A group of tourists - with a passion for Turkey.
27.04.2013 - 27.04.2013 28 °C
We've been wondering for months - how many people will be on this Turkey tour of ours and what size bus will we be on. This morning all our questions were answered. There are 29 people on our tour and we are on a 35 seater comfortable bus. The group is largely Australian, a couple from NZ, a couple from India, a couple from Chicago, a lady from Florida. The group ranges in age from roughly 15 to about 65. We are the only West Australians. The majority of the group are doing the 10 day tour, 7 of us are branching off eventually to do the 18 day tour. It's early days, but generally - nice people!
We've had a huge day today. Started at 8am and ended at 7pm. Our first stop this morning was the Topkapi Palace. The Palace grounds total area is 1,200,000 square metres. The Topkapi Palace was built in 1460 by the Sultan Mehmet II and was the administration centre for the Ottoman Empire. A total of 5,000 people lived and worked in the Palace, and 500 worked in the kitchens.
We spent two hours here looking at the different exhibits. The Treasury was quite amazing. The wealth within the Ottoman Empire was almost obscene. Precious stones featured in jewellery and different artifacts in the main are - diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls. We saw rubies and emeralds the size of 50 cent pieces, thrones made of gold.
Our next stop was the Hippodrome - this was the Roman Stadium where ancient chariot races were held in 300 AD. The Hippodrome was built by Constantine I. Two obelisks are in the centre of the Hippodrome, one from Delphi (Greece) and one from Alexandria (Egypt). This is a popular area for tourists and locals alike. A short walk later we had lunch in this great little restaurant called The Pudding Shop. We tasted the local Turkish food - delicious - topped off with Baklava (yum!). The guys in this restaurant were great fun - the place was packed out. We were served quickly with no airs and graces - just the way we wanted it!
Back on the bus and we were manouevred through the tiny streets to the Grand Bazaar. The traffic in central Istanbul has to be seen to be comprehended. In a traffic jam, drivers actually get out of their cars to get people to back out the way they came - just to get traffic moving again. This is done with literally inches to spare. White knuckle stuff!! The Grand Bazaar houses 4,000 shops and has been in existence since 1453. I was really impressed - it was clean, colourful, exotic and the shop owners were pretty respectful.
Off we went again, this time to the Blue Mosque. This would have to be Turkey's most famous mosque - so imposing on the skyline - just beautiful. Everyone was required to take their shoes off and the ladies wore scarves to cover their heads. Just breathtaking inside. The Blue Mosque was built by Ahmet I in 1616 and has 6 minarets. It is called the Blue Mosque because of the blue Iznik tilework displayed inside. There are domes and semi domes.
From there - with hundreds of fellow tourists - we walked the short distance to the Haghia Sophia - originally built as a church more than 1400 years ago, and then converted by to a mosque by the Ottomans in the 15th century.
The Haghia Sophia is now a museum and under renovation. It's in a state of disrepair, but very impressive nonetheless. It was designed as an early mirror of the heavens - it has a celestial feel - the huge dome reaches 56 metres.
We were approaching 5pm at this stage of the day - we were hot and tired. To finish the day we went on a boat ride on the Bosphorus River. This was relaxing and refreshing. We sailed for miles in a northerly direction, towards the Black Sea. The river banks were teeming with life, people walking, fishing, eating at cafes and restaurants. We were amazed at the real estate on the river - absolutely beautiful homes, alot of them were made of wood. We saw more mosques, old castles, a wedding, as well as children's playgrounds - all side by side. The terrain is very hilly, heavily wooded and very green - just gorgeous (running out of superlatives - I think I need to get the Thesaurus out!).
After 11 hours we finally made it home to our hotel to the sounds of a soccer game at the local arena. We could hear the cheering of thousands of Turkish soccer fans from our hotel room. They were passionate!
An early night for us Gibbos. Speaking for myself - absolutely shattered!