This is a blog about our holiday to Europe in 2014. We started off our travels in Venice, where we began a cruise of the Adriatic and Aegean seas, ending in Rome. We then travelled from Rome to the Netherlands by rail, stopping in various places along the way. We are: Me - Gill, my husband - Grant, my daughter - Paula; my father - Neil and his partner - Astrid. We are South Africans, from the lovely province of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Our friends Lisa and Trevor joined us from the UK for the cruise portion of our holiday.

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Istanbul Turkey

Day 1

We slept-in a little this morning which was very welcome.  Had breakfast and then met Lisa and Trev for coffee at Cafe al Bacio - all the seats were taken so we had our coffee in the Ensemble lounge instead, it was quite pleasant, there was a guy playing the piano and it felt quite posh to be sitting alone in there with our own, personal pianist!  Afterwards we took a wander and watched the Hot Glass auction taking place, enjoyed that.  Then it was time for an early lunch before our arrival in Istanbul.

We arrived in Istanbul slightly earlier than scheduled and left the boat at about 1pm.  We met up with everyone from the group that Charlie had put together (via Cruise Critic) to go on a cruise down the Bosphorous.  We boarded a bus that took us to the port where we boarded a boat for our cruise.  It was very interesting cruising along the Bosphorous, seeing all the amazing buildings from the water.  We spent about an hour cruising up the European side and then crossed over and spent the next hour cruising the Asian side, back to the port.  The weather could have been kinder, but fortunately it wasn't so bad that it spoilt our tour.  Once the cruise was over we got back on the bus and then got off at the cruise port.  The others continued on to the Grand Bazaar, but for various reasons we opted out of that.

Once back on board we sat and had drinks in our favourite chair in the Solarium.  

We went for dinner and then to the show and then stood on the Smith's balcony and looked at the lovely night lights of Istanbul.  We said our good-byes to Lisa and Trevor which is never fun, they are flying back to the UK tomorrow. I thought I was going to bawl my eyes out tonight, but I managed to hold it together pretty well actually.

Day 2:

We had originally planned to tour Istanbul by ourselves today, but at the last minute we booked a Celebrity Excursion - it's the end of the first cruise and the start of the second cruise and this excursion was offered to back-to-backers like us.   

After breakfast we went and exchanged our old sea-passes for new ones (a very quick and painless procedure) and then gathered in the theatre to meet the group for our excursion.  We unexpectedly got to say another good-bye to Lisa and Trevor as, unbeknown to any of us, they were meeting in the same spot for their transfer.

We hopped on a bus, met our very nice and well-spoken guide and headed for the Hagia Sophia.  I love it when things exceed my expectations... and, like Ephesus, the Hagia Sophia did exactly that.  I'm not sure quite why I had fairly low expectations of the Hagia Sophia, I just never thought too much about it to be honest.  But, wow!  It is an astounding building.  Once a church, then a mosque, now a museum.  It is simply amazing!  No photo can do it justice because part of it's magnificence is the sheer size of it, and you can only comprehend that if you are standing right there.  The mix of Christian and Islamic art and decor is so unusual and captivating too.  You kind of want to take it and show the nay-sayers that Christian and Islam can co-exist peacefully side-by-side... this building is proof of that.  Quite an experience!

The one regret I have is that we only saw the Blue Mosque from the outside, I would love to have seen it from the inside, but that's something we will have to do next time.

Next we headed to the Underground Cistern.  I was really looking forward to this visit and it didn't disappoint.  Such an incredibly unusual place!  

I knew there was an upside down Medusa head here and I was determined to see it, but I also always wondered why there was an upside down Medusa head just hanging around down there....? Turns out that, because this place was essentially a plumbing project, not built to be admired, they used whatever bits and pieces of masonry they could find lying about... the medusa head was obviously lying about and was plonked there, any which way and, as it turns out, it landed up upside down.  So my question was answered.  Something that surprised me was the fish swimming about.  Never expected that!

Our final stop was the Spice Market.  I am not a great lover of the type of markets where you get harassed by the vendors...  the reason why I wasn't keen to visit the Grand Bazaar.  But although the vendors were slightly pushy, I found the Spice Market a pleasant experience.  Our guide took us to a particular shop, where the proprietor gave us tastes of all sorts of turkish delight, nuts etc.  We bought everything we wanted from him and it was all expertly boxed and vacuum packed with minimum fuss.  We then had some free time to wander around, we walked around to the dairy and fish area which was quite interesting.  Paula bought a floral head band which seems to the the in thing at the moment.  I was more boring and simply bought a pretzel!

This afternoon we spent some time on the lawn deck and in the solarium (my favourite place on-board)

Having realised how quickly time is passing on our cruise now that we are more than half way, we have decided to try to do all those things we have been meaning to do, with that in mind, tonight we headed to the Martini Bar.  Our waitress (is that the pc thing to call her??) suggested that we let her decide which Martinis to bring us, so we did just that.  Brave huh?!  Her choices were excellent, thankfully.  

Paula took a couple of sips and decided that a martini is far too strong for her, so I ended up with both hers and mine.... bonus!

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