Flying through Istanbul to get to and from Bordeaux was a bit backward BUT Turkish Airlines was terrific! After I booked our tickets and included a 24 hr. layover enroute home, up popped a screen telling me we could take a free tour of Istanbul complete with meals, all compliments of Turkish Airlines.
The first challenge was to find the meeting place, and I plan to write a review on TripAdvisor specifying exactly how to find this corner of the massive Istanbul airport. After traversing the halls, asking a dozen people where to find this meeting place, I was nearly shattered. C’mon people, how can you work there and not know where STARBUCKS is!! I didn’t think it would be too becoming to have a total meltdown at my age, but I came close, I admit!
About a dozen of us boarded the bus for our 6 hour adventure. In her excellent English our guide “Jenna” started right in telling the history and geography of Istanbul, using a map at the front of the bus. Shortly we arrived at the breakfast restaurant and were treated to a traditional Turkish breakfast.
Our driver took us close to the downtown historical area, a distance of about 45 minutes from the airport. Traffic was intense and a distinct difference from the pastoral areas of France. We were grateful we weren’t driving!
Jenna kept us moving, telling us all the while stories about sultans, minarets, and customs. We entered the Blue Mosque.
You really can’t even begin to take in the beauty and enormity of this mosque. The tile work is exquisite. Shoes are not allowed and women must have their head, arms, and as much skin as possible covered. The Blue Mosque is an actual working mosque, not a museum. Jenna gave us a basic lesson in Islam including the five calls to prayer, the separation of men and women during worship, and the significance of Ramadan.
The sultan who built the Blue Mosque was only 20 years old when building began. He actually became the sultan when he was 14 and only lived to be 24. Anyhow, he wanted to show his power so decreed that the minarets should be gold. However, the older and wiser builder knew that this would be a great expense. Now the word for “gold” and “six” in Turkish is very similar, so he built the mosque with 6 minarets and then said, “Oops, I thought you meant SIX, not GOLD. I’m so sorry!” I believe the story continues when the builder then built a similar mosque with 6 minarets in Saudi Arabia in honor of this sultan, thus saving his hide!
A brisk walk took us to Topkapi Palace. With just a little less than an hour to explore, we quickly took some selfies and then explored the various chambers and just a few rooms. . .the circumcision room and the turban room in particular.
Honestly, the rooms were so magnificent there’s simply no way to capture them on an iPhone camera!
We spent some time in the chambers dedicated to original antiquities and no photos were allowed. We saw the staff of Moses, the sword of David, a lock of Mohammed’s beard, a mold of his footstep, and a large variety of swords, turbans, and kaftans worn by prophets.
Our lunch break took us to an eatery buzzing with locals all seeming to eat the same thing. Meatballs. These weren’t your usual round balls; they were flat and rectangular, made of lamb and spices and mouth-wateringly delicious. Apparently this was a well-known family-owned restaurant with all three floors filled with hungry folks.
Our tour came to an end and we boarded the bus for our return trip to the airport. I sure wished I’d had time to shop and explore. Istanbul is a fascinating and ancient city, with layers and layers of interest and intrigue. WHEN I return, I want to spend an entire day at the Grand Bazaar and another day exploring the Hagia Sophia.
A few hours later we settled into our seats on Turkish Airlines for our trip home. We enjoyed the same hospitality and good food that has earned Turkish Airlines the designation as the #1 airline in Europe.
So, this is the end of this saga. The trip was a good one. There were moments when I swore I would not plan another trip for us, and there were moments when I understood why people go on bus trips. But those moments paled in comparison to the laughs we shared, the excitement of discovering back streets and tiny places barely seen on maps. We’ll continue our brand of “slow travel” as long as we can and in places where we feel secure in our skills. Au revoir until the next chapter of Wheresweinberger!