Bosporus Cruise

Everyone says you need to take a Bosporus cruise.

I did some research on some of the dinner and higher end cruises and they all had mixed reviews so I decide to take the cheap route and take the regular boat ride. The ride itself would be sufficient but it is very crowded and full of very ill behaved kids and adults. I am surrounded by a very large extended family whose kids scream over me and bump into me pretty much the entire cruise. One of the kids screaming over me later starts slapping and punching his mother. I am appalled at this behavior but it isn’t my country and isn’t my culture so I keep my mouth shut. Later, men a couple rows back get into an altercation. It is all very distracting from the beauty of the Bosporus. If I had to do it all again I might splurge for a higher end cruise.

Maybe humans are better behaved on those?

Istanbul Markets

One of my first days in Istanbul I chose to wander around to get my bearings. I ended up in an outdoor market that sold just about everything. It is very lively on this weekend day with a mix of locals and some tourists (like me) wandering the streets. I incorrectly assume this is the Grand Bazaar. I plan to buy some long pants to prepare for my upcoming trip to Egypt but I am overwhelmed and just walk the streets and look around instead before heading back to my hotel.

Outdoor Markett

Days later I ended up back on that side of town and ended up at the Egyptian Bazaar which I also incorrectly identified as the Grand Bazaar. Again I am overwhelmed but this time at the booths selling sweets, teas, and spices. I take in all the spices. For me they are all the exotic spices I love. I want to buy a bunch of of them but most I can get at home and it doesn’t seem wise to add load to my backpack so early in my turkey travels. I vow to come back when I return to Istanbul in a couple of weeks.

Egyptian Bazaar

I walk on and into another building. I have finally found the Grand Bazaar for real this time and it is grand. It is very large and there are booths selling just about everything. I am mesmerized by the ceramics and the Turkish lamps. Store owners urge me to come in and say they will give me a good deal, but alas I am still not shopping at this point in my trip. I need to be smart about my baggage weight.

My obsession

Plates I ended up purchasing
Look at all these spices
I couldn’t resist picking up this pumpkin seed at the outdoor market.

I do return to the markets a couple weeks later but I do not buy that Turkish lamp. Logistically shipping it home doesn’t seem worth it and the power supply is meant for European plugs only. I would have to get it re-wired. I kick myself for not buying the battery powered ones I saw in Selcuk. I do buy some nick knacks and some beautiful plates (that I later discover I can probably not use for food serving due to their design – doh! Oh well, they will still look good on display).

Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque

Hagia Sophia at night

Everyone who comes to visit Istanbul visits both Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque and so did I.

For some reason I am always getting a late start during my travels but I did get my butt out of bed early to visit Hagia Sophia when it opened.

There were very few people inside. It was quite nice. It would have been perfect if it wasn’t for all the restoration work being done. I have watched some documentaries on the building so the repair work is probably needed for the longevity of the building.

Hagia Sophia (AyaSofya) started as a Greek Orthodox Church when Istanbul was Constantinople.

Over the years it had much damage and many repairs.

When the Ottomans took over Constantinople the Hagia Sophia became a mosque; this is when the minarets and other mosque distinct features were added.

For now the building serves as a museum and that it is good for us so we can see how spectacular it is inside.

After my visit to Hagia Sophia I visited the sultan tombs that were off to the side of the building. I pretty much had them to myself and enjoyed the domes of all the buildings.

Blue Mosque

Everyone says to visit the Blue Mosque, which is close by. There are limited times to visit since it is an active mosque. I went on a Friday where it is closed for many hours for prayer. However I got luckily and found a window where it was still open for visitors.

Most of the Blue Mosque was obstructed by restoration work. I did get a photo or two of the very fabulous exposed pieces. I suppose I will have to go back to visit when the work is complete.

What I also liked about the Blue Mosque is that they have an instructional board outside that tells you all about Islam. I found it very educational.

Hopefully some day I’ll be back.

Arrived in Istanbul

The “European” part of my travels are over, well sort of, I am in Istanbul now and technically this part of Turkey is the European side.

So confusing. How do I even categorize this post? Europe, Asia, and Middle East? Is Turkey considered part of Middle East? I only ask this publicly because those are the questions I asked when I was visiting. I am not exactly a complete idiot so I figure there are other average people who don’t know this for sure as well. Turkey technically straddles both Europe and Asia but it is also considered part of the Middle East. That is the quick explanation in case you were wondering.

I have had Turkey on my travel list for a little while but for some reason I always ended up going elsewhere on trips.

I decided that this sabbatical was a perfect time to finally visit.

My start and ending is in Istanbul. For the first part of the stay I decided to stay in the sultanahmet part of town. It is where many of the tourist and historic areas are located. This part of the trip is 5 nights.

My first impressions is I find Istanbul challenging. I am not used to the male attention (yes I am dressed conservatively … at least initially but then when I realized men treated me the same no matter what I wore I started wearing shorts out for comfort to sight see … but not in mosques). Also vendors, and carpet salesmen in particular, are very pushy. I experienced pushiness in India but I never had a salesperson physically grab me and pull me into their store in India. This scenario happened in Istanbul.

What was also similar to India was the male attention. I had men catcall me, stare at my chest, and pretty much 80% of my waiters asked me on a date in some form or another. All I did was be nice and make small talk; nothing to invite the attention. It is a cultural shock since back home I get about zero male attention these days.

Despite the unwanted male advances, I did like my time sightseeing around town. Even though I sometimes wanted a late start, the days were better when I woke up early to go out sightseeing and then back to my hotel for an afternoon siesta. It is hot and a mid-day break in the AC is nice.

Also for people not familiar with cities that are predominately Islamic, you will hear the call to prayer multiple times a day (5 I think) and some are early in the morning. They can be pretty loud so don’t be startled when it happens.

My first meal in Turkey, some sort of lamb stew, and yes this waiter did ask me out.

I take it easy my first day and try to get my bearings in a the nearby area. I’ll post later about some of cool things I see.

I’m on a boat: Lisbon Style

A couple of weeks earlier I saw a fun party boat on the Tagus river in Lisbon. I put it on the maybe to do list when I return to Lisbon in a couple more days.

A couple of days after I did take that boat for a ride.

I attended a sunset cruise. During the cruise there is commentary in multiple languages and supposedly a welcome glass of wine (it ended up being more than one glass – partially because I kept spilling mine and I blame the wind for that, um yes wind).

It is here that I finally broke out of my anxiety shell and chatted with other tourists. As a solo traveler who is also an introvert, it is very easy to let days go without real human connection.

It was a beautiful evening to cruise along and watch the sunset. I am very glad I booked the boat ride.