Up early we disembarked the Seabourn Spirit for a few days in Istanbul.
We stayed at the Ceylon Intercontinental rather than our normal hotel, The Ciragan Palace. With the relative strength of the new Turkish Lira to the falling Pound and Euro, coupled with extraordinary hotel demand in Istanbul, The Ciragan Palace became just too expensive. We made the right decision. For the same price as a Bosporus view room at Ciragan we were able to book a large suite at the Ceylon. Combining that rate with our membership in Intercontinental Ambassador’s program which provides for a complimentary upgrade…and then using the annual, one weekend night free, coupon…we were upgraded to the Galata Suite (a two room suite complete with a whirlpool tub with a glass walled view of Istanbul from Topkapi Palace to Ortakoy and the bridge to Asia.)
We took a lovely, if not long, walk from Taksim Square to the Galata Bridge, over to the Spice Bazaar and then to the Grand Bazaar, then walking back to the Golden Horn…where we decided it was time to grab a taxi. After a power nap it was off to a wonderful dinner at Bice with our “family” in Istanbul.
The next day started out absolutely beautiful, so we decided to skip the hamam (Turkish baths) and take the ferry over to Buyukada, the largest of the Princess Islands. It was a short walk to the ferry and for about $1.50 we were off on a 1 1/2 hour ferry ride to the Asian side of Istanbul and to 4 of the Princess Islands. Sounds great, right? Well about 30 minutes in the wind and rain started and then the seas got rough.
We eventually arrived in Buyukada in the rain. We found a lovely local place for a truly delicious lunch of grilled fish, Iskender kebab, cicik, ekmek and salads and then decided discretion was the better part of valor and we headed back to take an earlier ferry home since the weather wasn’t cooperating. But this is where it got interesting for me.
The highlight of my day was watching all of the different cultures on the ferry. How the rudest people were a small group comprised of two Arab men and four women in burkhas. How the tough older Turkish men would not give up their seats for anyone…until two elderly Caucasian women came by and they quickly did so. How everyone was so tolerant of the Turkish children…who were always treated like treasures. How I noticed more woman with Muslim head-coverings than I had in my previous visits.
However, my ultimate ferry ride highlight, was the salesman. A large, bald, loud, voice-strained, man in a crooked tie who was selling sets of kitchen knives – flashing them about like an angry sultan! He was good…very good. And all the while I am thinking of those that improperly consider Istanbul such a dangerous place and here was a man literally supplying huge knives to the entire ferry as if it was nothing. (Imagine that on the Staten Island Ferry going to New York City!). I did not understand a word of what he was saying, but I kept thinking “Damn, he’s good!” And when the knives were sold out, he sold those little lemon juicer gizmos and then pens. It was a great day…and an example of ya’ never know.
That evening we were guests at one of the hottest restaurants in Istanbul: 360. Very trendy. If you didn’t know where it was, you would never know it was there. The views are worth finding the place…which late in the night becomes a “see and be seen” club. It is nice to have family in Istanbul!
One last walk around Istanbul in the morning before heading to the airport. And what a memorable ride that was. There was horrible traffic on the expressway, so our taxi driver used the shoulder, entrance ramps…even construction zones…to weave his way to the airport. You had to be there to appreciate the terror!
But we made it…and so ended our absolutely fantastic Seabourn Food & Wine Cruise 2008.