The day started early for us at 6.30am, putting on our jogging shoes for a run through the streets and alleys of the old city. Stuart accompanied us with delusions of fitness, particularly compared to our champion display of running. It was a chilly start to the day, but jogging soon got the blood flowing and as it turned out the day wasn’t going to get any warmer.
Our first Turkish breakfast was a treat, complete with cucumber, olives, cheese and cute small toast. The five girls of the group lounged on the cushioned seats like sultans of the 21st Century – a time where sultans can be women and they get their own breakfast. But it was still pretty special.
We ventured out to our first site – the Hippodrome and Blue Mosque. We were all well rugged up with our Simpson Prize hats and coats, but there was an icy wind blowing that froze our toes. To enter the Blue Mosque we had to take off our shoes, but thankfully it was warm inside. The mosque was decorated with beautiful blue tiles and fresco paintings. The mosque was built by a young sultan who only lived a year after it was completed. Our guide Ozgur (Fred) explained how the mosque was used, from the taps for ablutions outside, with separate prayer areas inside for men and women.
When we emerged from the mosque the rain was really coming down. Thankfully Connor had made a bad choice of footwear and his feet were getting wet, so we quickly headed back to the hotel. Everyone was glad to get the chance to rug up a bit more, but no one was happier than Andrew who pulled out the ponchos he had been lugging back and forth between Australia and Turkey for the last 6 years and never had a chance to use. Thus warmed and water-proofed we headed back out again, this time to Topkai Palace. A distance that took minutes to complete in our morning jog, now took ages in our bus as we negotiated the narrow streets and very slow moving traffic – but we were warm and dry.
The palace visit was a chance to learn more about Ottoman history – the migration of Turks from Central Asia, the expansion of theOttoman Empireand the glory days of the palace. Entering through the gate of the huge outer walls of the palace took us into the first courtyard where the Janissary soldiers were stationed, and public could visit. The next courtyard allowed VIP visitors from outside, but the final two courtyards were for the royal family only. All courtyards featured beautiful gardens and buildings, including the Aya Eirene (Church of Divine Peace).
The palace treasury features an amazing collection of bling – the spoonmakers diamond of 86 carats, the solid gold candlesticks and the famous Topkapi dagger. The holy relic collection featured Abraham’s saucepan, Moses’ walking stick, the footprint of Mohammad and a gold arm holding the bones ofSt Johnthe Baptist. Lunch at the palace was another brilliant Turkish feast with stuffed peppers entrée, cheese pastry and even baklava dessert – for lunch! The bus trip back to the hotel was another slow crawl through the traffic, but a chance to bond over discussion of various topics that will stay on tour.