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2nd Day at Sea (2011 Trip) Pics

2nd Day at Sea – Sept 2, 2011

This isn’t a long post as really, there’s not much trouble you can get into or sights to see, but still, it was a cool day at sea.  Why?  Because we were headed through the Sea of Marmara on our way to Istanbul and you could see land on both sides the entire way there.  And that land was Europe on one side and Asia on the other.  It was pretty cool.  At one point, the captain of the ship announced that on the shore we were passing by was the original site of Troy.  That’s pretty awesome.  I couldn’t tell for sure what I was looking at but I can still claim that I’ve seen Troy….technically.  Maybe I can’t identify it to save my life, but still.

During this day at sea, the cruise line wisely helped the passengers pass the time, offering lots of different activities.  We had signed up for an international wine tasting, which is always a good way to get drunk.  Especially when you can keep “sampling” wines repeatedly, and there are 12 to taste.  It was a lot of fun, even when the one Riesling on offer, which was from France, was god-awful.  It was terrible.  But there were plenty of other good whites and reds, along with lots of cheese and crackers.  Yum.

Basically though, it was a really nice day to relax, take in the scenery rolling by, and enjoy the wonderful temperature while on a gorgeous, luxurious, state-of-the-art cruise ship.  Life was definitely good that day.  And now, for the pics:

2011 Mediterranean Trip Pics Index

Istanbul, Day 1 (2011 Trip) Pics

September 3, 2011 – Exploring Istanbul, Day 1

As I mortifyingly admitted yesterday, there are quite a few pics from our epic trip last year around the Mediterranean.  I’ve decided to work backwards.  As I slowly but surely get all the picture pages up from that trip, I’ll continue to update the list of pages with links.  Messy, but it will have to do since this is going to be put up in all sorts of random order!

Anyway, I just started writing this paragraph and remembered that I had written a LOT of stuff during the cruise itself, especially during those days at sea.  But then I remembered I had written them on my old iPad, which I had recently wiped in order to give to Harv.  D’oh!  But then, I remembered that Apple awesomely backs up your data when you connect it to your computer.  And then I remembered that I built my new iPad from my old iPad’s image… After remembering which app I used to type in my trip journal (aNote – a pretty great app for purposes like travel diaries, btw) I nervously opened it up and BAM! there were my notes…I had forgotten that I’d only written up the days from Rome, but honestly, that’s a relief too.  Those were action-packed days!!!

What all that means is that I’m stuck remembering the rest of the cruise – luckily I took shittons of pictures, so when in doubt, I can lean on the pictures to tell the story.  So, where was I? Oh, yeah, ISTANBUL!

Our ship, the Equinox, had docked in Istanbul before most everyone woke up, as when we finally did get up, we looked out the balcony directly on to the Istanbul cityscape.  Sho’ nuff, this was definitely Istanbul.  Mosques everywhere, but also still quite a city.  From our room, we were facing the wrong way to really see any of the historic center stuff you associate in your mind with Istanbul, namely the Hagia Sophia or Blue Mosque.  The ship was spending two full days here in the city, and Larry & I had booked a two-day excursion.  I was RIDICULOUSLY excited to come here.  It’s always amazing to think of the history here in what was once Constantinople.  It’s also the only city that straddles two continents.  Plus, the Hagia Sophia.  I mean, seriously.  Once we got sorted into our travel group, we found out that our itinerary for today was to mainly visit the insane (in a good way) markets, including the Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar, along with visiting Topkapi Palace, finally ending with a boat cruise on the Bosphorous.

Arrival in Istanbul

First up was Topkapi Palace.  It’s where the sultans made their home, back before Turkey stopped having a sultan.  It’s now preserved as a museum, storing quite a few interesting artifiacts, including many ridiculously gorgeous jewels, portraits of all the sultans, some quite impressive religious artifiacts (including allegedly Moses’ staff….Larry & I both had strong doubts about the authenticity of it, and even after asking our affable and knowledgeable tour guide, she couldn’t confirm but informed us that most have strong beliefs that it is) and a gorgeous view of the Golden Horn and Bosphorous, the bodies of water that surround and cut through Istanbul.

Topkapi Palace

After the Topkapi Palace, we went to the Cistern, a Roman construction built underground and where in ancient times the city would store its water.  It is still being preserved for historical reasons and because it is awesome.  You walk down some stairs like you’re heading into a basement, and then there you are in this dramatically lit, massive underground chamber like out of a dream.  It’s filled with a little bit of water that fish swim in – it’s also very cool there especially considering it’s fucking hot as balls up top in September.  It’s incredible to think that not only was this built 1500 years ago, it still stands and there’s a city built up above it.

Exploring the Cistern and area

From the Cistern, we hopped back in our bus and went to the Spice Market.  I’m sure I’d seen this before on the Amazing Race, and it’s definitely an attraction that doesn’t disappoint.   It’s wall-to-wall people with tons of vendors selling textiles, spices (duh), trinkets and souvenirs, food, jewelry….basically everything you’d imagine.  Larry went to the tour-guide recommended spice stall (Aladdin’s – for reals) and picked up some Turkish Delight (candy that would kill me what with all the nut-based shit in it) and pistachios (for snacking).  After walking through it a bit, we ended up in a textile store and bought some “Turkish-looking” pillowcases and a table runner.  The tour guide had warned us that engaging vendors at all means you’re interested, even if you say no.  She was not wrong.  They’re persistent and I bet we probably could have made an even better deal for ourselves.

The Spice Market

It was time for lunch at this point, and we ended up at a restaurant that served up lots of Turkish flavor, including kabob, a pate thing, and even now, I can’t remember it all, neither can Larry.  But it was all mostly good.  This lunch we ended up meeting some of our other fellow cruise passengers as we were seated at large, communal tables.  I remember a few couples, one in which the woman was very nice but her husband was standoffish, a very nice married couple from Ireland who we would occasionally run into throughout the rest of the trip, and I think a German couple who were polite but again a little reserved.  Good food though.

After lunch, our big bus somehow navigated the seemingly-small small streets of Istanbul to drop us off at the Grand Bazaar.  The Spice Market was big and chaotic, but this place is just massive. MASSIVE.  If you ever play Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, you’ll get kind of an inkling of how big and meandering the corridors of this ancient mall are.  It’s so easy to get turned around inside.  Everything looks the same after a while as the vendors pretty much all start repeating after a while.  There’s only so much crap that can be sold.  By this point, Larry & I had satisfied our curiosity factor and after getting turned around a few times and seemingly lost, we finally found our exit and went outside.  It was even hotter than balls than it was earlier, so we found a somewhat shady spot to sit in and wait until the group was scheduled to meet up again.  It had been a long day so far, and the heat on top of it is exhausting. ÂI was really looking forward to the final stop on the itinerary for the day, the boat cruise.  I just hoped we didn’t pass out.

The Grand Bazaar

So yeah – the boat cruise on the Bosphorous, leaving from the Golden Horn.  Istanbul has a little inlet harbor that is called the Golden Horn, because obviously that is where a huge amount of their trade would come through.  The Golden Horn is an inlet off of the Bosphorous, the main body of water that cuts through Istanbul and is the path from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara/the Mediterranean.  The cruise was wonderful, as it went along a route on both coasts of the city, as it is a city that is cut in half by the Bosphorous and gives Istanbul coasts in both Europe and Asia.  It also happens to be that some of the world’s most valuable real estate (along the lines of Bel Air and such) is along those shores, since there’s mega oil money and Russians there.  If you’ve ever seen the James Bond movie, The World is Not Enough, we went by not only Electra’s Istanbul house (which is right along the shore), also her evil lighthouse/submarine lair, a very quaint little place called Lenore’s Tower.  In other words, it was awesome.

Boat Cruising on the Bosphorous

After the cruise, it was finally time to go back to the ship and crash.  Seriously, that was a long ass day.  But basically, completely amazing at the same time.  I fell in love with Istanbul and could easily imagine going back to visit again, perhaps after knocking out some of the other places Larry & I would like to visit.  But I didn’t have to say goodbye to the city just yet, as we had Day 2 the next day!

Back on the Equinox

2011 Mediterranean Trip Pics Index

Ancient Ephesus (2011 Trip) pics!

September 5, 2011 – Ancient Ephesus (and Kusadasi)

I uploaded pics I took while Larry & I were in the amazing and ancient city of Ephesus during our fantastic Mediterranean cruise.  That was a particularly hot day on the vacation and the excavation site at Ephesus was MOBBED with people.  We weren’t about to not go on an excursion though, and it was fascinating to hear the history of this place as our tour guide walked us through the ancient ruins.  Of course, having just been to Rome and Athens, places that are the kings of ruins, you begin to get jaded.  It’s like when you go to art museum after art museum on a vacation – like what happened when traveling with Jason & Wendy so many years ago – you just get tired of art.  Tired, I say!

The Ancient City of Ephesus, Turkey

Lunch in Kusadasi & Evening Departure

2011 Mediterranean Trip Pics Index

Pics from Istanbul, Day 2 (2011 Trip)

September 4, 2011 – A Second Day in Istanbul

I will get all my photos up before the year is up, I promise (Edited on 22 Jun 2012 to add: LIES!)!  Some may have seen all of these already when I gave the iPad Photo tour of them, but if you didn’t get tickets for that event, you can always check my photos at Picasa.  I’ve attached your very own viewer to these photos right within my own site – power to WordPress and Themify (and Shashin)!

Alright, so I’m updating this entry on June 22, 2012 – yes, nearly 9 months later.  I completely forgot that I hadn’t posted “officially” about our trip on my site.  And I do love a travelogue blog post.  Who doesn’t, right?   Anyway, so on our cruise, the Equinox was staying in Istanbul for TWO days, which was pretty much perfect as there is a LOT to see in Istanbul.  On the first day, it was action-packed and we visited Topkapi Palace, the Cistern, Spice Market, the Grand Bazaar, and the Bosphorous by boat.  Day 2’s excursion schedule was only a half day as we had to be back on the boat in the early afternoon as Equinox needed to get on its way to Ephesus.

Day 2 was the money shot of this two-day excursion.  There were a bajillion tour groups from the boat, so in order to prevent too much overcrowding, the attractions were staggered amongst the groups.  It just so happened that the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia were grouped together on our agenda for the second day.  So I admit that I’m not running around telling everyone I see that the Hagia Sophia is one of those places that I’ve always been enamored of from a distance.  Every picture of it shows it off as this just MASSIVE crazy-looking building with towers and awesomeness.  The Hagia Sophia being in Istanbul was pretty much the deciding factor in us taking this particular cruise over one that just hit up the western Mediterranean.  Ssssh….don’t tell Larry.  So yeah, I couldn’t wait to visit it.  A year or two ago, I’d also had the chance to read a wonderful book on architecture called ‘The Secret Lives of Buildings’ which discusses, in interesting and personal ways, the histories of famed architectural marvels, including of course the Hagia Sophia.  It has such an amazing and lengthy history.  It was built originally as a Catholic church, then after the fall of the Roman Empire, it became a mosque for over a millennium.  It recently was “decommissioned” as a mosque by Turkey and became solely a museum.  Aw….geez, I already went off on the Hagia Sophia, and that wasn’t even the first thing we visited!

ANYWAY, we joined back up with our wonderful female tour guide and headed first to the Blue Mosque.  That’s just a nice English way to refer to it, of course.  This is an active mosque still, so you have to respect the Muslim customs and remove your shoes and be properly covered up.  It’s an immense building that looks quite similar to the Hagia Sophia, but of course, it’s blue, both inside and out.  It also looks bigger than the Hagia Sophia, but that’s a trick of perspective as the builders wanted it to look that way, especially upon approach of the city from the water.  The inside of the Blue Mosque is stunning and can make you gasp at the artistry that went into its interior decorations.  You can see for yourself in the pictures below.

Blue Mosque

After leaving the Blue Mosque, we left through a gate that faced the Hagia Sophia directly, yet we weren’t headed there just yet.  But it did provide a chance to get some great perspective shots of it.  Instead, we turned to the Hippodrome, a relic from the Romans that has been somewhat preserved.  It used to be something like the Circus Maximus in Rome and would host chariot races.  It was immense in size, but didn’t last very long after the Romans fell.  Yet the Turks insisted on not wiping out their history completely, so pieces still remain intact and in their original location. Foremost is an obelisk from Luxor, which the Romans brought from Egypt.  It’s pretty cool to see Rome’s expanse and lingering elements from when this was Constantinople.

Shots along the Hippodrome

Before the Hagia Sophia still (see how everything for me is all about whether it happens before or after the H.S.) we were treated to a Turkish Rug demonstration.  Of course this is a way for the cruise line to help out the local merchants…but this was a pretty cool experience.  We were led into a nice, comfortable, big room and we sat on the perimeter of it so that the main floor was wide open.  A huge stack of rolled-up rugs was in the corner. A very VERY charismatic man led us through the demo, but not before offering us Raki and some food.  A good salesman knows to make his potential customers comfortable…  Anyway, the rug demo was a massive show of all the various types of rugs that can be made and the various sizes and techniques inherent to the trade.   In the pictures below, you can see there were a lot on display, and the poor guys who had to schlep them around must get a great workout. The piece de resistance was saved for last though, as he brought out a rug we were allowed to touch – it was ridiculously soft and mesmerizing to look at.  It also cost $100K.  With that, the tour let us look around for a bit, but of course that was also the time that the salesmen pounce on you.  The demo guy actually came over to us and we didn’t actually intend to buy anything but these guys are good.  Plus, when we finally saw the one we ended up buying, and the deal we got…well, as I wrote about earlier here, it was an awesome memento.

Pics at a Turkish Rug Merchant

After dropping a good chunk of change on a Turkish souvenir, it was finally time.  Yep, it was finally time to visit the Hagia Sophia!  I’ve written above how excited I was to see this place so let’s just cut to the chase.  The Blue Mosque was amazing, but the Hagia Sophia was fucking incredible.  It’s huge.  HUGE.  Once you actually get close to it, it’s ridiculous.  Then when you go inside and into the main room, your jaw drops.  There are immense discs with Arabic inscriptions of holy names situated around the room and amazing wall decorations.  You look up and you get blown away by how this could even be built.  Even more impressive is that it was done before precision, modern engineering came about.  Apparently there is an error in the rooftop circular opening, but you know what, I’ll cut the builders some slack.  We were given some time to explore, and explore we did.  There’s an upper level you can reach via a winding tunnel (no stairs) up and it provides you a fantastic perspective of the interior.  Even typing this up just gives me a nice sense of euphoria remembering how it felt to be there.  Such an incredible experience.

The Amazing Hagia Sophia

After that, it really was time to go.  We got dropped off back at the Equinox and under a crystal blue sky and perfect temperatures, we steamed away while having a stunning vista of the city of Istanbul.  It was a wonderful visit – all too brief, even at two days – and one I’ll never forget.  I also have the hundreds of pictures I took there…. 🙂

Leaving Istanbul

2011 Mediterranean Trip Pics Index