Where We Be
Istanbul, Turkey
The Underground Cistern turned out to be the surprise favorite of our tour of Istanbul
This is the splendid interior of the Blue Mosque. At the entry we removed our shoes and carried them in baggies as we walked on the soft Persian carpet
Our first sight, the Blue Mosque, was constructed by Sultan Ahmet I (1617 AD) to rival the much older Aya Sofya  (537 AD)
During our first evening in Istanbul, we stood on deck and took night photos of our local surroundings, including Galata Bridge and Galata Tower
As soon as the ship docked, we disembarked and took a walk along the Galata Bridge for a first taste of Istanbul (that's our ship in the background)
Close-ups of the Blue Mosque (left) and Aya Sofya (right) as seen from the Bosphorus Strait. Their minarets are defining aspects of Istanbul's skyline.
This is the skyline of historic Istanbul, with the Blue Mosque to the left and Aya Sofya to the right
The gorgeous dome at the center immediately draws your eye, especially the sky-blue center circle and matching stripe
The wonderful blue Iznik tile work on the walls and ceilings makes the Blue Mosque special -- and gives it its name
Our second sight was Topkapi Palace, home of the Ottoman sultans for nearly 400 years (1465-1856). This is the castle-like entrance gate.
It was fascinating to read about the concubines and how they could end up becoming members of the royal family if they bore a son to the sultan.
They were chosen not only for their beauty but also for their intelligence and were educated to be appropriate companions to the sultan and royal family.
The sultan had a huge harem (as many as 800 women!)
Topkapi Palace is elaborately decorated with colorful tiles throughout
Topkapi Palace is a big place and it took us all morning to explore it well. We visited four Treasury rooms filled with riches (no photos allowed), the most
memorable of which were the ceremonial thrones, the curved and bejeweled Topkapi Dagger (subject of the 1964 movie
Topkapi), and the 86-carat
Spoonmaker’s Diamond – fifth-largest in the world (found in the city dump in the 1600s and sold for pennies!). Topkapi also contains the most holy relics
of the Muslim world. The palace is beautifully situated on the Bosphorus Straits, and its extensive grounds contain lots of tulips (which originated in Turkey).
Our third sight was the fascinating Underground Cistern, built in 532 AD by Constantine. The cistern served as an underground reservoir for Istanbul in times
of drought or seige. It was built with 336 MARBLE columns! The columns are now softly lit, and a boardwalk meanders through them. It feels like wandering
through an ancient cathedral submerged in water! At the far end are two mysterious “Medusa pillars,” stone heads lying upside down or on their side.
The Aya Sofya was built at the height of the Byzantine Empire -- when Istanbul was known as Constantinople (HQ of the Eastern Roman Empire)
Islamic features were added into the Aya Sofya, making for a very unusual combination of Christian and Islamic elements
Our fourth sight was the Aya Sofya, seen here through the stone entranceway to the Blue Mosque
Mosaic pathways, elegant vases, decorative doorways -- lots of small touches make Topkapi Palace worth the price of admission (about $25 each)
The Blue Mosque
Topkapi Palace
The gorgeous tiles in Topkapi Palace were made in Iznik, a walled town on the shores of Lake Iznik southeast of Istanbul
The sultan's lavish quarters look quite comfortable with the carpeted floors and low divans around the edges
The sultan's quarters (left) offered a special sultan-only view down to the large pool (right) where the concubines swam and lounged
Aya Sofya
Underground Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici)
We were footsore but pressed on to the Grand Bazaar for a quick look around -- ahead is one of the main entrances
We enjoyed the merging of Islamic elements with Christian ones -- many of the Christian mosaics were plastered over after 1453 but are now visible again
This domed church was completed by Justinian in 537 AD! It was a remarkable feat, and for 1000 years it remained the largest Christian church in the world.
Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1453; his first stop was to the Aya Sofya to invoke the name of Allah and declare the house of worship a mosque
This covered bazaar has been called “the mother of all tourist traps.” It consists of 4,000 shops, 65 streets, 22 gates, and covers an area of 76 acres!
Our fifth sight was the Grand Bazaar. On the walk to the bazaar I snapped this interesting photo of Turkish Delight with McDonald's reflected in the glass.
We enjoyed the gorgeous mix of colors and patterns in the marbles on the walls
The great architect Sinan built some of these mausoleums, which we thought were among the most beautiful architecture we saw in Istanbul
On the southeast side of the Aya Sofya stand three stunning domed mausoleums of the sultans (the green "tents" are the coffins)
Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi)
Aya Sofya Mausoleums
We managed to see most of the blockbuster
sights of historic Istanbul in one day – the Blue
Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Underground Cistern,
Aya Sofya, and Grand Bazaar. Whew! All of these
sights are located within easy walking distance
of one another, so all we had to do was take a
local tram from the port area over the Galata
Bridge to the fourth stop at Sultanahmet.

As we got off the tram, a well-dressed Turkish
gentleman with impeccable English suggested
we see the Blue Mosque first because it would
be closed to visitors during Friday prayer times.
He started walking along with us and I told him
we weren’t really looking for a guide. “Oh, I’m
not a guide,” he said amiably, “I’m actually
trying to sell you a carpet.” “Thanks but no,” I
replied, and by way of explanation I added, “We
have a very small condo.” Not missing a beat,
he responded, “We sell very small carpets!”

That evening we wandered the outside decks
of the ship to enjoy the late evening views of
Istanbul. We were rewarded at 8:15 pm with one
of those magical moments. Standing at the very
bow of the ship, as dusk fell thickly over the
city and the gulls whirled and cried, the call to
prayer began to sound, first from one mosque
and then from another, until all seven mosques
visible on the hills of Old Istanbul were echoing
with the amplified sounds. These overlapping,
otherworldly calls to prayer have to be one of
the most exotic sounds on the planet! We stood
there entranced by it all and knew this was a
moment we’d never forget.
I have no idea what this flowing Arabic script says, but it certainly is beautiful to look at