Thursday, February 7, 2008

Istanbul - Part V

October 18 Istanbul. Finally! I slept very well in my new cabin. Not a sound of any kind. I didn’t even hear my neighbors. My new room attendant told me the cabin had been empty until now, which confirms the lies told to me by both Flavio and Sonia. Moving was a hassle. I had called guest relations and told them I would accept the new cabin. I was told to pack my things that were in the drawers and someone would come with a hotel cart and take everything for me and would even take my clothes on the hangers and re-hang on the cart. What happened next was a disaster! The man arrived with a dolly cart! He didn’t speak a word of English, and began to throw my belongings onto the cart. As he walked away, I asked, “What about my clothes in the closet?” pointing to the closet. He looked dumbfounded and became frustrated as he opened the closet door. I turned away for a minute as I gathered a couple of items and when I turned around he had taken some of my clothing and tossed them on top of each other onto the cart! My stomach was turning. Just as he was about to put my shoes ON TOP of my blouses I shouted “No!” He got a large bag and placed my shoes in it. I took several photos of the pile of now wrinkled clothing. What a mess. Back at guest relations to get a new room key, I told Anna the story about the move, who barely replied with, “Oh, sorry.” Celebrity, the quality of service is sinking!

I met up with Deb, Robert, David, and Larry to plan our time in Istanbul. I had ideas, but wanted to get everyone’s input. We came up with a plan and even made plans to meet up with Gail and Abe, who joined us for lunch, at 7:30pm for dinner in town.

One of the highlights for most people on this cruise was our visit to Istanbul, which included an overnight stay – leaving at 4pm the next day. We arrived in Istanbul at 2pm after passing the many freighters. The pollution in the air was terrible, as there was a thick haze in the distance. We passed the Topkapi palace, St. Sophia, and Blue Mosque, and in the distance I could see the Suleyman mosque. We docked on the European side between the Galata Bridge and Dolmabahçe Palace.

The five of us squeezed into a taxi (10 euros) to get to the St. Sophia before it closed: David up front with the driver and the rest of us in the back with me on Larry’s lap. As we drove through the city, other drivers were smiling at our crowded cab. Or it could have been the slightly revealing v-neck blouse I was wearing as I sat facing out the window…not that I have huge breasts to talk about! I had my camera in hand so I took a few photos in the cab.

We were able to see a few sights in a short time: St. Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Hippodrome, and some shopping time at the Grand Bazaar, all within walking distance of each site. We didn’t have time to visit the underground cistern.

We tried to get back to the ship by 7:30pm to meet up with Gail and Abe, but the traffic was absolutely horrible! Cars and busses were stuck in traffic for a while and we finally got to the port around 8:30pm. We decided to head out to dinner at Taksim square, as we agreed the other two were long gone to dinner. We squeezed again into another taxi, but thankfully it was a short ride to the square. More laughs and smiles along the way. All of us were amazed at how lively Taksim square was. Tons of people out for the evening and it was still pretty early! One of the streets was lined with lights. There was gyro and kebab shop after gyro and kebab shop. We ended up dining at a cafeteria-like place where lots of wonderful cooked food is on display. We ordered a variety of foods to try and it was delicious and cheap.

After a short walk we grabbed a taxi back the port. The driver didn’t take us all the way to the ship because the traffic going in the direction of the port was at a standstill. So we had a 10-minute walk but it was a nice evening. On board the ship, I headed to the top deck before bed, as I wanted to see if I could take some night shots of the city; however, it was too far from the ship to make out anything.

October 19 Istanbul: I met Deb (Robert decided to spend the day on the ship) just after 8am at the gangway after I cashed some travelers checks. Our next two ports/cities (Yalta and Odessa) don’t accept euros, so I wanted some USD on hand. Deb and I walked to the closest tram (about a 10 minute walk) and headed to the Topkapi palace. I had talked to Ed at breakfast and he told me the ropes about using the tram. It’s really easy and cheap. Deb and I were amazed at how quiet everyone was on board the tram and even though it was packed with people, no one was pushy.

We got off at the Gülhane stop, just before Sultanahmet stop. We ran into Ed and Cathy, who were on the same tram but in a different car. We toured the Topkapi palace together (we got there before it opened and beat the crowds), along with a tour to the Harem rooms, and the kitchens. At the palace we had time to see some of the rooms, including the fabulous treasury room. The most outstanding piece was the diamond ring, weighing in at 86 carats! I wondered if the Sultan had a servant hold his arm while he wore the ring. It was enormous! For the Harem rooms, we arrived just as the tour began. About 3/4 of the way through the tour I started to ask our tour guide about the diamond ring. He looked astonished and asked me if I had been to the treasury room. Yes, I told him. Today? he asked. Yes! Well, it turned out that Deb, Ed, Cathy and I barged into a private tour! The guide was taking his group around the palace and had not been to the treasury yet. We felt bad but stayed with the tour anyway. He didn’t seem to mind since the tour was almost over.

Moving on, we walked to the Hamdi restaurant next to the spice bazaar and across the street from the Galata Bridge, stopping along the way to buy a few small souvenirs. Lunch was wonderful. We didn’t have reservations, but were able to get a table on the top floor with the glass walls taking in the views of Istanbul. Some of the windows were open to let in the air and at one point we could hear the call to prayer on a speaker from one of the nearby minarets. What an amazing sound! We could hear the call to prayer several times in the day. For lunch I enjoyed the lamb kebabs, which was very tasty and tender. Cathy and I ordered a glass of white wine. We should have asked for the wine list because the glass of wine was the same price as the lamb dish! (12 TL each)

After lunch, Deb and I headed to the spice bazaar while Cathy and Ed went off on their own. The spice bazaar was a fun place to walk around, but just like the Grand Bazaar, the shop sellers were pushy. One person at the Grand Bazaar said to us, “Hey rich Americans, let me help you spend your money.” The best thing to do is just keep on walking. We saw many spice shops and boxes of Turkish delight.

Deb and I headed back to the ship on foot, walking across the Galata Bridge on the lower level. There are several fish-type restaurants with many fishermen on the upper level. Our walk back to the ship took about 40 minutes, although it could have been a little shorter had we not stopped along the way to take pictures. The Galaxy left port at 4pm and we sailed up the Bosporus strait passing by palaces and fortresses. The strait is about 20 miles long. We headed into the Black Sea.

The evening ended the same way – cocktails with the group and dinner.

No comments: