As many of you know from reading previous cruise posts, Istanbul was one of the top cities we wanted to visit while cruising around the Mediterranean. In fact, we probably wouldn't have booked a cruise at all if Istanbul wasn't included in any of the ports of call. It's always been a city that's fascinated me; the culture, the long, complicated Byzantine and Ottoman histories, the architecture, the Islam religion, and of course, the rulings of the empire by various opulent Sultans. I swear, every street, mosque, and building in the entire city is named after one sultan or another. History is definitely alive and well in bustling Istanbul.
Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople (try getting that song out of your head now), the capital of Turkey for 16 centuries, is where East meets West...literally. Divided by one of the world's busiest waterways, the Bosphorus, one half of Istanbul lies in Europe, while the other resides in Asia. With the second largest population in the world (14 million, give or take a couple hundred), Istanbul is a far cry from the quaint and quiet Greek towns we previously visited on our cruise. The European side being the most densely populated, it's Istanbul's historic and economic hub...and is also where we spent most of our time while touring this illusive city.
Instead of going with one of the ship's overpriced and overcrowded tours, we opted to hire a private tour guide to take us around to Istanbul's most recognizable sights. This tour was one we shared with 5 other couples who I met on the Cruise Critic forum and were also sailing on our ship. Our tour guide, Funda of KSG Tours, was an absolute delight and really knew her stuff. With only 1 and a half days to see all that Istanbul had to offer (our ship was docked overnight...which made our time there even more enjoyable!), we couldn't have picked a better line up of sights, nor a better tour company to work with. Our day started bright and early at 6 am as we floated into the Golden Horn harbor just as the sun was coming up. D and I were both wide awake with cameras in hand to watch as our giant ship pulled into port. Compared to the quiet waters around the Greek ports we'd previously visited, the Bosphorus was crowded with early morning fishermen and freight ships passing through its strait. D and I ate our scrumptious room service breakfast from the comfort of our balcony while watching Istanbul come to life that morning. It totally got us both hyped up for what fun we had to come that day. There is so much to show and tell you about our time here, so I'll have to break Istanbul up into a few posts. I'm sure you won't mind. ;) Coming up...experiencing the Hippodrome & Blue Mosque! Happy Monday, dears!
In case you've missed any of my Mediterranean cruise recaps thus far, you can play catch-up here!