by Linda Coffman
Kusadasi and Istanbul
"Sorry We Are
sign on an Istanbul shop
With over 4000 shops,
Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, or Covered Market, is the original
Turkish version of the Mall of America. Mel was somewhat
overwhelmed, but got into the spirit of the deal while haggling
over the price of a tea set. I couldn't possibly drink my apple
tea at home out of just any tea cup, could I? We
wandered and looked, cajoled by young men to examine the wares in
this shop or that one... Mostly, we were lost. Dropping bread
crumbs to find our way out would have been a good idea! Soon it
became apparent that there is a scheme to the layout of the
bazaar--jewelry down one way, leather items down another, and so
on. And everywhere are runners delivering a bottomless supply of
tea to refresh weary shoppers while they make their selections.
All too soon it was time to go.
Istanbul - June 17th
Cruising was again on our
agenda, this time on the Bosphorus, the waterway at the heart of
Istanbul. Separating the European city from the Asia Minor city,
the Bosphorus' strong current from the Mediterranean meets the
current from the Black Sea causing it to churn and sparkle in the
sunlight. Lining the banks on both sides are "wooden
houses"--splendid homes of the well to do, some dating back
to the 1600's. Our half-day tour took us on a leisurely boat ride
to Sadberk Hanim Museum, a privately owned museum established in
one of the waterfront mansions. The Turkish and Islamic art,
costumes, and archaeological objects are fascinating, as is the
We joined our coach (after
another purchase of silk scarves from a street vendor-six for
$20) and headed for the Fortress of Rumeli Hisari which we'd
spied from the narrowest point of the Bosphorus. Amazingly, this
Ottoman fortress was built in 1452 by 10,000 workers in just four
months. From here, Mehmet the Conqueror controlled the strait and
was able to conquer Byzantine Constantinople.
Two afternoon tours were
available to us, Magnificent Legacies (including the Suleymaniye
Mosque, underground cistern, Egyptian Bazaar and Spice Market)
and Ottoman Elegance and Military Might (including the Beylerbey
Palace and the Military Museum). We chose to strike out on our
own after lunch and walk to the Dolmabache Palace, a must-see
that is not on ships' tours. This palace is administered by the
Turkish government with its own guided tours and is the only
place we were required to pay in Turkish lira (an exchange booth
is located next to the ticket window). Cameras are allowed inside
but there is an additional charge for picture taking.
The Palace and Harem are in
separate sections and you can do a one hour tour of the Palace or
a two hour tour of both. Mel chose the hour tour and I stayed
with friends for the Harem tour as well. THIS is the
ultimate--the palace to end all palaces. Imagine a sultan with
more grandiose ideas and worse taste than you thought humanly
possible. Then picture a tranquil setting and place the ultimate
ostentatious building and contents on it. Hollywood couldn't have
created this opulent setting; it's too much crystal and marble,
too many mirrors and immense chandeliers, and it's everything I
expected it to be. Finally... THIS is how sultans should live!
Palace and Harem guides were
well-trained and answered all sorts of questions in addition to
giving their narrative. At one point, a prim woman with a
disapproving set to her chin asked how old were girls
who were chosen for the Harem. When she was told they were at
least in their late teens and early twenties she looked crushed.
We were certain she was hoping to be told ten or twelve so she
could return home with stories of depraved harem orgies.
Dolmabache Palace is extraordinary and I'd rank it as the number
one place to see in Istanbul.
All good things have to come to
an end and when Mel returned from his tour of the underground
cisterns we dressed for The Mystic Heritage of Istanbul/Dinner.
We were treated to a performance of the Mevlevi, known as
Whirling Dervishes, followed by dinner on the grounds of the
mosque. The Mevlevi participate in this mesmerizing ritual to
achieve a trancelike state and spiritual union with God.
With the rich culture,
spirituality, and friendliness of the Turks we met, we were sorry
to leave. I can't complete my journey without thanking those who
helped make it memorable: Lori Broadnax, who instructed me in the
fine art of Bazaar shopping; Mary Ann Rizzo, who offered insight
into Ephesus and carpet-buying: and Jeannette Christensen, the
fairy godmother who made me a (Turkish lira) millionairess and
urged me to not miss the Dolmabache Palace. Onboard the R1,
Judith Christy (Excursions Manager) and Richard Joseph (Cruise
Director) deserve special recognition for their friendly
helpfulness and professionalism. And last, but not least, a
special heartfelt thank you to Brad Ball of Renaissance Cruises
who put it all together.
Wait! There's more...
No, I didn't forget the
"eastern" plumbing explanation. It's a matter of some
delicacy and I've been struggling with how to describe it.
Suffice it to say that the porcelain is in the floor. Uh, one
doesn't sit on it, but rather one hopes for good balance. Paper
isn't tossed into the opening in the floor, but is placed in a
receptacle (placed nearby, especially for that purpose). Ladies,
as long as you're totally grossed out, step back before you pull
the chain or your feet might get wet. I may as well suggest that
you consider wearing a skirt when touring in Istanbul. It's just
easier--you know why. And lastly, even the tour boat on the
Bosphorus was similarly equipped. (When we ran across
"western" plumbing in public places, the line to use it
was inevitably lengthy.)
Speaking of clothing--again,
dress respectfully, make certain shoulders and knees are covered,
and carry socks to replace your shoes before entering mosques.
Accessibility for the
physically challenged is making some headway in Istanbul. The
Topkapi Palace has several wooden and metal ramps to make the use
of a wheelchair easier; however, most sites were not so equipped.
None of the mosques, churches,
palaces, or museums we visited were air conditioned. When someone
mentioned this lack of climate-controlled environments to
preserve their national treasures, our guide explained patiently
that the Turkish government can't afford such a luxury. They do
the best they can, but it would be prohibitively expensive to
exhibit such an abundance of riches in climate-controlled
Facts and Touring Tips
Tour prices may vary from season to
season (and from one cruise line to the next), so I haven't
specified them. We felt Renaissance's tours were competitively
priced with those offered by Royal Caribbean last year in the
southern Mediterranean as well as the ones we purchased on our
own in Barcelona. Prices ranged from $40 to $70 per person
(longer tours, and those which included a meal, were more
Without exception, the Shore Excursion
booklet we received with our Renaissance documents recommended
"seasonal clothing and comfortable walking shoes." I
can't emphasize enough the need for comfortable shoes.
In Istanbul, conservative slacks and short-sleeved shirts were
the norm -- it was quite hot and I chose a skirt or light dress.
A hat and sunglasses are a necessity.
A must for tourists is bottled water.
Available for purchase at all our stops, it was nearly everyone's
drink of choice. In addition, several of us carried individually
wrapped moist towelettes which proved refreshing. Tissues are a
necessity if the "facilities" run out of paper, as they
Sailing! ~ Linda
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Pre-Cruise - The tour starts
here! Seeing antiquities come to life.
Island Hopping - Visit Santorini & Rhodes,
Greek isles in the sun.
Cruises - Tour their extensive