DAY 7 - FRIDAY 23rd AUGUST 2013

Written by Tam

7am wake up call and the breakfast that we ordered the night before arrives at 7.45am. We set up on the balcony enjoying the wonderful view of Istanbul. We have eggs benedict, cereal, coffee, juice and toast. Watching the sights and sounds of the busy river Bosphorus and being able to see the tantalising cupolas and minarets from the old city causes much excitement, as this is a city I had particularly been looking forward to exploring.

[Kev - we were definitely on the right side of the ship in Istanbul.]

At 8.15am we disembark and head to the nearest tram station to get a ticket for 3TL to Sultanahmet. We are told that the Blue Mosque is not open till 2.30pm so head across the square to Sophia Hagia. We bought tickets for this online before we left so no need to queue at the ticket office. A stunning building with lots of beautiful features. Unfortunately they are in the process of renovating areas of it and there are large areas of scaffolding, but as you walk around looking at the amazing stonework and mosaics it is completely captivating.

[Kev - Our photos from inside don't really do this place justice. I blame Tam - she was in charge of photography. I was the video man. To be fair, she did a pretty good job in general as we ended up with some lovely photos.]

Next stop on our itinerary is the Basilica Cistern – following our map we enter through an unassuming entrance, which looks not unlike the doorway to a public lavatory. But what an incredible sight awaits us as we pay the 10TL entrance fee and descend the steps into the body of the Cistern. The absolute highlight of the day – the beautiful pillars of the cistern are illuminated and the water is full of fish. There is classical music playing and it is mesmerising at how such a wonder can be hidden beneath the streets of Istanbul. If anyone should ask about our visit to Istanbul we would say the Basilica Cistern was the thing that most stirred our emotions and we would highly recommend you pay a visit as you surely won’t be disappointed.

[Kev - It's a very atmospheric place. The Romans built it and it was supplied with water from 15 miles away via an aquaduct system. Clever chappies them Romans.]

The Grand Bazaar beckons next and it is sprawling with little shops selling all manner of Turkish goods. Spices, lamps, clothes, glassware, teas etc., etc., and the place is full of busy shoppers. Although we had read many reviews where the shopkeepers intimidate people we found that they weren’t too pushy at all and a polite no thank you in response to their “Have a butchers” seemed to suffice. The only thing we bought was a painted ceramic tile to use as a trivet at home.

Set off in search of the Spice Market, which was a smaller version of the Grand Bazaar but specialised more in spices, as indeed the name would suggest. Stop on the way to enjoy a chicken kebab. The Spice Market was interesting but many of the stalls were very similar and we had no desire to buy anything here so we walked back to the ship, pausing at the Galata Bridge, which spans the junction between the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus River. It is a busy place with many decorative boats moored along the river selling food and on the bridge itself lots of fisherman hoping to catch something.

Across the bridge we head towards the imposing Galata tower – 13TL admits us and we get the lift up to the top. The views are stunning – we can see the mosques, minarets of the historical European part of Istanbul in front, yet behind us we can see the Asian part all separated by the busy river. It was definitely worth the walk up to the tower as although we are hot and tired after such a long day of walking in the sunshine the views from the top really show the diversity of this city, which is the second largest city in the world based on population. [Kev - Really? Second largest population? Cripes, it's amazing what you learn from a trip report.]

Make the long trek back to the ship and enjoy a well-deserved beer on the Sunset Bar while enjoying the view. A much needed swim is required to help cool us off further and this does the trick and coupled with a Bahama Mama and Margarita we feel suitably revived and ready for a quick dip in the hot tub in the Thalossotherapy pool area

[Kev - What a truly stunning view. My back I mean - not the panorama.]

Back to the cabin at 4.30pm where we get ready for the evening. As the ship remains in port overnight we decided that it would be the perfect opportunity to enjoy the delights of Istanbul in the evening rather than eat on the ship. So after scanning the reviews on Tripadvisor we had decided on our restaurant of choice and booked a table at the Imbat Restaurant, which is situated in the Orient Express Hotel on the top floor. So onto the tram and into the city we go – having worked out the exact location of the restaurant we find a bar in a nearby street – The Orvek restaurant and bar. We both enjoy an ice cold Efes before checking in at the restaurant at 7pm.

The view from the roof top terrace is wonderful – although there are some cranes in the way – considering the amount of building work that appears to be going on this is only to be expected but it doesn’t detract from a view back towards the ship and the Asian side of the city.
We share a bottle of red wine and enjoy a selection of tiny homemade bread rolls that are served with a tapenade, olives and balsamic/olive oil mix. To start we share a lovely fish dish cooked with spices in a tomato sauce, but for the main we have no difficulty in choosing the same thing – namely baked lamb in spices in a cream sauce served with shoestring potatoes. Without doubt a great choice as the taste was amazing, albeit very filling. We are determined to stay for as long as possible to enjoy the sight of the city getting dark and the lights twinkling as it does. After a suitable break we manage to split a pistachio shoestring pastry pudding served with a rose ice cream in a chocolate bowl. This tasted just like Turkish delight and was a wonderful way to finish a perfect meal. It just shows that most restaurants don’t get good Tripadvisor reports for no reason and their good reviews are justly deserved.

[Kev - Hang on a minute! Tam's wine glass looks considerably larger than mine in this photo. Some mistake, surely?]

We were also lucky enough to see the wonderful bridge light show which started in 2007 This was something we had not heard about but was treat to see and especially from our position on the roof terrace.

[Kev - This photo was stolen from the website highlighted above.]

On the tram and back to the ship for 10pm where we go to the Sunset bar for a drink and to watch more of the entertaining bridge light show. This is a wonderful spot to enjoy the delights of Istanbul at night – if you get a chance to go on a cruise with an overnight stop in Istanbul our advice would be make the most of it.

Molecular Bar beckons before a nightcap of hot chocolate from Café Al Baccio Back to the cabin for an early night as it has been a long day and we have more planned for tomorrow before the ship sails.