Thursday, October 1, 2015

Capitalism Turkish Style

After a third day of the wonderful buffet breakfast at the Istanbul Raddison Blu - Pera Hotel, it was time to get our bags to the lobby and meet up with the rest of our group.  Yildiz (our local guide) made sure everyone had their passports IN HAND (opposed to locked in luggage under the bus!). We set out to catch our boat for a Bosphorus cruise.  We started cruising along the European shore, passing many beautiful monuments and homes.

We saw ancient forts on both sides of the strait, as well as some very impressive yachts.  Turning around we stayed closer to the Asian side, looking at the marvelous single family homes nestled along the shore, and the beautiful Istanbul skyline.  Across the water we were able to see our "other" ship, the Regent Seven Seas Mariner, docked at the port.

During the cruise a man rounded among us with cups of fresh squeezed orange juice, hot cheese-filled pide (similar to a calzone,) tiny cups of Turkish coffee, and little bags of chips and nuts.  We all thought this was Turkish hospitality when in fact it was capitalism, which was quickly made clear when he came round again for payment 😎

After a relaxing hour on the water, we headed to Topkapi Palace for a visit.  We  saw the jewels (amazing and reminiscent of the jewel room at the Tower of London, on a smaller scale) as well as the armory and the kitchens. Serendipity was with us as there was a concert of Jannisary music with the musicians dressed in Period uniforms!  Moments like this are one of the many reasons I love travel as much as I do!

After touring the palace, we headed to an open-air restaurant on the palace grounds which had a striking view of the Sea of Marmara and enjoyed a tasty lunch.  From here we headed to the area of the Grand Bazaar for a carpet demonstration and free time to explore the bazaar.  The carpet demonstration was interesting and the handmade carpets are beautiful, but the real experience is the sales techniques employed.  As the demonstration was concluding, a number of new guys entered the room, each attaching himself to one of the couples.  They ask you: "which do you like?  What room are you planning to use the carpet in?"  (as if!)  The salesmen are persistent and determined and it is difficult to say  "no!"  Several members of our group purchased carpets, as well as leather coats and jewelry from vendors affiliated with the carpet shop.

We were able to break away and stroll around the corner to the grand bazaar. Yildiz cautioned us to stay on the main drag, to avoid getting disoriented in the bazaar.  We walked through the gates and all the way to the end, which lets out into a small park, before heading back.  The shops along the main road were very repetitive with many jewelry shops and souvenir stands.

Finally, it was time to head to the Mariner.  By the time we arrived (after the carpet demo) we were quite literally the final passengers aboard and were sent straightaway to the safety briefing and evacuation drill.  We got to our suite just as the ship sailed, and then headed to the pool deck for a sail away reception.  The first two days were sea days (e.g., no ports of call) and even though it seemed as if many of the passengers were truly looking forward to the exciting shore itinerary, it was very nice and relaxing to start with a couple of days just to relax.  Next stop:  Saturday in Jerusalem andd Bethlehem.

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