|The day started at 7:00 – though I was up a bit earlier – had about 5 or 6 hours sleep. Made our way down to breakfast and it was a fairly normal buffet breakfast – except for the Brussels sprouts and broccoli – cold. Lots of breads and fruits – fresh brewed tea (no bags) and sour cherry juice.
Back to the room to get ready for the day and made it to the lobby just about on time. Bus was quite full but we didn’t have any problems. Ended up on the highest hill in the European side in a big parking lot full of tour busses. One of our folks almost got backed into by a bus, but no other issues.
Since the group was so big we were all issued with “Whisperers” which were short range receivers and the tour guide wore the transmitter – this way we could move away and not miss what was going on and weren’t bothered by other groups chatter. Worked out pretty well.
Off we went to the Hippodrome – the largest in the city (during Roman times). The central area was cleared as a park and as we entered there was a pavilion donated to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire by Kaiser Wilhelm in 1910. The roof had the symbols of Germany and the Empire and lots of gold leaf.
The Hippodrome itself had three obelisks – one taken from the temple at Carnack Egypt, one metal one commemorating Roman victories, and one that was at one time covered with gold leaf on bronze – it was bare stone. Some of the other work was still visible as well. The original bronze horses that were above the gate are now in Venice. There was a stray dog and the guide told us that the city round up the dogs, vaccinates them, puts a marker in their ear, and lets them back on the street. Local folks feed them (and the cats that are all around).
Then we made our way to the Cathedral of St. Sophia (Hagia Sophia). It was originally built about 530, burned down a hundred years later, was rebuilt and burned down again, and then was rebuilt again as the largest in the world (at that time). It is still the 4t largest. However, it was converted to a mosque in the 1400s and eventually turned into a museum in the 1930s. There were element of Christianity and Islam mixed together in an elaborate setting. About 1/3 was being renovated so there was much we didn’t see.
After an hour or so we took a short break then headed out for the second part of the tour. We looked at the Milion post – the place from which everything was measured in the Eastern Empire. Quite broken but interesting. Underneath we entered one of the 130 cisterns that held water during the Byzantine Empire. It was a huge place holding an enormous amount of water. The roof was supported by over 100 columns – since they would all be underground (and underwater) there wasn’t much concern for their looks – so there were all styles. Even columns from other religious temples were incorporated – and the head of medusa held up one of them.
We made our way out into the sunshine (about 75 degrees and clear) and had an hour off for lunch. Minna and I had fried corn on the cob (very popular) and a sesame bread with chocolate (turned out it was Nutella). We wandered around town a bit looking at restaurants and stores, then met up with the group for the afternoon trip.
We walked past the cathedral to the Topkapi Palace – the home of the Sultans for several centuries. An impressive main gate was punctuated by two guards with machine guns and two more inside. The mood was a bit spoiled when we saw that the guard dogs were golden retrievers. On entering we were in the first garden – a very green area with some ancient trees. We went to a variety of museums inside including the ancient jewels (and the 4th largest diamond in the words), the clothing of some of the 32 Sultans, a clock and watch display, an armory, and several others. Then into the second garden, a more private place (well, it was then. Now it was mobbed). The museums started to blur together at this point so we took a bit of a rest.
Once the group was back together (there were only eight of us now) we got back on the bus and wound through some very narrow streets to the Grand Bazaar. There are over 4000 shops in the place – about half being jewelry and a quarter being clothing – so shop after shop after shop. We tried some bargaining but the folks were really aggressive. We did buy a couple things but with most of the trip ahead of us we kept it small. In one shop they had a mask that was done with dot painting – which was almost exactly like the one I bought in Australia which was almost exactly like the ones I saw in Belize. Maybe not so original.
We finally got back to the hotel at 5:00 and were both exhausted. Rather then go to a restaurant we asked Neslie, the guide, for a recommendation. She suggested a place called Ramiz. Got some grilled chicken (with a jalapeño pepper on bread), a bowl of lentil soup and a container of yogurt. The lentil soup had a half lemon to squeeze in which was quite good. Chicken and yogurt good. Pepper hot! In looking at the thinks that came with it we discovered that it was actually a chain of about 50 restaurants all across Turkey.
Then we packed up a bit, did the journal, and now Minna is almost asleep and I still need to finish up. A 6:15 wakeup call, to the Blue Mosque, then to Troy tomorrow.