Out of Asia, into Europe... then back to Asia... then back to Europe
03.04.2012 - 03.04.2012
Istanbul is definitely the highlight city of the cruise for me, the city that I’m most excited about seeing. Not only interesting for the fact that the city itself is bisected by the Bosphorus Straits, which connect the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Seas, thereby dividing the city on both the European and Asian continents, but also for the incredible role it has played in history. Oh yeah, and they practically invented the Turkish Kebab here, too, so that’s also a BIG plus.
As expected, the city certainly didn’t let us down. Off the ship, we grabbed the first Hop-On, Hop-Off bus we found outside, which is a great deal being that it is a full 24 hour pass and we will have tomorrow morning as well. Sitting on the open deck up top offered some spectacular views, particularly as we crossed the bridge between the European and Asian continents, but the wind was really cold (see the bundled up picture below).
After cruising around for a bit and taking in the tour, we disembarked to see some of the main highlights; walking in the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and many others. One of the more interesting and impressive sights was the Basilica Cistern, which was built 1500 years ago and was able to store and provide freshwater to the city year round.
Early in the afternoon we had our obligatory kebab (basically a “Middle Eastern burrito”), but weren’t impressed. Turns out we tried the wrong street café, or the original just isn’t always the best. After a disappointing kebab in Dubai as well, I’ll take a Swiss or Singapore-made kebab over the “authentic” ones in the Middle East any day.
Dinner was substantially better though, and definitely did not disappoint. After a long day of sightseeing with Owen and Edel, we were all ready for a big local spread and stumbled on a perfect, quaint little restaurant up a hidden side street. They laid out a fantastic spread of various local favorites, paired with the perfect bottle (or three) of Turkish wine, and a live music performance by a group of 5 older gentlemen to set the ambiance and serenade the diners (all locals, so it seemed really authentic). Unfortunately, they also had and excitedly offered us the local alcohol, Raki. Despite not being able to stand licorice and anise flavored things, I keep an open mind and take the proffered glass. Owen and I each down it and luckily don’t have to try lie outright when I tell the waiter and servers (gathered around to watch us drink it for the first time) “its good!” Though I definitely wouldn’t go out of my way to drink it again, it was certainly better than I expected.