|After an uncomfortable night where neither of us slept much at all (if any). The lights came on and the activity began. Started off with a nice breakfast and a long glide over Europe into Turkey. When we finally landed all the high school kids were up before the plane stopped and filled the isles pushing toward the front of the plane. When they finally opened the doors they opened both the front and the back – so we got off fairly easily. Onto busses to the terminal.
At the terminal there was a long line for immigration but it went quickly. We got out bags and customs was this lady at a table… Walked right by without a word. The Gate 1 Rep was there waiting for us so we were asked to wait as several more folks from our flight were on the tour. I changed some money and the others showed up – six people from New York who were originally from Syria and mostly spoke Syrian. There should be more folks on the tour.
Drove from the airport through the new city into the old city passing the still massive city gates and an ancient viaduct as well as a large number of mosques. The city seems quite clean and the harbor full of ships.
We arrived at the Legacy Ottoman Hotel and were told there were no rooms as yet. So we packed our carryon into the checked luggage, got a map, and away we went with no particular destination in mind.
Weather was really nice – warm but not hot. Minna first got some Turkish Lire (2 TL to one US dollar) and we started to wander. We came across an alley café with small tables and benches were many men were sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. We sat down and asked for two coffees. The server brought us two small sealed cups of water and a chocolate and then the two cups of coffee. Sugar, no cream. Very thick and rich. Wasn’t horrid (well, as far as coffee goes) but when we got to the bottom the dregs were pure grainy mud.
We got up and started to wander. Many shops selling packed meat that they carve off for you. Lots of fruit. Many people smoking. Shop keepers fairly aggressive but not as bad as other places I’ve been – like Egypt and China. We went into the Grand Bazaar and looked around a bit, then through the spick market. We then headed down to the harbor with the thought of taking a subway through the new tunnel to Asia, but we couldn’t find the station! Wanderer around anyway looking at people and marveling at the sights.
Back into town and stopped for a bite of lunch and a tea – cheese sandwich with some mystery meat. We visited a couple candy shops and bought some pomegranate Turkish delight and some other odds and ends. Stopped in several shops and found some good deals, but will wait until we return to buy stuff.
Finally, both exhausted, we headed back to the hotel and at 2:00 got our room. Put our stuff in and crashed. We have a meeting with the whole group at 7:30 this evening followed by a dinner and are trying to stay awake. At this point (3:00 PM Turkish time) we have been awake for about 32 hours without any real sleep.
After a bit of rest we headed back out again - just looking bit ended up in the spice bazaar again, then turned and ended up in the Grand Bazaar. This time we were in the non-tourist section with things like farm tools and sponges and huge rolls of bubble wrap. All the city seems to be set into districts - by plan or design I have no idea - but there is a toy section, a fitness section, a bike section, a fruit section... Some overlap but rather strange. All small shops too - nothing even approaching something the size of Pay-Less Shoes (except one candy store).
In any event, back to the hotel and off to the meeting. It will be a large group - 38 people plus Neslie the group manager and we all introduced ourselves and she went over the rules for the trip - about an hour. About half the group are all friends or relations leaving about ten other. Should be interesting.
We then headed up to the top floor of the hotel and had a nice dinner together overlooking the Bosporus with the suspension bridge changing colors and the launching of several "hope" lanterns going up into the sky. Finally, about ten o'clock, we got to bed after being up for 37 hours.