Istanbul, Turkey

After eight hours of sleep (Jim was already on deck for early morning coffee), and breakfast in the dining room, went on deck to take pictures of the ships pulled into Istanbul. The skyline views of many old spiral mosques were beautiful.

We had to obtain landing cards in the lounge before being allowed to leave the ship. These were to be turned in on reboarding, and the ship was not allowed to leave port until all were returned to the Turkish agents. This was to be repeated in Egypt and Israel.

About 9 AM, we boarded our tour bus for Santa Sophia. On our drive, Turkish soldiers all over the city were stationed prominently with rifles or machine guns. The country is under martial law. Tidbits from our local guide --- Turkey is the second largest country in Europe, behind Russia. Although most of it is on the Asian continent. In earlier times Turks were allowed four wives, and it was popular to marry sisters so they would only have one “mother-in-law.” He asked us what color blossoms were on the fig trees there, and after many guesses, we were told that there are no blossoms.

Before entering and viewing the Topkapi Palace, now a museum filled with priceless collections of the Turkish sultans and Turkey's treasury, we had to pay camera fees. This was prevalent wherever we went throughout the country. Outside the museum, we noticed long nails that looked like spikes that were upside down on the open beams. We were told it was to keep the pigeons away who used to perch there and gave tourists more “poop” than they bargained for. Inside the museum were unbelievable treasures. My favorite was a gold dessert set, set with large diamonds all around each piece. There were enormous emeralds that sultans used as paper weights. One case displayed the bones of the arm and hand of John the Baptist. The museum houses more Ming and [Qing] dynasty [artifacts] than China or anywhere else in the world. There is also a large celadon collection. I asked our guide why was the porcelain all in temple jars and no ginger jars. He quickly retorted with “I am an archaeologist, I don’t know such things!”

Returning to the ship for lunch, we passed the train station which was the termination point for the “Orient Express,” and was featured in the Agatha Christie movie by the same title. In the early years Istanbul was called Constantinople.

After an open seating lunch in the dining room we reboarded our bus at 1:15 PM, first having taken a picture of Jim and Phil posing in front of a Russian cruise ship docked next to ours. On the route to the famous Blue Mosque, our guide enlightened us as to the excellent driving records of the Turks --- only 116 auto accidents in all of Turkey in a one year period.

The mosques were painted in blues and greens because it was thought that the devil didn’t like bright colors. Upon entering the mosque we were required to take off our shoes because of the Turkish carpets that cover the floors. The Muslims must wash the face, hands and feet in the outside facilities before entering. The men are required to go to the mosque once a day and pray five times a day. The women do not have to go this often. They use the small rooms around the edge of the mosque, and the men use the large center area where they pray with their forehead pressed to the floor.

Because the Grand Bazaar was closed, we were taken to a carpet dealer, and a show presented, along with serving tea. Our guide said that the art of handmade rugs would be extinct in a few years. The tiny silk one for the wall that I liked was only $350. Afterwards, outside, we were hassled by street peddler’s offering us almost every piece of junk in Turkey for one US dollar. We were surprised that you couldn’t even write a check in Turkey. We stopped at a small souvenir shop at the dock and I picked up some Turkish coins --- Lira.

When we arrived back on the ship someone told us about terrorists throwing bombs in the Istanbul airport the day before, killing innocent bystanders. Having spare time before dinner, we joined others poolside, played stones, and Keith and Jane chatted a while. Local Turkish dancers performed for us on the dock just before we sailed. The ship sailed just five minutes before our dinner, and I wanted a gauze dress to wear from the ship's gift shop. The shop cannot open while in port. I did get to wear the dress. Had Jim go on ahead and I joined our group a few minutes late. We had our “pirate night” dinner and received another complimentary bottle of wine from the cruise line for anniversary. We also received a delicious cake which we thought was from them, along with the waiters singing “happy anniversary.” The next evening however, I found out the cake was from our thoughtful table mates, Ed and Judee.

After dinner we went to the movie “First Monday in October” then to the Pirates night party in the Ulysses Lounge. We were issued hats, mustaches, scarves, etc., and games were played with prizes given. After a stroll around deck and a stop at the midnight buffet, we turned in.