Day 85 Mar 29 (Istanbul, Turkey)

Mileage to date that we have gone from Ft. Lauderdale is 27,332 mi (I just realized that those are nautical miles. In statute miles - landlubber miles to you - that is over 30,000!) Our ship is docked at 41º 01.68 N and 28º 59.31 E.

We arrived around 9:30 and I was awakened by Barbara's dulcet tones over the PA system describing stuff as we sailed in. I thought about getting up but figured the stuff would be there for a few more centuries or so. This place is old. Besides, I was not finished sleeping. We weren't supposed to arrive so early.

I stumbled up to Lido for breakfast a bit later and enjoyed a leisurely morning (no Tai Chi, etc today). My first excursion of the day was scheduled for 12:30 PM. This town is so incredible they had two Highlight tours available - one today and one tomorrow. I had both scheduled as well as a night tour today and a party tomorrow. Perhaps now you see why I didn't hop out of bed this morning. I knew I was going to need my rest for the two days of fun and excitement ahead. Pheew! I was tired before I even start just thinking about it.

The tour went first to the Hippodrome (this was an old Roman stadium type place which held about 35,000 and was the location for chariot races and gladiator fights, etc.) All that is left is a park and monument from the old days. Of course, the Romans being who they were brought the monument from Egypt. It is one of the two obelisks that were in the Karnak Temple Complex we were at a few days ago. So now we have seen both of the Karnak obelisks. Within easy walking distance from the Hippodrome is the Blue Mosque (that isn't its real name but everyone calls it that because of the beautiful blue tiles on the inside - it is actually silvery gray on the outside). This mosque was built by a sultan who really created a stir in the Muslim world because he built six minarets (towers) for his mosque. The problem with this was that the mosque in Mecca (Muslim central) only had six minarets. Big upset! You can't have the same number of minarets as Mecca! What to do.... Well, rather than have the sultan tear a tower down they decided he could go to Mecca and build a seventh minaret there for the main mosque. Problem solved. Part of Muslim law actually favors improving things and preserving them so this was the best solution. Tearing down a tower would be against their principles. This is the same reason that they preserved the Greek and Roman knowledge (books, etc.) that I've mentioned before.

This is also why most Muslims will tell you (at least in private) that the extremists are not following the Qu'ran when they kill and destroy in the name of Allah. Understanding this I now believe that there is hope to eventually solve the problems the world has with Muslim terrorists. The key is to educate those who can't read and/or understand the Qu'ran. They are taking the word of a few (not so few in some countries like Saudi Arabia) leaders who interpret Muslim ideology to suit their own needs (or perhaps they just don't understand it properly themselves - yesterday one of our guides pointed out that there are no qualifications to become a Muslim leader, anyone can build their own mosque and teach whatever they think is right. There is no central organization like with the Christian denominations. No one has authority to tell them they're wrong in their interpretations of their scriptures - imagine that! I wonder if George W. understands that.)

Next we went to St. Sophia Basilica (well it was a basilica once). This was the largest basilica for (if I heard our guide correctly) over 1000 years until St. Peter's was built in Vatican Square. When the Muslims conquered the area they made it into a mosque and plastered over the lovely mosaic work which depicted scenes with the saints and Jesus and the gang. Again, the plastering is in keeping with the prohibition of destruction. I'm beginning to detect a pattern here as I write this. Hmmmm. The building is now a Byzantine-Ottoman Museum. The plaster is being carefully removed and restoration is in progress.

Next stop was Bazaar 54. This is actually a modern and posh department store. I knew as I entered that I wasn't going to buy anything at the prices they were going to charge. But it was part of the tour to have a carpet class. We were ushered to the 4th floor (of course they had two elevators) for the presentation. They had about a dozen guys there helping out with the main presenter so there would be no delay helping all of us (our bus had about 30 tourists on board). So I learned carpet is made of wool, cotton and silk. The way to judge quality is to look at the knots at the base of the fibers (these were all hadmade of course).

I also learned the modern word to make a carpet fly. The presenter asked if anyone remembered the word to make a carpet fly and I offered up, "abra kadabra". He said that was old fashioned. The new word is "Visa". Your carpet can be made to fly to your home from Istanbul using Visa. He got me. Very funny. Carpet salesman humor is what it is. I laughed and chided myself for not seeing it coming. Of course I have found several gullible friends to use the joke on. Pass it on right?

The Grand Bazaar was within walking distance and we were free to go after the carpet class. Incidentally, some people actually bought carpets. I know one who spent about $2,500 on a 5'x7' or so carpet. She said she wanted a larger one but it was priced at $35,000. Wow! For that much the thing should be able to fly without Visa!

I went toward the Grand Bazaar but stopped at a small shop near the main entrance. I bought a guide book and a couple of other trinkets. I guess the carpet class had a small effect on me and I had to buy something. I spent a total of 8 Turkish Lira (one lira is about $.80). I then walked into the bazaar. This place is so large I didn't get to see much of it. I walked around it for about 20 minutes. Most of the shops (it is actually hundreds of small shops under one roof - sort of a mall but the shops are much smaller than American mall shops) were pretty specialized and had what looked like quality merchandise at high prices - to start the haggling of course.

On my way back to where the bus would pick us up I had to walk by the carpet store. I bought 5 carpets.... Well, not at the carpet store. I walked past that but was passing a souvenir shop and the guy outside hawking merchandise called after me, "Carpets, $1". You know I had to at least look at a $1 carpet. Well, I checked closely and even asked to feel one because they were wrapped in plastic. Oh, they were about the size of a dollar bill. Cute, and they were actually woven material. I asked the guy if they were silk (checking his honesty) and he laughed with me and said they were cotton. I suspect they aren't handmade either but they are cute souvenirs.

Back to the ship to change for the evening nightclub experience.

The buses rolled up to the Karvansary nightclub after a very short sightseeing swing past already familiar landmarks for the most part. We were given too much food, most of which was good and to my liking, and a choice of two beers or a half bottle of wine (or soft drinks, water, coffee or tea). I went for the beer. It was an Efes Pilsen according to the bottle and the glass (which I now have in my cabin-eat your hearts out Scott and Bunk). The beer was pretty good and helped wash down anything which had an unusual taste. Definitely a traveler trick to be remembered. The entertainment began as we were finishing up the meal and were moving on to coffee and dessert. The first entertainment was folk dancing. This was not too interesting but to be fair our table was not in the best position to see it well. We were basically looking from the side of the stage and slightly to the rear of it. So we saw the side view and back view most of the time. They really know how to pack sardines in this nightclub.

Anyway, the next entertainer was the first of three belly dancers. She was probably a little better than the one in Egypt but I'm no judge so who knows. On the other hand, after another dance of the folk variety there was another belly dancer and it was clear the order of belly dancers was going to be good to better to best. The third one was the best clearly. She could shake her body in ways that defy understanding. Years of practice I'm sure. I think that there was another folk dance between the second and third belly dancer but I could be mistaken. I probably will be able to tell when I have time to look at my video. I've just been too busy. The last act was a guy who sang (not too well) and more importantly got the audience involved in singing and clapping very well. This saved what otherwise might have been less than a fun evening for many people. I was amazed at how many people were raving on the bus on the way home after griping during the evening about the crowded conditions or bad seats to view the entertainment. It is a good closing act that can turn grumpy people around. I suppose that if there were more young men in the audience he would not have to work so hard. The belly dancers would probably be the highlight of the evening but with our group....

After that it was home again. Since we had left for the dinner/nightclub at 7:45 PM it was a fairly late evening and we lost an hour because of the change to Daylight Saving Time. I didn't know they used it in this part of the world but they do.

Had to be up at 8 the next morning so I hurried to bed.

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