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Copyright © 1995-2001 
Linda Coffman


Turkish Delights

by Linda Coffman

R1 ~ Kusadasi and Istanbul

Page Two

"Sorry We Are Open"... sign on an Istanbul shop

With over 4000 shops, Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, or Covered Market, is the original Turkish version of the Mall of America. Mel was somewhat overwhelmed, but got into the spirit of the deal while haggling over the price of a tea set. I couldn't possibly drink my apple tea at home out of just any tea cup, could I? We wandered and looked, cajoled by young men to examine the wares in this shop or that one... Mostly, we were lost. Dropping bread crumbs to find our way out would have been a good idea! Soon it became apparent that there is a scheme to the layout of the bazaar--jewelry down one way, leather items down another, and so on. And everywhere are runners delivering a bottomless supply of tea to refresh weary shoppers while they make their selections. All too soon it was time to go.

Istanbul - June 17th

Cruising was again on our agenda, this time on the Bosphorus, the waterway at the heart of Istanbul. Separating the European city from the Asia Minor city, the Bosphorus' strong current from the Mediterranean meets the current from the Black Sea causing it to churn and sparkle in the sunlight. Lining the banks on both sides are "wooden houses"--splendid homes of the well to do, some dating back to the 1600's. Our half-day tour took us on a leisurely boat ride to Sadberk Hanim Museum, a privately owned museum established in one of the waterfront mansions. The Turkish and Islamic art, costumes, and archaeological objects are fascinating, as is the building itself.

We joined our coach (after another purchase of silk scarves from a street vendor-six for $20) and headed for the Fortress of Rumeli Hisari which we'd spied from the narrowest point of the Bosphorus. Amazingly, this Ottoman fortress was built in 1452 by 10,000 workers in just four months. From here, Mehmet the Conqueror controlled the strait and was able to conquer Byzantine Constantinople.

Two afternoon tours were available to us, Magnificent Legacies (including the Suleymaniye Mosque, underground cistern, Egyptian Bazaar and Spice Market) and Ottoman Elegance and Military Might (including the Beylerbey Palace and the Military Museum). We chose to strike out on our own after lunch and walk to the Dolmabache Palace, a must-see that is not on ships' tours. This palace is administered by the Turkish government with its own guided tours and is the only place we were required to pay in Turkish lira (an exchange booth is located next to the ticket window). Cameras are allowed inside but there is an additional charge for picture taking.

The Palace and Harem are in separate sections and you can do a one hour tour of the Palace or a two hour tour of both. Mel chose the hour tour and I stayed with friends for the Harem tour as well. THIS is the ultimate--the palace to end all palaces. Imagine a sultan with more grandiose ideas and worse taste than you thought humanly possible. Then picture a tranquil setting and place the ultimate ostentatious building and contents on it. Hollywood couldn't have created this opulent setting; it's too much crystal and marble, too many mirrors and immense chandeliers, and it's everything I expected it to be. Finally... THIS is how sultans should live!

Palace and Harem guides were well-trained and answered all sorts of questions in addition to giving their narrative. At one point, a prim woman with a disapproving set to her chin asked how old were girls who were chosen for the Harem. When she was told they were at least in their late teens and early twenties she looked crushed. We were certain she was hoping to be told ten or twelve so she could return home with stories of depraved harem orgies. Dolmabache Palace is extraordinary and I'd rank it as the number one place to see in Istanbul.

All good things have to come to an end and when Mel returned from his tour of the underground cisterns we dressed for The Mystic Heritage of Istanbul/Dinner. We were treated to a performance of the Mevlevi, known as Whirling Dervishes, followed by dinner on the grounds of the mosque. The Mevlevi participate in this mesmerizing ritual to achieve a trancelike state and spiritual union with God.

With the rich culture, spirituality, and friendliness of the Turks we met, we were sorry to leave. I can't complete my journey without thanking those who helped make it memorable: Lori Broadnax, who instructed me in the fine art of Bazaar shopping; Mary Ann Rizzo, who offered insight into Ephesus and carpet-buying: and Jeannette Christensen, the fairy godmother who made me a (Turkish lira) millionairess and urged me to not miss the Dolmabache Palace. Onboard the R1, Judith Christy (Excursions Manager) and Richard Joseph (Cruise Director) deserve special recognition for their friendly helpfulness and professionalism. And last, but not least, a special heartfelt thank you to Brad Ball of Renaissance Cruises who put it all together.

Wait! There's more...

No, I didn't forget the "eastern" plumbing explanation. It's a matter of some delicacy and I've been struggling with how to describe it. Suffice it to say that the porcelain is in the floor. Uh, one doesn't sit on it, but rather one hopes for good balance. Paper isn't tossed into the opening in the floor, but is placed in a receptacle (placed nearby, especially for that purpose). Ladies, as long as you're totally grossed out, step back before you pull the chain or your feet might get wet. I may as well suggest that you consider wearing a skirt when touring in Istanbul. It's just easier--you know why. And lastly, even the tour boat on the Bosphorus was similarly equipped. (When we ran across "western" plumbing in public places, the line to use it was inevitably lengthy.)

Speaking of clothing--again, dress respectfully, make certain shoulders and knees are covered, and carry socks to replace your shoes before entering mosques.

Accessibility for the physically challenged is making some headway in Istanbul. The Topkapi Palace has several wooden and metal ramps to make the use of a wheelchair easier; however, most sites were not so equipped.

None of the mosques, churches, palaces, or museums we visited were air conditioned. When someone mentioned this lack of climate-controlled environments to preserve their national treasures, our guide explained patiently that the Turkish government can't afford such a luxury. They do the best they can, but it would be prohibitively expensive to exhibit such an abundance of riches in climate-controlled settings.

Facts and Touring Tips

Tour prices may vary from season to season (and from one cruise line to the next), so I haven't specified them. We felt Renaissance's tours were competitively priced with those offered by Royal Caribbean last year in the southern Mediterranean as well as the ones we purchased on our own in Barcelona. Prices ranged from $40 to $70 per person (longer tours, and those which included a meal, were more expensive).

Without exception, the Shore Excursion booklet we received with our Renaissance documents recommended "seasonal clothing and comfortable walking shoes." I can't emphasize enough the need for comfortable shoes. In Istanbul, conservative slacks and short-sleeved shirts were the norm -- it was quite hot and I chose a skirt or light dress. A hat and sunglasses are a necessity.

A must for tourists is bottled water. Available for purchase at all our stops, it was nearly everyone's drink of choice. In addition, several of us carried individually wrapped moist towelettes which proved refreshing. Tissues are a necessity if the "facilities" run out of paper, as they often do.

Smooth Sailing! ~ Linda

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