Istanbul Shore Excursion – On Our Own
Our entrance to Istanbul by sea was grand, with a sail past of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and the Topkapi Palace. We docked right near the bridge and near to the Ruby Princess. That meant we could walk to all the attractions in the old town. The ship made us leave our passports on board and gave us a paper document to use instead, which made me quite uncomfortable. The ship’s document worked just fine. I was also a bit worried about political unrest as Turkish citizens killed by Israeli’s during the Gaza blockade were being buried in Istanbul during our visit. Nevertheless, we left the ship tours behind and started our Istanbul shore excursion on our own.
On our own, we walked a very short distance to the Galata Bridge, which is also known as the Golden Horn Bridge. Both sides of the upper deck were lined with fisherman. At the western side were the small boats that rock in the waves. These boats sell fresh cooked fish in much the same manner as a hotdog vendor. From there, we were quickly in to the Egyptian Bazaar and literally a world of Turkish delights.
Istanbul Shore Excursion – Hagia Sophia
Next we headed up hill to the grounds of Topkapi Palace, but decided not to go in. A tour group from the Ruby Princess passed by. The Ruby Princess passengers were following a tour guide holding a sign up above the crowd. That’s not how I care to tour the world. We went to Hagia Sofia instead.
At the ticket booth for Hagia Sophia, they only took Turkish lira. So, we had to leave the grounds of Hagia Sophia to buy Turkish lira. That wasn’t hard to do because currency exchange vendors were sitting just outside the gates. Hagia Sofia is an unusual structure and I’m glad I went. The site is gloomy even though it lets in considerable light. The large stone structure has the appearance of a giant fortification. You can’t tell that it used to be both a church and a mosque. Today it’s simply a tourist stop at a gigantic fortress. Some Christian mosaics, remain but after it became a mosque, Muslim designs and text praising Allah took over. The altar was moved off center to align with Mecca.
Istanbul Shore Excursion – Blue Mosque
Next we had a bit of an unusual experience at the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque was closing for 2 hours for prayer and we were turned back. A man who indicated he wasn’t a tour guide convinced them to let us in the exit. Inside we were unnerved that he turned out to be a carpet salesman. He did his best to make us indebted to him, so that we would make a purchase at his shop afterward. I firmly told hime we would not be buying a carpet and he quickly latched on other tourists instead. The experience in the Blue Mosque was interesting because the tourist crowds quickly dwindled until only Muslim worshippers remained. The Blue Mosque was much more impressive when viewed from the Bosphorus than it was when you went inside, in my opinion.
Istanbul Shore Excursion – Grand Bazaar
Our last stop was the Grand Bazaar, which we amazingly found without too much trouble. At the Nuruosmaniye Gate we passed through the old city wall into a tangle of covered pathways and shops. We wandered about through the crowds, carpets, jewelry and vendors rushing to deliver hot glasses of tea. It was pleasantly crazy. Vendors continually and quite politely solicited our business. They spoke perfect English to help them sell their products. I laughed when one vendor said, “Let me sell you something you don’t need today.”
It didn’t take long before we were lost in the Grand Bazaar. Our GPS helped us find our way out. If you ask for help with directions you are likely to be escorted to a carpet shop. We exited the covered sections of the Grand Bazaar and wandered the streets toward the Galata Bridge. We stopped and bought some lamb and chicken gyros being cooked in the narrow streets. By now we were the only tourists around. Vendors were shouting out to attract customers and it was both exiting and chaotic.
Istanbul Shore Excursion – Egyptian Spice Market
As we made our way toward the Galata Bridge, suddenly there were spices everywhere and lovely aromas. I asked a price on a bronze mortar and pestle and then offered slightly less. When the vendor wouldn’t move on the price, I politely said goodbye. I was surprised that he made no effort to retain my business. Eventually we emerged from the chaos right at the Galata Bridge and easily returned to the ship. This was the perfect way to see Istanbul for me. So much more intimate and rewarding than an experience with a tour group. We’d conquered Istanbul on our own!