So, there is a “Big Five” for the wildlife you try to see on a safari in Africa. In Istanbul, the Big Five are the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace, and the Grand Bazaar….AND, they are within 15 minutes of each other, so it is a pretty compact visiting area. When we visited in 2009, we saw all but the Hagia Sophia, as it was closed the day we visited. This time, (groan), ours was the last of four large cruise ships to dock. By the time we got to the area, the lines for the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque wrapped around the buildings so far that we couldn’t see the ends. So we tried the Basilica Cistern – a wait of only 10 minutes. And it was better than ever, but about three times more expensive. Built during the reign of the Emperor Justinian in 532 AD, it provided water to the entire city of then-Constantinople. Today, they have added different colored lights and some statuary in the water. It was very clean and organized, but at $17 US, they were making a nice profit – many, many people inside. The last time we visited, there was hardly anyone inside, but ours was the only cruise ship at that time. Another added bonus in visiting this time is a phone camera capable of taking crisp photos rather than the blurry underground photos we took 14 years ago.
After a few light snacks for lunch, we headed to Topkapi Palace. Its construction dates to a few years after the conquest of the city by Mohammad II. The walls were constructed from 1460 to 1478, and all the inside buildings were added over the centuries by various sultans. It is quite posh and beautiful.
With the large crowds, those were the only two sites we could manage while our ship was in port. It was too late to try to get to the Grand Bazaar (not that we can purchase anything, anyway). What a difference 14 years make! Travel is more popular than ever. On each cruise we have taken this year, the great majority of passengers have been American.
We took taxis to and from the ship. The first one was fine, as the driver and we agreed on 20 euros to take us across town. On our way back to the ship, we negotiated the return trip for 15 euros. As we started driving, however, the driver said, you will pay 50 euros, right? We said no, 15. He wrote down 50. We told him we were getting out, and started to open the door. He quickly renegotiated for 20, so we stayed. Then, when we had almost arrived, he said paying by credit card was “an extra charge.” We had used all of our small Euro bills and didn’t want change in Turkish lira, as this was our last port in Turkey for the foreseeable future. At that point, we were just happy to have reached the ship on time, so we agreed to 25 euros. A slightly painful way to end the day, feeling cheated by a taxi driver.
We had tried Uber several times, but it never did work out. Once it told us that we would have to wait 18 minutes for a car. Another time we were assigned a driver and then immediately got a message from the driver that we had to agree to an additional charge to be picked up. Other times it never would find a driver after several minutes’ wait. The costs we were seeing on Uber were about 18 to 22 Euros anyway. So from that perspective, we felt only slightly abused by the taxi. But the lessons to be learned from that experience is to write down the number when negotiating with someone with limited English and keep small bills available if you don’t want to get local currency back.
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