All of the places we visited today are in the Old City, which is fairly close to our hotel. Our next stop was the Blue Mosque, known for its beautiful blue tiles that decorate the interior. Unfortunately, it has been under renovation since 2016 and shows no signs of being completed.
It has six minarets, some of which are being total re-built. The outside is covered with a large tarp. We were able to go inside but with all the construction, it left much to the imagination. Again, off with the shoes and on with the head covering. Still, from the Hagia Sophia, the view of the Blue Mosque is very impressive.
Our next stop was the Hippodrome, an ancient racetrack where the chariots would race. There is only one portion of a wall left of it but, as you will see from the photos below, it was immense and the center of Ottoman life.
Our last official stop was at the small Hagia Sophia, not far from the other mosques. It is far simpler in design and still used daily, although only 3% of Istanbul’s Muslims are very religious. More about that later…
Finally, we are in Istanbul. We were met at the airport and transported to our hotel, about half an hour away in the Old City. The streets are narrow, one way, and very windy, making it easy to imagine what this area was like 500 years ago, or more. The hotel is just fine. It is bright, comfortable, and after our 30 hours of travel, couldn’t have been more inviting. We are eight hours ahead in Turkey, so adjusting will take some time.
Our pick-up time the next morning was 8:45 AM for our tour. Our guide, Melody, is a stunning young woman who is a full-time freelance guide for a number of tour companies. She lived in London for three years as a student, giving her excellent English language skills.
We were joined by a young man from Germany who spent the last six weeks on his motorcycle touring from his home country, through the Balkans, and around Turkey before landing in Istanbul to spend the day with us. He was not going to be a part of the rest of our tour, since he was leaving tomorrow on his 2,000 km trip back to Germany.
There also was a young couple from Moscow. The 40-something fellow, at 6’7″ and his girlfriend about the same age, who could have been a model on any runway with her 5’10” athletic body, were an interesting addition. He spoke English but she never opened her mouth, either to speak or even smile. In the end, they left us early and were taking a flight back to Russia tonight. That only leaves us with no other participants and our own guide for the rest of the trip.
We started at the Hagia Sophia mosque, which was a mosque, then a church, and back to a mosque over the centuries. It isn’t the largest mosque in this city, however, it is a tourist mecca and near the Blue Mosque, another tourist destination. The lighting is stunning and low because they used to be filled with candles and needed to be within reach. Now, they are lit with bulbs and there are many, many chandeliers.
The building itself is nothing special to see. As you enter, there is a mosaic that is very old and very beautiful. The entry hall has more mosaics of gold and silver tiles. What you can’t see are the wooden bins where you deposit your shoes before entering the mosque sanctuary. And, girls must have a head covering and if they are not dressed appropriately, they must buy a paper gown to wear to cover up.
Last-minute packing this morning and getting the required health questionnaire on our phones that must be completed less than 12 hours prior to take-off. That would have been a little difficult since we fly out at 12:45 PM. That left us scrambling to get everything done in the morning.
Jim picked up our housesitters, leaving Lola looking sad and confused. It is amazing how dogs know that changes are afoot when the suitcases come out. She will warm up to them eventually and will hardly miss us, considering all the attention she will get. At least, that is our hope!
The flight to Houston was easy. Our four-hour layover went well. Jim lit up when he saw one of his favorite restaurants at our gate, Pappadeaux. We went in, looked at the menu, and decided that a $60 lunch was not a good decision.
Finally, we boarded our next flight to Frankfurt. The 787 Dreamliner aircraft is enormous if you have never had the opportunity to fly in one. It actually holds fewer passengers than a 747 but supposedly is faster and more economical to operate. The engines alone can hold a very tall person inside with ease. How it gets off the ground is a mystery to me. Fortunately, we were able to get seats with no one else in our row, allowing us to spread out with extra blankets and pillows. We were fed a “sumptuous” dinner in a 3″x5″ cardboard container of either a pre-formed piece of beef or something with pasta, a hard-rock roll, and mango sorbet, after which we crashed.
I think we each got about four hours of sleep, not bad for a ten-and-a-half-hour flight to Frankfurt. Breakfast consisted of a container of yogurt and a cookie. As we departed the plane in Frankfurt, we did notice that Business Class got “down” comforters, nice pillows, and slippers. It all looked good but not $1,500 US more per person good! My guess is that they didn’t have to suffer from the same meals we had!
So, here we are in Frankfurt. We were surprised that there was no immigration checkpoint. We got off of the plane and didn’t have to do a thing! Strange, considering we came from the US, not an EU country.
Well, this airport is nuts. It is very large and very spread out. We probably walked a good mile to get from one gate to our Turkish Airlines flight. Good thing we could walk the distance. I don’t know how people with health issues could have done it. Not a cart anywhere to help those who may have been in need. We went through security once again and they were VERY thorough. I guess we should be thankful for that. It was definitely a good thing we had a three-hour layover because there would have been no way we could have maneuvered through the maze of the Frankfurt Airport.
In any case, only one more leg of the journey. The two-hour flight to Istanbul will go fast and we won’t have gloomy German weather. It is supposed to be 83F in Istanbul, a perfect temp. Even having a short flight, Turkish Airlines gave us a decent lunch, with real silverware. Ah, shades of years gone by…
Last minute packing this morning and getting the required health questionnaire on our phones that must be completed less than 12 hours prior to take-off. That would have been a little bit after midnight, which wasn’t going to happen. That left us scrambling to get the last minute things done this morning.
Jim picked up our housesitters, leaving Lola looking sad and confused. It is amazing how dogs know that changes are afoot when the suitcases come out. She will warm up to them and will hardly miss us, considering all the attention she will get.
The flight to Houston was easy. Our four hour layover went well. Jim lit up when he saw one of his favorite restaurants at our gate, Pappadeaux. We went in, looked at the menu and decided that a $60 lunch was not a good decision. Instead, we tried Panda Express, an okay alternative.
The 787 Dreamliner aircraft is enormous, if you have never had the opportunity to fly in one. The engines alone can hold a very tall person inside with ease. How it gets off the ground is a mystery to me.
We may be crazy but an opportunity presented itself and we decided to take off for Turkey on Sunday, August 29 for 2.5 weeks. The country has been open for several months and despite fires and floods, which have been handled, tourism is flourishing there.
Our Turkish contact has assured us that everyone we will come into contact with has been vaccinated (as have we). To enter, we need a negative antigen test or our shot record, both of which we have. We fly from Guadalajara to Houston and Frankfurt to Istanbul. Our hotel looks amazing.
Jim visited Istanbul twice and Ephesus once via the US Navy and once on a cruise many years ago. He saw some of the main sites there but this trip will definitely be more inclusive.
The day after we arrive, we immediately start with an Istanbul tour to many of the tourist locations, including the Hagia Sophia (the largest building on earth barring the Egyptian Pyramids or the Great Wall of China), Topkapi Palace, the Hippodrome, Blue Mosque, and the Grand Spice Bazaar (which I am anxious to visit).
The next day, September 1, we have a short flight to Izmir, where we will relax in Kusadasi overnight. Our tour continues the next morning to see The House of the Virgin Mary and Ephesus, the largest city on the planet with 250,000 citizens in the 1st century AD. Then, off to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World before returning to our hotel in Kusadasi.
Day three takes us to Pamukkale, where there are hot springs believed to have healing powers and considered to be the earliest spa on earth. People traveled long distances to find a cure for whatever ailed them. It is a World Heritage Site. We then go to the ancient city of Hierapolis, the biggest Necropolis with 1200 gravestones, We then are off for the drive to Fethiye for the next phase of our trip.
In Fethiye, we transfer to the port to board our four-day sailboat journey. We head to Turuncpinari Cove, where we will be swimming and relaxing, staying overnight on board. That is Day Four… More details on Day Five and beyond.