I am certainly not a travel agent, but I immensely enjoy the planning and researching of foreign travel. A year in the making was an adventure for four couples from Wenatchee and Chelan, Washington. The ultimate goal was a cruise from Istanbul, Turkey, into the Aegean Sea, through the Greek Isles, up the Adriatic Sea to Albania and Dubrovnik, Croatia, and ending in Athens, Greece.
The planning progressed, and with my suggestions, we all had fun with my new nickname, “No Fees— No Commissions.” The challenge was to carve some of the expenses off the cruise quote, expand the days in Istanbul and Athens, beat the pre- and post-cruise prices for hotels (as offered by the cruise line), and hopefully avoid domestic U.S. airlines (which seem to have a business plan of irritating their customers) while arranging direct flights to Europe out of Seattle. But, I digress, as this article is really about the fun and excitement of Istanbul.
Amazingly, at Ataturk Airport at midnight (after what surely must have been weeks of flying on British Airways from Seattle to London, and then on to Istanbul), we were charged awake from our lethargy by the very alive airport and one of the world’s twenty-four-hour cities (13 million residents), which seemingly never sleeps. From our experience at SeaTac airport at night, we had the impression that all airports are pretty sleepy at midnight, but not Ataturk. It was exploding with arrivals, bus and car traffic jams, and this continued right into the city, where at 1 a.m. people were still enjoying the life of the city. We, of course, collapsed and hoped for morning energy.
We had opted for two extra days in Istanbul before joining the cruise ship. Our hotel was a delightful, very Turkish sixteen-room hotel in the heart of Old Istanbul, just two blocks from most of the major sites in the Sultanahmet district. The hotel, the Keybele, was a site in itself. About four stories tall, it was packed with antiques and was very unique with over 4,000 Turkish-style ceiling lights all over the hotel. We counted over seventy just in our room, and there still was not enough light to properly read a book. So much for oriental décor! The owner was a very gregarious person and must have talked with and helped every guest. Like most Turks, he also sold carpets in a nearby business and had us visit his Turkish Tribal Art Museum and Gallery.
A good travel tip is to arrange an orientation tour the first day in a new and strange city. This will give you the lay of the land for further exploration. Thus, the eight of us were off the first day in a minivan and with a private guide to explore the main “don’t miss” features of Old Istanbul. These included the Hagia Sophia Church and Mosque (now a state secular museum), the hippodrome, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, the Spice Market, and the Grand Bazaar. Interspersed over two days, we enjoyed lunches and views on the shore of the Bosphorus Strait, Sea of Marmara, and Golden Horn; and trips across the Galata Bridge into New Istanbul.
Istanbul is truly beautiful, with all of the water dividing portions of the city and splitting the city between Europe and Asia. The waters of the Bosphorus Strait, Sea of Marmara, and the Golden Horn inlet are all in constant motion with hundreds of ferries, the transit of freighters, many cruise ships, and tour boats. As a day of exploration, we opted for a tour boat going the length of the Bosphorus Strait from Istanbul to the Black Sea. This was the bargain of the trip with a roundtrip fare of about $10. We had a great opportunity to view the many mansions along the strait and had a fresh fish lunch at a small town on the Asian side.
With these adventures behind us, we settled into the Oceania Cruise Line ship Nautica. We departed into the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles with the beauty of a darkening city, a rising moon, and the many views of ancient Istanbul.
Judge Thomas C. Warren is retired from Chelan County District Court in Wenatchee, Washington, and is active in the Senior Lawyers Division and the Judicial Divi- sion. He can be reached at email@example.com.