My first order of business today was to look at the Tucan orientation walk of Istanbul, laugh and then tear it up. No Tucan orientation walk for Istanbul, this will be Kristina's tour of Istanbul and it will be epic!
The tour of Istanbul given by yours truly started after breakfast, I firstly had to find some ATM's so that people could get some money. This placed us at the entrance to thr Agia Sophia, which I spoke at length about and answered lots of questions. I then took the passengers into the immense building. We all paid out 25 lira to get in and I led them through the entrance and turned around to see their gob smacked faces. Jan turned to me and said, I think this is the most impressive building I've ever been in! That's a big call considering she is in her seventies.
I explained to the passengers that you could see the influence of both Christianity and Islam in this building. I pointed out the giant disc displaying the name of Allah and behind it the mosaic of the arch angel Gabrielle. The restoration work had finally finished and the interior was no longer obscured by a giant pillar of scaffolding. Giant chandeliers hung from the roof and the floor was inlaid with all kinds of stone from far off lands. We spent about an hour in the Agia Sophia and actually made the trek up the tunnel to the second floor to view it from above, a view which I had not yet seen.
After the Agia Sophia, it was time for a visit to my favourite monument in Istanbul, Basilica Cistern. The entrance to this amazing place is just a stone booth on the surface which doesn't look like anything special and I'm sure the passengers wondered where they were being taken.
I went down first so I could see the look on their faces when they viewed the giant, pillared dimly lit water cistern which is under the main area of Istanbul. Shock and awe is what I saw. It was lovely and cool inside which was a nice change from the wicked heat on the surface and we stayed and had a drink in the underground café.
After our drink stop in the cistern this put us almost at 1pm, so off we went to Akbiyik Caddessi for lunch. My favourite part of Istanbul and the old strip where the old Fez tour leaders and I used to hang out. We had lunch at the Sultan which was much more reasonable than the restaurant of the previous evening. A few of the guys working in there even remembered me, which was unreal. I recognized one as one of the guys from Just Bar who had made me serve drinks, in return for unlimited alcohol one good night.
We sat in the cool under the awnings and I drank my massive glass of cold Efes beer, with some of the same people, listening to the same music that played four years ago. This place had barely changed and all of a sudden I felt caught in a time warp. I say almost, as the only person I had actually wanted to see had vanished without a trace. Ocean, the guy who used to run Just Bar, who I spent many hour chatting to and who used to come and annoy my passengers as they were waiting to depart on their early morning bus, with his colourful impersonations of their accents.
After lunch I led them out of the rabbit warrant that is the old Sultanhamet and took them to the spot between the Blue Mosque and the Agia Sophia for a photo stop and to give some history on the mosque and Islam in general. Our last stop was the hippodrome and the obelisk in its centre. Now, who wants to see me really show off, I said. Go on then, said the passengers. I proceeded to read the hieroglyphs written down the obelisk, everyone was impressed now the tour was over so I offered to take them shopping.
I took a few people up to see Masoud and Bev bought a couple of plates off him and I asked if he could take us to a carpet shop. In all my travels in the middle east, I think that's the first time I've ever asked a local to actually take me to a carpet shop. He had his cousin Kalim take us to a carpet shop down the street. The man in there gave us a good demonstration and a nice cold drink in the air conditioning, but the passengers bought nothing.
On return from the carpet shop, Bev, Jan, Elaine and I opted to go and have a hammam, or Turkish bath. Pauline also tagged along, but she only had a pedicure. We got into the three hundred year old marble building and got changed into our towels. We were led in and then our towels yanked off us and told to sit down on the marble and pour water over ourselves from the marble basins. Naked in front of passengers, wish I could say it was the only time this has happened.
We sat in there pouring water over ourselves for about half an hour and I couldn't resist throwing a bowl full of water at Jan, who squealed and called me a wicked girl. It was on for young and old then, water fight in the Hammam. I was then taken away to another room and made to lay on a table where I was exfoliated and massaged and then covered in bubbles and suds, absolute heaven. I also had my hair washed, always a funny sensation having my hair washed by someone else.
After our bath, we went back to the hotel, where I brushed my hair and composed myself. I then went back to the lamp shop and had tea and sheesha with Masoud for about an hour. I don't think how tired I really was had registered because the water pipe had a massive effect on me, more than usual. I began to feel like I was flying and knew it was time to stop and say good night to the guys. Tomorrow is the last morning of one of the best tours I have ever run and I have to say goodbye to one of the best groups I've ever had.