Day 86 Mar 30 (Istanbul - Day 2)

Breakfast in cabin.
9:00 Excursion - Highlights of Istanbul #2. Our tour guide yesterday was pretty good. Today's was awesome. His name was Yigit (pronounced Yi it - silent g) and he has been to the states to lecture on Turkey. His English is almost flawless although at times he says a word or two in a strange way indicating he hasn't heard it pronounced by Americans. His accent is so American it is hard to believe he has only spent months in the states. I suspect he watches movies and/or news in English fairly often. Add to this his astonishing knowledge of world affairs and Turkey and his willingness to talk about anything we asked about and it was just a great tour. He also had a good sense of humor.

First we drove to Asia (still in the same country and city - Istanbul - just across the Bosphorus) for a look back at the rest of the city from a high hill where all the broadcast towers are located and stopped at a restaurant for photos and refreshments (tea or coffee). The apple tea they serve here (yesterday at the carpet class too) is quite good. It resembles the spicy hot cider mixes we have in the states. Back across the Galata Bridge and we were in Old Town. We went to Topkapi Palace. You may have seen parts of it in the old or new Topkapi movie. Pierce Brosnan was in the more recent one. The movie is about treasures in the museum which are the target of high end jewel thieves. They have plenty of targets here in what is referred to as the Treasury. The Topcapi Dagger is here as well as many large jewels. These are remnants of the treasure amassed by the sultans of the Ottoman Empire. Our guide referred to this as the third Roman Empire since the Roman and Byzantine Empires preceded it. It was a great empire and the opulence still remaining is clear evidence.

After looking at the Treasury and some of the Palace we went to the restaurant on the Palace grounds for lunch. It was too much food and it was all good. I happened to see the menu while wandering around before leaving and calculated what it would have cost to eat the meal we just had if it hadn't been included in the tour. I came up with about $75!!! I imagine the tour company got a break but we ate very well! Our guide seemed apologetic and embarrassed by the cost. He said that there were many cheaper places with good food but that there was no control over prices and whatever the traffic would bear pretty much determined them. I told him I wasn't complaining just curious and that the same happens in the US where restaurants become super popular. The restaurant, by the way, is called the Konyali Restaurant and it is on the Palace grounds. It has great views of the city and both the Bosphorus Strait and the Marmara Sea (this connects the Dardenelles with the Bosphorus and the three provide the path from the Mediterranean to the Black Seas.

After lunch we toured the Palace Harem. This is not what we think of when we see the movie versions of what life was like for Sultans. It is really much more. There are areas which have wives (Muslims are allowed 4 if they can treat them equally and support them well) and concubines - not exactly what I thought they were either. Apparently, many of the family members of the Sultan had their wives here and the area was more like the living quarters of the entire group of families. It also had a meeting area for dignitaries and such. The name for such a meeting room in Turkish is "divan" which is apparently related to our word for a couch like piece of furniture. That is the type of seating that was often used in the meeting room.

The areas were beautifully decorated and even with the many years that have passed you can tell how well these people lived in the Palace.

On the way to the bus I had to buy some hats. These are the type of hat that Muslims in Egypt and Turkey wear instead of the much less visible turban. It is a short, soft, round, brimless hat with a flat top and a lot of colorful embroidery and some jewels (fake or real I suppose). I bought the hats because the price was too good to refuse (3 for $5! - I'm guessing the jewels probably aren't real.) I wore one of the hats to the party this evening. I received many complements despite the low cost. Just goes to show you that price isn't everything.

The party was billed as the Grand World Voyage Signature Event. I'm not sure if they do this on every world cruise or just this one because it is the 50th anniversary of world cruises for Holland American Line. (Incidentally, it is the 135th anniversary of the company.) Whatever the reason it was a big, BIG deal. It was held in the oldest cistern in Istanbul (built about 330 CE - that is the latest designation for AD). It was built to hold water for the city because the city didn't have any springs. So water had to be brought in by aquaduct and stored. The cistern is known as the Binbirdirek Cistern if you want to look it up. It held 10,000,000 gallons of water when it was in use. Now it is a venue for huge parties. I mean, any time you want to have a bash in Istanbul for 1200 or so of your closest friends, this is the place! We dismounted the buses from the ship onto a red carpet. Then down a draped tunnel which had colored lights and a laser beam projected image of the Holland American Lines logo on the roof of the tunnel. Then we were inside. I understand there are over 220 columns supporting the ceiling of the cistern. These are still there from Byzantine times. The original purpose was to provide water for the Lavsus Palace. Emperor Constantinus had it built. Hard to beat atmosphere like that but wait. Inside was an incredible variety of food and drink. The first beverage I tried was Raki. This is the unofficial Turkish National Drink. It is an anise based liqour similar to ouzo. Wow. It is smooth but very potent. I could tell the Turk who offered it to me was pleased when I sipped it and exclaimed how much I liked it. It reminded me a little of Jaggermeister from Germany. If you are cold this stuff will warm you up in a hurry. They had pretty much anything you would like to drink at an open bar and brought wines and champagne around on trays to us where we sat. They also had kebab sandwiches being made at a booth and there was a woman making bread in the traditional way right there behind our seats. They had a fortune teller and an ice cream guy as well as more types of munchies than I could try. Sure am glad I skipped dinner!

Then there was the entertainment. Lots of Turkish music. Introductions of dignitaries and speeches. These included the host, Stein Kruse (what a last name for a cruise line CEO), who welcomed us and introduced the mayor of Istanbul who spoke through an interpreter and the US Ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson who flew in from Ankara for the party. After the mercifully brief speeches came the entertainers. There were ethnic dances and a fire eater and of guessed it...2 belly dancers. They were the best looking of all I had seen and they seemed to be very good. We were not sitting in a great spot to watch them (and by this time I had almost overdosed on belly dancing...never thought I would say that) but what I did see was pretty good. By this time people were dancing all over the place and the party was going pretty well. Of course you have to remember the demographics of our group so it wasn't long before people were heading for the exits. The buses started ferrying people back to the ship at 8:30 PM because there was a post party Dessert Extravaganza Bazaar onboard on the Lido deck. This was also amazing. Our staff outdid themselves - nothing like having the boss aboard to encourage a little extra effort and creativity. The deck was decked out (sorry) in an Arab theme. This included a tent and a number of costumed crewmembers looking like an Arab camp complete with a snake charmer playing his flute to the Cobra in front of him. I knew this wasn't a real cobra but it was moving to the music and looked real enough to cause us to look twice before we noticed the attached string which allowed one of the "Arabs" in the tent to move the Cobra up and down. Too cute! You might think that this was enough but there was one more surprise for us. About a half hour before we were to begin our sail-out there was a pretty good fireworks display. I mean, this guy really knows how to throw a party!! It is almost anticlimactic to mention that tomorrow there will also be a cocktail party for us for an hour before dinner. We all paid a good price for this trip but I have been repeatedly impressed at how they don't skimp on stuff. Costumes for the shows and the talent, decorations for all the special nights we have had, the number and attentiveness of the staff, quality of the food and amenities both around the ship and in our cabins, and pretty much everything with the only exception being the internet service. These people truly understand the value of doing it right. I am definitely going to miss all this when I come to the end of my trip.

I was headed to bed after the fireworks when Ron (trivia teammate) asked me if I was going to watch the sail-out. I said I was thinking of turning in but he said that he had heard the bridge over the Bosphorus was worth looking at on the way out so we went up to the top deck forward where we stood huddled in blankets watching. It is chilly here by the way. Glad Ron brought the blankets. Beside my new hat I was just wearing my blazer over a long sleeve knitted shirt. The blanket made a difference and allowed me to be comfortable. Well, it was worth it. The support cables and the major cables and support columns of the bridge change color and the lights go on and off in various patterns which resemble fireworks and chasing Christmas lights. The people in Luxor could learn a thing or two from the Turks. This was a light show that just happened to be on a bridge. Neat. A great way to end the day. What a two day stretch! I'm in need of a sea-day. Thank goodness we have one tomorrow. That completes my Turkish Delight except that they put some on our beds tonight (Turkish Delight candy - sorry again).

We also lose an hour tonight. That could get old real soon. I won't be able to get 8 hours tonight again. I lead such a tough life. Poor me, poor me.

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