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23rd April, 2015


This morning, St. George’s Day, we arrived at 8.30am at the pilot station. The port is an interesting one as it is subjected to the prevailing south bound current from the Black Sea and the counter current close to the berth. Today we berthed with the assistance of a strong tug boat and were safely moored at 9.30am for our two day stay.

The Legendary city of Constantinople, now known as Istanbul, was originally named after Emperor Constantine when the Romans made it their eastern capital in 324A.D. A city has stood here for almost three millennia, ruled by various empires from the Greeks to the Ottomans. Blessed with a magnificent natural setting on the Bosporus Strait and encompassing a fabulous natural harbour known as the 'Golden Horn', Istanbul has long been a draw for travellers. Today Turkey's largest metropolis is a melting pot of cultures and is the only city in the world to straddle two continents -Europe and Asia. It offers a dazzling wealth of culture and traditions, a rich variety of architecture and an intriguing blend of ancient and modern.

Today’s tours were:

“Ottoman Istanbul” introduced our passengers to Istanbul’s most important highlights from the Ottoman era. They visited the Mosque of Sultan Ahmed I. Better known as the Blue Mosque, it is renowned for its architectural harmony, proportion and elegance and is unique as it is the only original mosque in the world with six minarets. The Topkapi Palace, another highlight is situated on the shore of the Bosporus and was formerly the residence of the Ottoman Sultans. Mehmet II built it in the mid-1400s as a summer palace and his successors transformed it into a great complex of buildings set in lovely gardens. A series of courtyards connect rooms containing an astonishing collection of Chinese porcelain, the Topkapi dagger, the celebrated Topkapi Diamond and many other treasures. Then it was onwards to the Underground Cistern, which dates back to the 6th century, and its 336 Corinthian columns make it one of the most magnificent covered cisterns in Istanbul. Last, but not least, it was time to enter the Grand Bazaar which is the heart of commerce in Ottoman times. The maze of streets and lanes are one of the greatest sights in the city and it is here that you can find carpets, jewellery, leather goods, silver and many other items you never knew you needed.

“On Foot in Old Istanbul”. The coach dropped our passengers off in the heart of the old town close to the Grand Bazaar. From here their guided tour started on foot. Our guests visited the Ancient Hypodrome, saw the famous Blue Mosque, St. Sophia, the New Mosque (Yeni Camii) which is not actually that new as it was built in the 1600s. Located on the water's edge next to the Galata Bridge, the Yeni Camii has become a defining feature of Istanbul's skyline. Ordered by Valide Safiye, mother of Sultan Mehmet III, in 1597 the mosque was designed by the architect Da'ud Aga, a pupil of Sinan, and last but not least the obligatory visit to the Grand Bazaar.

“Panoramic Istanbul” offered a view of new and old Istanbul by coach. It started with a drive to the heart of the new city, Taksim Square, which is bustling and alive 24 hours a day. Along the way the drive offered views of the Dolmabahce Palace passing by such notable sights as the Old City’s Sea Walls, the Golden Horn and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. This was followed by a drive along the Western Coast. Arriving in the heart of the city centre, there was the opportunity to capture on camera the magnificent Blue Mosque, the German Fountain and Obelisks in the Byzantine Hippodrome which were once at the heart of Constantinople’s political and sporting life, and is now a tranquil city park and the former church of St Sophia. Built in the sixth century, St Sophia is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture.

“St. Sophia Exclusive Evening Visit” offered an exclusive after hours visit to Istanbul’s most important Byzantine and Christian site, in a silent and unique atmosphere. No other groups were there as the custodians opened their gates exclusively for our passengers. St Sophia was originally built in 326AD during the reign of Constantine the Great. It was rebuilt on a larger scale during the reign of Emperor Justinian. His intention was that the new building should surpass in splendour all others in antiquity. It is said that 10,000 workers were employed in its construction, and marble columns were brought in from temples in Asia Minor, Lebanon, Greece and Italy. After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the great church was converted into a mosque, and in 1934 it became a museum. It is universally recognised as the most important Byzantine monument in Istanbul, famous for its immense dome and beautiful frescoes and mosaics. This evening started with pre-dinner cocktail hour in the Drawing Room, where Colin Byant and Dave Peterson presented a St. George’s Sing- a-Long Swing-a-Long “ Down at the Old Bull and Bush” with a host of familiar favourites. After Dinner the Britannia Lounge hosted a “Celebration of St. George’s Day” with the Tiffany String Quartet” performing such pieces as an An English Country Garden, Jerusalem, Glory and many more. This was followed in the Drawing Room by a “60’s and 70’s Dance Party” until late into the evening.

On our second day in Istanbul our passengers could choose from the following tours:

“Topkapi Palace” was home to the Ottoman sultans for nearly four centuries until the reign of Abdulmecid I (1839-60). Situated on Seraglio Point overlooking both Marmara and the Bosphorus, it was constructed on the site of an ancient olive grove on the orders of Mehmed II after the conquest of Constantinopolis in 1453. The final form of the first palace covered an area of 7,500 square feet and was enclosed with fortified walls almost 4,600 feet in length. Following the reign of Mehmed II the Conqueror, the palace grew steadily to form a city-like complex of buildings and annexes, including a shore palace, known as the Topkapi shore palace, as it was situated near the cannon gate - Topkapi - of the ancient walls of Istanbul. When the shore palace was burned in 1863, it lent its name to the great complex we now know as Topkapi Palace.

“Intercontinental Walking Tour” actually used a trio of transport modes to explore Istanbul’s highlights. It started with a tram ride to Yeni Camii, the New Mosque. Despite its name, it is actually 400 years old, and has an opulent interior decorated with carved marble and rainbow-coloured Iznik tiles. Nearby is one of the city’s oldest markets, the Spice Bazaar. As the passengers wandered through the lantern-lit covered passages, they breathed in the heady scents of saffron and cloves. It was then a walk to Marmaray underground station, for a cross-continental train beneath the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul. Here our guests viewed the domes and cupolas at Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, browsed the antiques in Uskudar Market, and paid a visit to Mimar Sinan Carsisi, another market housed in an old 16th-century Hamman. It was then a walk to the riverside for the crossing back over to Europe by boat.

“Bosporus Cruise” was a leisurely cruise along the Bosporus, the winding 20-mile strait that separates Europe and Asia. Passengers embarked at the Eminonu Pier and set off for the cruise, taking in the city’s unique mix of past and present. They saw the changing cityscapes where modern hotels stand side-by-side with wooden houses, known locally as ‘yali’, and tiny fishing communities contrast with ruined forts, mosques and marble palaces. The guide provided informative commentary throughout the cruise and the passengers had plenty of opportunities to take close-up photographs of the various buildings on both sides of the strait.

As per yesterday there was a shuttle bus between the Blue Mosque and the ship, and for our passengers who chose to remain on board the Cruise Staff had organised and were hosting different activities.

This evening, as soon as all the passengers and crew were on board, the pilot on the bridge, and the compulsory tug boat made fast, we left the berth and swung into the busy traffic separation zone towards the Marmara Sea. Here we disembarked the pilot and set course for our anchorage, Karanik Liman, where we arrived and were safely at anchor at 5 am on 25 April, Anzac Day.

The evening started with pre-dinner cocktail hour in the Drawing Room where The Perfect Mood Duo were playing, and in Cooper’s Bar where Dave Peterson entertained guests at the piano. After Dinner the Britannia Lounge featured The Celtic Tenors, who provided an evening to savour.

Captain Kees Spekman

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.