adults all liked the soup best, and the kids liked the cheese pastries. Sally was surprised by how she liked the eggplant cheese base, and I was surprised by how I liked the stuffed figs - things we normally wouldn't choose to eat. They use chili, mint and black pepper in everything - Mehmet said they are three brothers - always together. Everything was yummy.
We had to rush the end of the lunch, as we were pushing up against our departure time for the boat and traffic is often stalled for long periods of time. Sally's shadow friend came to take us (in two carloads) to his shop where Sally bought a plate from him using up all our Turkish Lira. We all (6 + driver) crammed into a 5 passenger taxi to get back to the ship. I was bummed as I was hoping to get some souvenirs and see the Spice Bazaar, but we were out of time.
Dinner was good tonight, with great service - something that hasn't been true most nights. We went to the show tonight - four guys who sang a wide variety of songs. Sally liked it the best, but it was my least favorite so far. The moon was beautiful as we sailed back through the Dardanelles - almost a magical view from our stateroom.