Thankfully I departed the chaotic Egyptian hub of Cairo without any major altercations. The staff at CAI gave me the run around (literally) quite a few times. I will spare you the details. The quick jaunt over to Istanbul was accompanied by a delightful meal served by a Turkish Air in flying chef. On arrival I strolled over to the Turkish Lounge to organize the airline sponsored tour of Istanbul. I was not aware that the timing of my arrival and departure flights did not meet the minimum requirements for the “Istanbul in Hours” tour. This forced me to spend a solid 2 hours with a ground agent changing my departure flight to make the tour to happen.
After purchasing a visa and clearing immigration I was hit by beauty and weather that far exceeded expectations. The sites visited were in an extremely confined area, the Sarayburnu or “historical district,” so we arrived by van and walked around and between the individual attractions for 7 hours then cruised alongside the Miramar Sea back to IST.
The tour was headed off by a “traditional” Turkish breakfast sited with the original walls of Byzantanium. This traditional breakfast consisted of tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, cold meat?, cheese, bread and a hard boiled egg. Needless to say it was as flavorless as it comes across in this text. Following this Denny’s grand slam-esque breakfast we spent time at the “Blue Mosque.” Proper name; Sultan Ahmed Mosque as it was constructed during Ahmed I’s rule between the years 1609-1616. The sultan’s plan to top the neighboring Hagia Sophia (discussed later) were not fulfilled. The dome size when finally completed (1000 years after Hagia Sophia) is smaller and required support pillars which handicap the architectural prowess of the structure. The mosque is still used for Islamic prayer five times daily. The chants for Allah are thundering. Almost frightening if not aware of the purpose.
Next stop; Basilica Cistern. An underground “box” created to retain water for the city. This is the largest and most prestigious of the hundreds beneath the city. Supported by 336 marble columns. Two columns have Medusa sculpted head as the base. The cistern still has touch of water, enough for fish to still live in, but only used for a tourist attraction.
The rivaling Hagia Sophia originally built as an Othodox church then converted to a mosque in 1453 when Sultan Mehmed overtook the city and fortified the Ottoman Empire, now serves as a museum. It holds collections of original holy relics from Christ and Islam. The overall architecture doesn’t have the zeal of the Blue Mosque but the central dome is far superior.
To conclude the tour of Sarayburnu we visited the pinnacle of the promontory. Here sits the Topkapı Palace. Residence of the Sultans during the Ottoman Empire’s power centuries. Situated between the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus Straight the palace looks over the remainder of the city in all directions. I sat stationary at an overlook for nearly an hour observing the city, port and the terrain which created the strongest civilization in history. I held my breath for an hour.
Back at Atatürk International Airport where Turkish Air’s flagship lounge is located, I spent the remaining hours of my layover utilizing its exuberant amenities. I dabbled in the library’s collection of historical accounts pertaining to Istanbul. Knocked some balls in on the billiards table. In short order, stopped in for a movie at the theatre, and continued on for more. I rummaged through the near endless options for nourishment. Three kitchens serving eats of wide variety. Pastry stations, coffee/tea lounge, self serve hard liqour bar, vitamin/fruit stand and the list goes on. I sampled, but restrained myself from digging in. Before departure I refreshed with a quick neck/shoulder massage and a nice shower.
IST>JFK would be the premier flight of my 8 connections from Bali back home. Again on a 777w seat 1A. Just after takeoff the meal service presented by two “flying chefs” began and lasted for nearly 2 hours. After indulging in the assorted canapés, potato leek soup, lamb chops, cheese/fruit platter with a glass of red from Argentina and a few desserts (chocolate soufflé, marinated berries and coconut ice cream) I hit that flat bed like Rip Van Winkle and missed the other meals as he did the American Revolution. The 11 hour flight passed by far too quickly. When riding up front it feels as your desire for the plane to keep flying is more important than reaching the planned destination. The level of service, comfort and cuisine is all in a category I have never experienced.
Forever jaded my future air-travels will be.