We awake in Istanbul. When I venture out onto the balcony we have a spectacular view of both the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia in the distance. The sun is just rising and the eastern skies is coloured with pinks and oranges. We shower and dress before heading to the Oceanview for breakfast. We sit out on the Sunset Bar which has a good view of the Galata Tower. We go up to deck 11 to get some more photos of the city before returning to the cabin to gather our belongings.
We head down to the Ocean Liners restaurant where Elite guests can wait for their baggage tag number to be called. They have coffee, juice & pastries there if you want them. We hear that there is a long line at immigration but will be called soon. At around 8.40 we are called and so we head to deck one and leave Connie. It's been a really good cruise despite the early debacle with the luggage.
We join a long line of people for passport control but it's constantly moving and before long our passports are stamped and we are through to where the luggage is. It's all neatly labelled and number in rows and we quickly find our cases and head out. I look at the time and it is only 8.55. We find Peters name for our taxi transfer and in no time we are heading out onto the busy streets of Istanbul. Our hotel, The Tan, is located in the Sultanahmet which is the old city part of Istanbul.
We are told that check in is not normally till 2pm but we are lucky there is a room available and so we are taken straight up. The room is fairly basic but nice and clean and will suffice for our 2 night stay. After a bit of trouble with the old fashioned safe we head up to the rooftop bar which has a great view of the Blue Mosque. We enjoy a coffee here before heading out to explore.
We exchange some £ and € for Turkish Lira and head straight to the Hippodrome of Constantinople. The Hippodrome was a circus that was the sporting and social centre of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. Today it is a square named Sultanahmet Meydanı (Sultan Ahmet Square) with a few fragments of the original structure surviving. Most notable are 2 large Obelisks. From there we head toward the Sultanahmet Park which sits nicely between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. We take lots of pictures.
Following signs we find ourselves queuing to enter the Basilica Cistern. The Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul. The cistern was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. It's quite dark down in the cistern where most of the pillars are lit from beneath by soft orange lighting. It's give the whole place an eerie but beautiful look.
Back outside we walk through the Topkapi Gardens and then down towards the Bosphurus. We head back into the Sultanahmet and decide we need to eat. One thing you notice in Turkey is that you will be continually accosted by people wanting to either sell you something (usually carpets) or entice you into their eateries. They can be quite aggressive so you need to be firm but polite with them. It can get quite tiring though. Later in the day we balk at entering the Grand Bazaar as we know we would be constantly harangued. That said a kindly gentleman invites to eat on his rooftop terrace and so we agree.
We order a mix meze to share and then grilled chicken each after that. the meze is really good. Hummus, tzatziki, olives, grilled vegetables and anchovies. All very nice. The grilled chicken is cooked perfectly and very tasty. It's is now getting extremely warm so we head back to the hotel for a couple of hours.
We venture out again mid afternoon and walk down to a restaurant called Imbat to check they have our reservation for tomorrow evening. They do. From there we have a beer stop before hopping on the metro to visit the Grand Bazaar. The sea of people around there and the persistent vendors mean we don't enter and take a slow walk back to our hotel.
Our hotel has a rooftop terrace as do many throughout this part of the city. Sadly the bar here is not as well stocked as the sunset bar and there is definitely no Sapphire Martinis tonight. The gin is poor quality and there is no JD so we head out and find another call the Sultan Bar. This one has an amazing rooftop terrace, although the climb up requires stamina and a head for heights. Slim hips are a bonus for the final iron staircase too.
After this we head to a restaurant called Mozaik that I had pre booked. The place is really busy as we get seats sat outside. There is a long table of 23 guests opposite us on the street and an older couple sat to our left. They order a bottle of red wine and insist it is chilled in some ice...weird. This part of town is crawling with strays cats and two of them decide to have a territorial disagreement right in front of us all. They are forehead to forehead both making a wailing that would not sound out of place on the loudspeakers that call the faithful to prayer several times a day. A lady from table 23, clearly not a cat lover, decide to empty a glass of water over them both. Undeterred the cats take the confrontation under their table causing much consternation with people standing up, sitting down & waving napkins at the cats who are still eyeball to eyeball and clearly about to erupt into a whirlwind of tooth, claw and fur. Such fun. Sadly the waiters who I expect see this kind of feline unrest often send both cats off in opposite directions. Normal service is resumed.
The food we order is very good. Like at lunchtime we order a mixed meze to share. Peter then has Lamb Kebabs and I have a Black Plum Stew. Sadly some of the gravy from the stew is spilt onto my white shirt as it is delivered but quick as a flash the waiters are dealing with it with wet wipes and I remark when I get back to the hotel that you can't see a stain at all. The meal took nearly two and a half hours in total so was quite late by the time we finished and so we head back to the hotel. Tomorrow we will attempt a boat trip up the Bosphorus.