Subject: 2 Weeks in Greece # Part 1 Istanbul (long)
2 Weeks in Turkey # Part 1 Istanbul (long)

I arrived on Monday 13 September late at night. I anticipated a quick transfer to the hotel and some rest. My travel agent however had other ideas. I was taken to the office where we had a two hour conference on changes of plan that were necessitated by what I soon discovered to be a typical Turkish way of life#no hurry, no worry.

The original plan for a private tour of the Jewish historical sites in Istanbul wouldn't happen on the morrow # they had forgotten to clear the trip with the sites involved, who required advance notification due to the spate of bombings of Jewish synagogues recently. But they also hadn't taken into consideration that the day after was already the beginning of the High Holy Days.

Long story # finally arranged for the trip but to only two synagogues and then only on the 3rd day of my stay. Oh well, I would enjoy what they had arranged instead.

Finally got to the hotel near midnight. I was supposed to call Miriam but it was so late that I decided to wait till the next day. She had already visited my hotel and left a message for me # turns out that her hotel was about 200 meters away from mine on a right angle, so that I could see her window. The Accura turned out to be a very comfortable mid-range hotel with a fantastic view from both my room's windows and from the roof terrace.

Day 2 # 14 September Great Turkish breakfast buffet # delicious variety of breads, yogurt, white and yellow cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, vegetables and fruit. Also cereals, jams, butter and honey, two kinds of juices, coffee and tea were all available.

Called and met Miriam. We had a nice walk up Sultanahmet and visited the Covered Bazaar. Later as arranged I joined a group for a tour of the Dolmabahce Palace. It is the Palace that the Sultan's moved into when they left Topkapi. They were by then enamoured of Europe and the Palace would fit very nicely into the French countryside. Other than a few rugs there is nothing Turkish in the place.

The tour included a quick transfer to the Asian side of the city for a panoramic view of modern Istanbul on the European side. Naturally they tacked on a visit to a leather shop, but I was already late for my meeting with Miriam. They finally agreed to drop me off. Miriam had a flight to Egypt later that night and I didn't want to miss our last chance to meet. As it is, I was late everywhere all day and drove her crazy with the changes in times. Turkish way of life#no hurry, no worry.

Joined Miriam again at about 6.30 in the evening and we went to dinner in a Chicken kebap place that she knew. We couldn't decide what we wanted. The waiter recommended a mixed grill, which sounded good to both of us # the amount of food that we were presented with was enough for four! I was starving and cleaned up my plate. Then we walked down Sultanahemet in the opposite direction that we had gone that morning. Saw the Blue Mosque all lit up, but the fountains had been shut off.

Miriam had already discovered a couple of internet shops and showed me where to find them. Then we discovered a couple of more, so that problem was solved.

Day 3 # 15 September Got down to breakfast a bit later than yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to discover in addition to all of the goodies provided yesterday there was also hot cheese borek and a couple kinds of sliced meat sausages.

Then the agency man showed up and told me that today we were going on the Jewish Heritage private tour! Okay, I did want to do that, so what difference if today or tomorrow? They had only just realized what I tried to explain to them the night I arrived # tomorrow would not be possible because of the Jewish New Year, a solemn religious ceremony. So I visited the Ashkenazy synagogue and the Ahrida synagogue. Took pictures in the first, but it was not allowed in the second. The Jewish community is so small that despite the existence of 5 synagogues in Istanbul, only these two are in use. The whole of the Jewish community goes to the one or the other in turn. Since the tour was much shorter than originally planned (2 out of 6 sites), I was offered a chance to see anything else of my choice.

Having read about the fantastic mosaics in the Chora church (now a museum) I asked to go there. It was quite a long trip, only to discover that it is closed on Wednesdays! Now that I was upset about, you would expect a travel agent to know such things. The representative was most apologetic and offered to take me out in the evening to see Topkapi, the Blue Mosque and the fountains lit up after dark. Okay, so I had already been there the night before with Miriam, but the fountains weren't on, so I was willing to try again # you guessed it # they weren't on this night either!

We did see a whirling Dervish as part of a show in a coffee shop, but it lacked the proper atmosphere of a religious observance and didn't provide the emotional content that I would have expected.

Day 4 # 16 September As previously arranged (except for the day # should have been yesterday) I was picked up at my hotel and joined a group tour of the Blue Mosque, Topkapi and Aya Sofia. I was very impressed by the beauty of Topkapi and planned to visit again on my own since I have one last day free in Istanbul before I fly home. The Blue Mosque is immense and can make a person feel his or her own smallness in this very old house of worship. Aya Sofia, alternately called Hagia Sofia, has been both a Byzantine church and an Ottoman mosque. Today, since the founding of the Republic by Ataturk, it is a museum.

After lunch we also went to Sulimanye Mosque with it's beautiful colored windows.

Tonight I take an overnight coach (11 hours) to Kusadasi.

Debbie - Israel