We had a full day private tour scheduled and Aykut and his colleague Sami, were at the port to meet us. The town would be crowded with 3 ships docked . Everybody wanted to see the Blue Mosque (aka Sultan Ahmed Mosque ) but since it was Friday it wouldn’t open until 2p which meant some would have to return the next day to see the most famous landmark which has over 20,000 magnificent blue tiles adorning the interior walls and 6 minarets (found only in 2 other world places — Mecca and Medina).
The first stop was Hagia Sophia Church (Holy Wisdom of God). It went from cathedral to mosque to museum. It was the largest cathedral in the world for over 1,000 years. After it became a mosque anything pertaining to Christianity was hidden and remained so for 500 years . In restoration they found pictures of Mary and Jesus , crosses, etc had been covered in plaster. The one showing a Sultan bowing down to Jesus depicts he was humble and not too good to bow down. Topkapi Palace was just a short distance away. It was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years. It once housed over 4000 people at a time. It is 700,000 square feet and functioned as a city within a city. It’s massive palace kitchens prepared meals daily for 4000. It had its own water supply, dorms, libraries, schools and mosques. There are 4 courtyards once you enter the Imperial Gate and countless numbers of rooms. One in particular was the Harem Room where the Sultan’s concubines, families and Queen Mother stayed and were looked after by black eunuchs who were brought there either by slave trade or captives of war. They had to learn the Turkish language, read the Qu’ran learn Muslim laws, ethics and etiquette . They were most trusted and very close to the Sultan. The Palace became a museum in 1924 and in the Treasury Room is housed The Prophet Muhammed’s sword and cloak and also you’ll find an 86 carat diamond. The restaurant, Konyali is located at the palace where our group had reserved seating for lunch (4 courses). We overlooked the Bosphorous Strait which separates the European side (where we were) from the Asian side. The Strait also connects the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea. We couldn’t have asked for a lovelier day as we dined and were served by our Turkish waiters. Most folks that know me well know that I do not like buffets. I prefer to be served and want that for my guests. The average tourist at Konyali gets the buffet inside where its rather dark and dreary with selections that leave a lot to be desired but thanks to Aykut, we had our reservations for months and in the perfect area. Next stop, The Grand Bazaar—one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. It has 61 covered streets and over 3000 shops. Oh my, the real shoppers were bartering and got some great deals on rugs, handbags and jewelry. But honestly, I think this place can be overwhelming even for the most serious shopper. This was truly a “full day” in every sense of the word — full but we still had part 2 after returning to the ship for a break and a bite to eat. Sadly, half the group couldn’t hang to meet Aykut and Sami for our evening of “Jazz in Istanbul”. We had reserved seats right in front at one of the best jazz clubs in Istanbul. Nardis (named after a Miles Davis tune) featured the country’s best jazz singer, Sibel Kose. The lady did not disappoint. She was outstanding with her soulful stylings and her scatting ability. She kicked off the first set with “God Bless The Child”. The appetizers were excellent as were the cocktails. I tried the “Swimming Pool”. Our guides didnt even have a clue but it sure was the bomb. It was made of vodka , blue curaçao and creme and tasted like a Ramos Fizz. Just outside the club on the very narrow, cobble-stone street some took photos with Ms Kose as we prepared to make our way back to meet our driver down the dark street in the shadows of the Galata Tower