Sunday night we travelled through the Dardanelles. We ate dinner outside on the stern of the Odyssey and watched many ships line up to come to Istanbul. We were situated well enough that we could see the pilot pull up to the Odyssey and transfer for the tricky transit. As the evening went on we could see the lights on either side of the straits come closer as the passage narrowed and twisted and turned.
When we got up this morning shortly after 6:00 we were near Istanbul and by about 7:00 we were tied up at the dock. Getting off the ship was painless. Seabourn is really organized and we were able to complete our paperwork in advance. We walked into the arrivals area on the dock and were directed to our luggage. A porter took our luggage to a taxi and we were on our way shortly after 8:00.
It was a short drive from the port to our hotel (the Empress Zoe) where we left our luggage and had a little breakfast before heading out on our first walk of the day. [Even though it was short ride we found out that the taxi driver was 38 and had 2 sons and 3 triplet daughters.] While we were out a man walked past and said Merhaba! (hello). I said Merhaba! back (nearly exhausting my Turkish) and he said “nasilsin?” which I clearly did not understand so he stopped and repeated it again and told me that means “how are you?” He then sat down with us and asked where we were from and told us a little about himself. It was his birthday (he was about 60) and he showed us his identity card to make the point. He told us several things to see and where to go. Then he told us that he had a family-run carpet shop not too far away: just come over and have some water and look around. Aha! He was very nice and we were happy to help him practice his English but we did not go in and look at carpets.
We are staying in an area that is only a couple of blocks from the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia (ayasofya). Even though we only spent 3 days here last year we immediately felt comfortable again. Even the drive over was familiar. We walked around for a couple of hours and then had lunch at one of the many restaurants that line the street that runs past the hotel.
Patricia has mentioned to many of you how much she liked the call to prayer here and throughout Turkey. We will get to test that on this stay. There is a minaret across the street at a small mosque and the Blue Mosque is just a couple of blocks away. When the call to prayer started at about 4:15 this afternoon we were taking a rest. Our rest ended abruptly. It sounded like someone was outside the window shouting in. We’ll see what happens tomorrow morning around sunrise. So we got up and went on another walk. We asked the hotel clerk where we could find the best ice cream so we walked up past the Hagia Sophia and found the ice cream shop. He was right: the ice cream was excellent. We got some and sat in the park across the square from the Blue Mosque to eat it. While we were out we found the restaurant where we had an enjoyable dinner last year and I am sure we will try it again this year.
The area in which we are staying is very nice. There is a mixture of shops and restaurants so we won’t have to go far afield to find someplace to eat. The hotel is nice and our room is more like a little apartment than a typical hotel room. There are lots of stairs and no elevator. The breakfast area is a little park and our balcony overlooks it. One floor up from us is a rooftop terrace and it has a great view of the surrounding area. We will be comfortable here for the next week.
We will have the opportunity to post many pictures over the next week so for today I won’t post anything on the pictures page.