We have another day in Istanbul after disembarking from the ‘Minerva.. We disembarked early the next morning and head for a hotel which we have booked in the Old Istanbul. We thoroughly enjoyed our time on board ‘Minerva’, it has something no other cruise we have done has, though we believe that Saga (which do not sail to Australia, nor does Swan Hellenic) has a similar ambience. The cabins are quite simple compared to those on other ships – even the suites which have balconies, however the public areas are like an English country house, spacious and friendly with comfy armchairs and cosy sofas. There are a number of different areas to sit including an excellent library, classified in the Dewey system (though don’t look for a catalogue). There are two bars and two restaurants – both served by the same kitchen, but one casual buffet style and the other formal. Many of the passengers are serial travellers with Swan Hellenic and were discussing past and future cruises and making plans to meet up again at the next cruise. It felt like belonging to a friendly English country club.
After dropping our bags we headed for Topkapi. This was an option on the excursion program yesterday but we had already booked Old Instanbul. Topkapi Palace is like a small town. The residence of the Ottoman Sultans constructed in 1478 it was lived in until 1868 it has 4 courtyards and beautiful gardens in and around the buildings. There is a library, kitchens, and the famous harem – a town within a town. The Imperial Treasury has gifts to the sultans on display and there are audience galleries, schoolrooms and Turkish baths. While it is very splendid and well worth a visit, it is a little tedious after about an hour or two. This is because it is room after room beautifully decorated with tiles and marble. These rooms have little furniture except the occasional low ottoman sofa. It would be far more evocative if, for example, the kitchens were set up as they are at Hampton Court Palace in England for example with models of the food and people who would have used them, actually acting out cooking and food preparation.
It was a beautiful sunny day however and we enjoyed our time wandering through the gardens. After about 4 hours we set off the find the Spice Market. This was well worth a visit, though it is hugely disappointing not to be able to bring any sices home. I am even wary of bringing home Turkish delight unless it is sealed. The Spice Market or Egyptian Spice Bazaar, is in a very old part of town, under cover and seems to extend for miles. Dozens of stalls selling the same produce make it difficult to decide, but finally I settle on a few boxes of Turkish delight – after tasting it – and ask for them sealed.
Our evening was planned to be in a meze house in Taksim, but after taking the tram and funicular to get to this part of town we decided it was too seedy – and that the area around the Agia Sophia and the Blue Mosque looked like they had better restaurants. Next time we need to know where to go as I am sure that Istanbul has some great innovative food. We ended up eating in a run-of-the-mill cafe… have an average meze plate and a meal cooked in a claypot known as guvec – not a meal to celebrate.
Tomorrow we begin our journey back to Sydney.