We sat at a table near the open kitchen and could see our meal being prepared. It began with an unusual salad mostly of tomatoes (sweet) and cucumbers but it was mixed with lots of chopped walnuts and had a vinaigrette dressing that was heavy on the vinegar. With all of the tomatoes and their sweetness though, it was a great blend.
Next came our mixed grill plate. Again colorfully presented with a little salad on the plate. There was a variety of lamb, beef, and chicken. The kebabs were like a meatball mix wrapped around a stick and then grilled. My mouth waters every time I think of that lunch. The spices were delicately balanced in the meats and the aroma mixed with the taste--well the memory just makes me drool.
A short distance away was the Blue Mosque our next stop to explore. It was here that we were so glad to have a small group and a private guide. With the promise that we could get our shoes off quickly and into a plastic bag, Aykut was able to get us in a side door that didn't have a big line of tourists. The Blue Mosque was probably a little more impressive in its day before the blue tiles faded. It still has has a bluish cast inside but I can imagine it was quite amazing when newer.
For those who have never been in a mosque before, it would have been an even more unique experience as the tourists were separated from the area where worshipers prayed. I was grateful for our visit to the Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai where we were able to learn more about the Muslim religion. As Aykut had told us earlier in the day, the Turks are more liberal with their religion. He said there were many mosques but none were ever full. That could be said about a lot of churches as well.
The Blue Mosque was built by a young nineteen year old sultan named Ahmet I. He had it constructed next to the Hagia Sophia on the site of the ancient Hippodrome. Work was begun in 1609 and completed seven years later. Unfortunately the sultan died shortly after its completion.
Six minarets make the Blue Mosque unique. Normally there are no more than four. Several times throughout the day you could hear, amplified through the minarets here and anywhere else there was a mosque, the chanted call to prayer.
Our last stop of the day was something I had not researched at all and wondered all the way to the entrance just what exactly we were going to see in a cistern. I was amazed. The cistern is one of many built beneath the city during Byzantine times. The one we were in, the Basilica Cistern, sits beneath the Stoa Basilica. It covers a 2.4 acre area and has 336 marble columns and dates back to Emperor Justinian in the sixth century. There is a decorative amount of water in it now, nicely lit with accent lighting to give it an eerie feeling. James Bond rowed a boat through there in the movie, From Russia With Love.
One of the points of interest were two columns that were supported by large marble heads of Medusa. Our guide indicated that they needed the extra support and had taken them from somewhere else and just to be sure that her power to turn men into stone was negated, they put her upside down. Of course that was all said with a smile and wide eyes that made his very dark brown eyes look a bit wild in the depths of the cistern.
The day's tour ended with a quick walk through the Grand Bazaar which seems to stretch on forever. Amid lots of invitations to step inside the shops, we nodded and politely smiled, walked on a bit and then circled back to our meeting point. Maybe another day on another trip when we have more time.
Aykut left us with his capable driver. He had a date and needed to get something for her. Amid some teasing and advice about his date, we waved good-bye to a wonderful guide. At the port entrance we saw the place Aykut recommended for great baklava but the line was out the door and we were tired. We headed for the ship.