Tom and Linda's 2011 Europe Trip

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Scientific American Cruise: The Dardanelles and Istanbul

Wednesday 5 October: The Dardanelles and Istanbul

Woke up this morning to find land around us as we approached The Dardanelles. Took this map picture showing our route later in the day. The ship had these huge display maps showing our position, and they were available on the tiny TVs in our cabins as well.


But Dr. Lawrence Krauss was giving an 8:30 lecture about the history and future of a single oxygen atom. Not to be missed!

It's a little early for Larry, but his talk was very excellent.


Great visuals, energetic speaker, good sense of humor, good audience inclusion. Top marks for all of Larry's talks.


Philosophy as the basis for Science.


Meanwhile the ship sailed along through the Sea of Marmara, and I kept peeking out the curtains of the darkened lecture hall to watch the land going by.

In the afternoon Tom went to a face-to-face with Larry while I went to hear John Steele talk about an ancient mechanism. He thinks it was the ancient Greek equivalent of an executive desk toy. Clock, calender, calculator.

Istanbul is a city on two continents, straddling the Bosporous.

We were to dock at the Port of Istanbul on the European side of the city, where the Golden Horn creates a natural harbor.

An hour to docking, we went up to the bow on Deck 4 to watch the approach to Istanbul. I had done enough research to know part of what I was looking at, but had a bit of a time explaining it to Tom in the wind out there. It was loud!


In fact, we docked a very short walk away from the north end of the Galata bridge, where we could easily cross south to the Old Town and its many historic attractions.

We were scheduled for a night in port in Istanbul, so would have this evening and most of tomorrow to explore the city.

No tours for us here. Everything is just too convenient! We walked in to explore the city.

As we came in, we cruised by the Blue Mosque (left), the Topkapi Palace (center) and the Hagia Sophia mosque (right), all on the south side of the Horn in the Old Town.


Only recently did Istanbul finally succeed in spanning the Bosporus with a bridge. It all got tangled up in politics, of course.

Now the people can more easily cross between Europe and Asia within the city, although I understand most workers still commute by passenger ferry.

The bridge from Europe to Asia


As we sidle in to our dock, we see buses on the pier, on the other side of the floating dock, awaiting their tour groups.

After standing in the stairwell with our fellow passengers for quite a while, we finally got cleared to disembark at about 5 PM.

With the ship still holding our passports, we were handed yellow "landing cards" that are apparently a way for a ship's crew to visit shore without going through official customs. Looks like this is the way they handle cruise ship passengers to avoid the need for visas. If we were to stay overnight on land anywhere in Turkey we'd need visas - I had looked it up.


So we walked in to Istanbul near the New Town end of the Galata Bridge. Walked up the hill to the Galata Tower, stopping at an ATM on the way to buy Turkish Lira. No Euros here.

Clearly, the "New Town" isn't new by American standards. Steep cobbled streets, many only for foot traffic.

Tower admission was 11TL each.

Elevator to the 7th floor, then up 2 or 3 more flights to the narrow 360° observation deck.

Tom got a little vertigo, but it was a great view.

View from the Galata tower looking east across the Bosporus to the Asian side of Istanbul. Old Town juts in from the left, the far side of the Golden Horn.


From the Galata Tower looking south across the Golden Horn to the Old Town.


Back down the tower and down the steep streets of town to the bridge, we walked through the dense shopping district, on the street as well as under it.

Crossing the busy streets near the port is safer underground, and it is filled with a shopping arcade. I suppose the shiny ceiling makes it feel less enclosed.

It's not the famous Turkish Grand Bazaar (we visited that too) but lots of stuff for sale here under the streets.


Tom spotted the way to walk across the bridge, and we finally found our way to the right place.

We walked along the bridge past the many fishermen to the first tower and found stairs down to an observation platform.

The wide sidewalks on the top of the Galata Bridge are full of fisherman. All the time. And people selling them bait.


This is an observation platform on the lower level of the Galata Bridge. Great views across the Golden Horn to the Topkapi Palace and to the port on the near side.

That's our ship, and that's how close we were docked to the bridge and all the things we wanted to see in Istanbul in our brief time here. Very convenient!


Beautiful place for a little conversation.


On the lower level of the bridge we also found a row of restaurants, some of them selling what the fishermen above them catch.


We walked under the bridge to the west-facing upstream side. Sat in a little cafe to watch the sun set over the Old Town.


On the New Town side, ferries crossing the Bosporous for the evening rush hour, daily commute between continents. Galata Tower rising behind them.


After fairly tasteless calamari and a can of tea (yuk), I ordered a water pipe. What the heck, we're in Istanbul, right? It's just another listing on the menu.

A few minutes later a waiter came with a little brazier and tongs, and put some glowing bits onto the burner in my pipe. He took the nozzle and puffed it up, smoke rising thickly around his head.

Then handed it to me.

They brought a little plastic nib sealed in a plastic pouch for me to use so I wouldn't have to put my mouth on the normal one.

I put my little nib in and tried it. Took a while to get the hang of it, but I learned to get the flavor of the smoke.

No nicotine, they just offer fruits and herbs, at least on the menu we saw. I ordered dried apple.


Tom said he never really tasted the apple, but it did taste smokey. And not at all harsh. I'm clearly having trouble focusing.


So we sat there watching the sky turn golden behind the old mosques as they turned on their lights, and I smoked a hookah.

They brought new apple bits a couple times and probably would have for as long as we wanted to stay. I felt a tiny bit woozy when I got up.

And the sun set over the home-going ferries and the old town...


...and the lights lit on the Galata Tower in the new town...


...and the Hagia Sophia in the old town.


Istanbul lights up at night.

This is the east (upstream) side of the Galata Bridge looking at the port on the north side and our ship, the HAL Rotterdam.

On past the ship, to the right, are the lights on the bridge across the Bosporous.

We walked back across the Galata Bridge, saving the adventures in the old town for tomorrow.


A look back at the bridge from the port.


The blue customs wall we had to find our way past to get back to our bed for the night.


We came back to the ship for dinner (good food and already paid for), sat with folks we'd met before and talked about world politics and Turkey and eating locally and music and education.

Then we walked to the other end of the ship and saw "The King's Speech" on a little movie screen. Got back to the room just after midnight. I'm still a little woozy and can still smell smoked apple. Maybe it's in our clothes.

Thursday 6 October: Istanbul

Today we made the long walk, across the Galata Bridge, along the other side of the Golden Horn to the Old Town mosques and palaces, then to the Grand Bazaar and back.


The fishermen were as busy as ever on the bridge.


We enjoyed the walk across the bridge, but from there out to the point where we expected to find a statue of Ataturk was much farther than we expected.

Then there was construction going on and we only found this small bronze statue. Not sure it was the one we were looking for.


We walked on to the Topkapi grounds from the south end, opposite all the tours.

It was a while before we knew where we needed to go, but it was a pleasant walk.


We didn't actually see this museum, but would have enjoyed it, I think.
Before Islam turned inwards and conservative, it was responsible for most of the scientific advances in the world.


We finally found the palace entrance...


...and the ticket booths.
It was 20TL each to get in and the extra 15TL each for the Harem.

This sign told us what areas were closed for renovation or whatever. I was particularly disappointed that the kitchens were closed.


Just inside the gate we found this beautiful model of the palace grounds. Entrance is to the right where all the paths meet.

The chimneys across the courtyard are the large kitchens, which were unfortunately closed when we were there. I love kitchens. They tell you so much about how people lived.

The enclosed area on the middle left is the Harem. We went straight for the harem tour as there was no line.

We didn't take the audio tour, but perhaps should have. The route through was not the same as the one in our guide, so things were a little confusing.


Everything inside the harem is tiled or gilt or carved or all three.


A tiled wall and fireplace.


The enclosed courtyard of the Harem


Of special interest to me was the shape of the power of women, particularly the Sultan's mother. In some cases she and his wives and the chief Black Eunuch completely ran the empire.

The eunuchs in the Harem were the black slaves who had been castrated by slavers, probably to calm and subjugate them. Or because that's what they had a market for.

All sons of the Sultan lived in the Harem until puberty, when they were usually farmed out. Upon succession, the brothers of the new Sultan were either killed or imprisoned for life, and their mothers were killed or impoverished. The stakes were very high for a sultan's wife to make sure her son was the successor.

I can't imagine any of these people understanding the lives of their general populace.


The tile work in the Harem is elaborate and extensive, as is the stained glass.

Changes between Christianity and Islam are evident. The Ottoman Empire, like the Roman one, was tolerant of a variety of beliefs and religious practices.

Until they got scared.




The apartments of the imprisoned brothers of the Sultan overlooked the courtyard where the women of the harem, to whom they had no access, went for outdoor activities. Seems a bit cruel to me.


Back out of the harem, we looked around a bit more, found a cafe and a museum that we didn't fight the crowds for.


We did find the view over the outer defense walls and across the Bosporus.


Looking northwest down the Bosporus Straight, with the Asian side of Istanbul on the right and the European side on the left.


Maps on the wall outside the kitchens show the extent of the Ottoman Empire. I suppose nobody really knew much about the big middle of Saudi Arabia.


Back out of the Topkapi Palace, we went to visit the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, both nearby.

This is our approach to Hagia Sophia, pronounced and sometimes spelled "Ayasofya."


We never found our way into the Hagia Sophia, but we found this entrance to the grounds from the street.

The mosque itself was there to our right, but walled off.


To our left were five tombs of sultans, which we could go into.
The covered portico entrances included benches where you could sit to take your shoes off.


No shoes allowed inside.


The tomb of Sultan Mehmed III was built by Architect Dalgıç Ahmed Aga in 1608 at the behest of his son, Sultan Ahmet I. He had died in 1603. It contains 26 sarcophaguses containing mostly wives and daughters of the sultan.


The other sultan tombs were similar - red carpet, green-covered sarcophaguses and beautiful ceramic tile and stained glass.



Between the Hagia Sophis and the Blue Mosque is a large garden. Here we're looking back at the Hagia Sophia.


It was a beautiful today, and many people came out to enjoy their lunch around the fountain.


Benches provided for the public in the garden in front of the Blue Mosque.
This mosque is particularly notable for its 6 minarettes, an extravagance that was controversial at the time it was built.


The Blue Mosque has a large courtyard. When we got there the mosque itself was not open because it was time for prayer.

These two mosques are both in use, and tourists are only allowed in at certain times. There is no charge for entry, however.


There were several people relaxing on the steps waiting for the doors to open. We walked around a bit looking for the tourist entrance.

Then began the call to prayer, sung over a loudspeaker.

This hound, relaxing on the sidewalk, would react when the call hit a certain note, just raising his head and howling along. When the note changed he'd lie back down again.


Prayer over, we were allowed into an entry room to remove our shoes. They provided plastic bags we could carry our shoes in so that we could exit another way and keep the tourist traffic flowing.

And we walked into this fantastic space. Ceramic tile and stained glass, and these large chandeliers that were suspended on wires from the top of the dome. It was compltely amazing.


There was a small group still praying in an alcove.


Wires for the chandelier are attached to ornately symmetrical points in the tile work. the marriage of stained glass and tile is impressive.


Back out on the street we did a little people-watching and followed the signs to the bazaar.


The streets were lined with shops. I'm buying stamps for my postcards. Loved those little bowls, but didn't want to carry them for the rest of our trip.


Turkish Delight! A whole shop full of it.


We walked through narrow winding streets surrounded by shops, crowds of people and a bit of hard-sell.

Although it extends out into the streets in all directions, this is an entrance to the actual Grand Bazaar, probably the original shopping mall.

It was a bit of a trek to go there, but how could we not?

Inside are a few large hallways, like this one, and a lot of narrower ones. The Bazaar is huge and extensive and easy to get lost in, even though it's layed out in an orthogonal grid.

I'm sure you could buy anything in the world here, and there are probably tremendous bargains to be had. We were just there to see it.



We walked through, looked at a few things, took a couple turnings and got a little lost, and found our way out another side.

The fine weather had both the tourists and the natives out on the streets, and the shopping extends many blocks beyond the Bazaar proper.

The steep cobbled streets that led us back to the port: just keep going downhill.


I was looking at scarves, and there were many many to be had. This is something I can carry easily and that I can use immediately as well, to dress up my formal attire on the ship.

Picked out a couple beautiful silk ones As I was about to leave, a velvet burnout shawl caught my eye - had to buy that too. And after all, I might as well spend the rest of the Turkish Lira I had in my pocket.


Getting a bit lost in the streets, we decided to just head downhill, figuring that would eventually get us to the port where we could then find the bridge.

We saw this mosque from the back and figured out it was the Yeni Camii, the New Mosque, which is right at the foot of the Galata Bridge. Our homing instincts had worked. We just had to find our way to the other side.


Turns out there was a sort of tunnel walkway through, and we were soon on the other side.


A few steps away was the busy street along the water, behind it was the bridge and, in the distance across the Horn, you can see the Galata Tower.

This large flat sidewalk covers the shopping mall under the street.

We found our way back here at about 3:30 PM and we were beat! Time to go put our feet up.

Back across the Galata Bridge toward the Rotterdam, and the fishermen are still at it.


Souvenir tickets - Galata Tower and Topkapi Palace Museum.

We got back onboard at about 4:00, showered, changed and went to a couple Sci-Am lectures.

I tried to get a soak in the hot tubs on deck this evening, but found out they close them from 10PM-10AM. With an 8:15 dinner seating we're barely done with dinner by 10 because we always end up in extensive engaging discussions at the table. Advantage of traveling with this group!

We got our passports back from the ship's front desk. Apparently we'll need them in Varna, Odessa and Yalta. Then we'll have to give them up again before our next stop back in Turkey.

As I drift off to sleep I'm still tasting smoked apples. Istanbul was a memorable stop indeed!

Tomorrow it's on the Varna and then to Odessa.


1 Getting There
6 Olympia
11 Ephesus
16 The Cinque Terre
2 Sorrento
7 Santorini (Thira)
12 Athens
17 Pisa & Sienna
3 Pompeii & Herculanium
8 Istanbul
13 Venezia
18 Tuscany
4 The Amalfi Coast
9 Varna & Odessa
14 Padua & Verona
19 Montepulciano
5 Sci-Am Cruise
10 Yalta
15 Firenze
20 Rome & Home

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