7/3/13 - 7/20/13
Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.
The day after Santorini was another sea day. Other than having views of the gorgeous Turkish coastline rather than of the Italian coastline, it was very much like my first day at sea. Which is to say not particularly exciting, but very relaxing. Thus, the story picks up again in Istanbul. Of all the places I would go on the cruise, this was perhaps the one I was most excited about.
My plan for Istanbul was to explore on my own, so I disembarked as early as possible to maximize my time in the city. Little did I know it would take an hour and a half just to find the Hagia Sophia. You wouldn't think a giant building would be quite so hard to find. I first had to cross the Galata Bridge and then find my way through a maze of confusing and minimally marked streets.
I spent most of the morning sweaty and lost. And perhaps a bit grouchy. There's nothing like getting lost in the middle of the summer in an incomprehensibly large city on the other side of the world to bring out the best parts of your personality. Woe to the person who tried to scam me that morning... I basically wandered in what I thought was generally the right direction until I happened to stumble upon what I was trying to find. For those who find themselves in a similar situation, my advice is this - just take the tram. It's easy to find from the cruise ship port (just walk to the left when you exit customs) and will drop you off where you want to be. Doing so will save you blood, sweat, and tears. Literally.
There was one interesting stop along the way. I stepped into a pharmacy to try to find Neosporin. Obviously something was lost in translation because I was given Amoxicillin. Like here-you-go-no-questions-asked-here's-an-antibiotic-without-a-prescription Amoxicillin. I was obviously vastly underprepared for this situation. I should have known how to say "Xanax" in Turkish.
Despite the difficulty, I did eventually make it to the Hagia Sophia. I had bought tickets online in advance, which saved a lot of time. The only thing I would have changed is buying a multi-site museum pass rather than the single site pass. Of course, not everyone lives life by the mantra, "The more museums, the better," (which, incidentally also applies to books).
The Hagia Sophia was incredible and fascinating and wonderful despite the scaffolding.
The nearby Blue Mosque was closed due to Ramadan, so I could only snap a few pictures outside.
My next stop was the grounds of the Topkapi palace. This is where the museum pass would have been really handy, so I just enjoyed what I could see outside the palace before finding a spot for lunch. As a side note, money is incredibly easy to access in Turkey. There are ATMs everywhere, so do not worry about having any lira in advance.
My requirements for an adequate spot for lunch were not complicated by that point - a place that served food and cold water and provided a place to sit out of the sun. Fortunately Seven Hills more than delivered, especially in the view department.
After lunch it was time to brave the Grand Bazaar. Once there, I pretty much relinquished any hope of not getting lost and just gave in to the chaos. Which is kind of like asking me to jump off a cliff - both stupid and utterly terrifying. Fortunately I made it out of the wonderful madness of the Bazaar alive, but not unscathed in the money department. I might have gotten a little swept up in the Turkish rug buying experience. And the pashmina buying experience. The apple tea they ply you with must have some sort of magical powers to make you buy things. There really is no other explanation.
One particular conversation between the rug seller and me typifies one of my great burdens in life - my inexplicable talent to identify and prefer the most expensive item in a given category. Apparently the talent extends to rugs. Rug seller: What size and color are you looking for? , Me: Ooooh! I love that one (pointing to a GORGEOUS blue and cream colored rug) , RS: You have excellent taste. That one is very expensive (Emphasis on very - I have since blocked the ridiculous amount of money following that statement from my mind.). I thoroughly enjoyed the Grand Bazaar even though most of the time I was hopelessly lost and I never was able to find the nearby Spice Market, despite my best efforts. Of course my best efforts at following any sort of directions are approximate to the skills of a kindergartner...
After a totally overwhelming and exhausting, but completely wonderful, day, retreating back to the ship was a relief. A wine and cheese concert on the lawn overlooking Istanbul was the perfect way to decompress. My day ended with the unparalleled sight of Istanbul lit up at night, enjoyed from my very own balcony as the heat and chaos of the day slowly faded away.