Day 10, 11 morning: Leaving Istanbul, arrival at Mykonos
On Sunday, we got up moderately early and went to Istanbul for our sight-seeing tour. First, we saw the Blue Mosque, one of the 2000+ mosques in Istanbul. It’s not the biggest, but it’s the most famous. It’s still a working mosque, so while it was primarily full of tourists, there were a few Muslims there as well. I got the impression that there was one tourist’s entrance that brings you along the edges for a visit and a chance to take pictures, and other entrances that are intended for use by Muslims visiting the mosque for religious reasons.
Turkey, it turns out, is about 90% Islamic, with the remainder Christian (though I assume that there are people who fall into neither category). In 1923, there were a whole bunch of reforms introduced into the country, by someone whose name I never really caught, but is apparently a national hero. Two of these reforms were changing the written language from Arabian calligraphy to a Latin-based alphabet like English uses, and the separation of church and state. So, while the country is a very Islamic country, it’s not governed by Islam law. Combine that with the fact that there are something like 20 different Islamic “denominations” (I forget the word our guide used) within the country (like Shi’ite, Sunni, etc.), there’s a real mix of people in the streets, from the real traditional garb all the way to t-shirts and jeans. It leads to some slightly surreal situations, like when we were waiting for a train last night, and suddenly we heard chanting from a few different mosques nearby. Most people seemed to ignore it, the way we’d ignore church bells ringing the hour, so I’m not really sure what it was. We’ve heard it again since then, but I still don’t know what’s actually being chanted.
Anyway, on the way into the Blue Mosque we had to take our shoes off, and we were required to have shoulders and knees covered, but our guide said there was no problem at all with photography, so I took a bunch of pictures while I was there. When we left, we went next door to St. Sophia church.
This church has an interesting story. Istanbul used to be a Christian city; as Constantinople, I think it was the center of the eastern Orthodox churches. St. Sophia was built during that time period. Then, when Istanbul changed to a Muslim city, the church was converted into a mosque. All the mosaics were covered with plaster, since images are prohibited within mosques (the Blue Mosque, for instance, is decorated with fairly abstract patterns, mostly resembling flowers). Now, it’s been converted to a museum. The plaster has been taken down, so you can see the mosaics again, but at the same time a lot of the mosque conversions remain in place (like large Arabic inscriptions), so it’s an interesting place to wander around. I found it astoundingly beautiful (apart from the scaffolding that seems to be in place in every historical site we visit), and I could spend an entire day in there with my camera, given the opportunity.
The church also contained two giant vases (about 5′ high, I’d guess), which the signs took pains to point out were each carved out of a single block of marble.
We went back to the boat for lunch, and then went to visit Topakapi (pronounced TOP-cup-ee) Palace, where the sultans used to live. It’s also a museum now. Cheryl, Paul, and I visited the military museum there, where we saw old armor and weapons ranging from Egyptian to Turkish to European, including a mindblowingly enormous sword that was, I’d estimate, 9′ or 10′ long. It looked like something out of a video game. We have no idea how anyone could realistically use it, but if I saw someone swinging it at me, I’d run. We also visited the jewelery museum, where we saw millions of dollars worth of jewelry; the most impressive items, in terms of raw wealth, were probably the box full of emeralds (the emeralds were about an inch long, I think, and there were several dozen of them) and, of course, the Spoon Diamond, which is (I think) 84 carats, and spectacularly beautiful.
I’ve left our tour guide out of the description of the day, which isn’t fair, because she provided all kinds of unintentional entertainment. She ran the tour like there was an award for how fast she could do things, she spoke emphatically, she repeated words (“Horse! Horse!”), she hurried us along (“No time for pictures now! Later!”), she shouted “Slowly! Slowly!” in defiance of all visible evidence, and she may or may not have completely failed to see the humour in it all (“No laughing! Only taking pictures!’). She was honestly a terrible guide, but we had a lot of fun with it.
I’m currently carrying seven different currencies, including South African Rand. At one point I bought a Turkish flute, paid 20 Euro, and received 10 Turkish Lira and 5 US dollars in change. Between the street peddlers and the bazaars and the bartering, it’s impossible to know whether or not you’re getting a good deal on anything. I’m also probably over my weight limit on luggage, but I think I can get away with it.
Oddly, by the end of the day, several of us were actually really itching to get back out to sea. We were sitting on the boat, which was docked in Istanbul, and we just wanted to leave port and start sailing again. We ended up leaving at around 6:00 or 7:00. At 8:30 we had the Captain’s Gala Evening thingy; it was sort of a formal night, and the Captain introduced the main crew and champagne and cocktails were served, followed by dinner. Most of us ended up in the Stars Lounge & Disco at night; Cheryl went to bed almost immediately after dinner, and I turned in around midnight.
Not a lot has happened this morning (Sunday); we slept ’til around 9:00, had breakfast, and sat around drinking coffee, juice, and hot chocolate. We’ve been sailing out of sight of land for most of the morning, but I just heard the announcement that we’ll be docking in Mykonos (pronounced MICK-a-noss) at 2:30 (in two hours). The boat has really been rocking all morning and for most of last night, much more than on the first day at sea. We plan to spend a quiet day in Mykonos, walking around town and taking pictures. There’s apparently cheap internet access there, so I might try to post the two posts I’ve got prepared; we’ll see. Lunchtime now…