07 November 2018 | Severn Beach - 7,563 NM
Damp, grey and cold
Freya's lift went smoothly and she was in her cradle by 09.30 giving us a full day to start ticking off all the jobs that put her to bed for the winter. We had a busy day and all went to plan until we removed the engine impeller and found a blade missing which means we have a lump of rubber somewhere inside the engine - ummm! We met up with Graham, the Australian on another Westerly we'd met in Lipsoi for dinner in the local taverna before climbing the ladder to bed (I hate staying on Freya on the hard!). There were a few more jobs left for the next day but we squeezed in a walk around the bay before Graham picked us up and gave us a lift to Lakki to catch the overnight ferry to Athens.
We'd booked a cabin on the ferry rather than rough it in the normal seats and were totally blown away by it. We had no idea what to expect with the cabin but it was quite luxurious with an ensuite including toiletries and slippers plus water etc. Very comfy! We arrived in Athens at 8.00 in the morning and went in search of the bus to the airport which involved negotiating the crowds waiting for other busses, walking across a big car park, climbing a barrier to a dingy spot under a bridge in the corner! The journey took about 1.5 hours and wasn't very comfortable but it was both very interesting and scenic as it went along Athen's coast. From there we flew to Istanbul.
Istanbul airport is very close to the city and so we took a taxi to our hotel driven by an amazing driver with clear ambitions in F1. Our hotel wasn't what we expected - very basic and no view as per booking.com. We debated for a while before talking to the very friendly guy on reception. He said there was nothing he could do that night but we could leave or stay and talk to his brother in the morning, which is what we did - initially we got the same response but eventually after ringing his booking.com agent and debating why our confirmation had a view when the hotel clearly didn't have one he moved us to another room which was a bit more comfortable and had a view of the Bosphorus - if we peered between the buildings.
We may not have been happy with our hotel but a walk on our first evening showed it was in a perfect location right between the Blue mosque and Agios Sophia. It was a lovely evening buying chestnuts from one of the many street vendors before dinner. In the morning we set off to explore. First stop was Agios Sophia where we had to queue for ages to get in! Once in it was impressive particularly as it dates back to the 6th century but there were so many tourists it was hard to appreciate it.
We then walked up the busy main road until we found ourselves by the Grand Bazaar which wasn't what we expected. It's more like an ancient mall with rows of shops than a market and although there were lots of shops selling tourist tack there was also sectors for jewellery and antiques plus courtyards with cafes where we had a delicious pide for lunch. When we couldn't take in anymore window shopping we emerged from the bazaar in a completely different place and had no idea where we were. Wandering on a bit further we found ourselves on the Golden Horn, Istanbul's other river where we had a little wander around the spice bazaar. Along the river were lots of stalls and restaurants selling fish sandwiches which we thought we'd love, but the smell of fish was so over powering we couldn't face eating them! We finished the day by walking along the river to the Bosphorus and back to our hotel exhausted!
The next day we thought a bit less walking was in order and made use of Istanbul's excellent tram system. First stop was the centre of modern Istanbul on the other side of the Golden Horn which involved a scenic tram ride followed by a funicular railway up to Taksim square. Once there we discovered a Sunday craft market and a Starbucks. We then walked down the main shopping street passing the old traditional tram on route to the Galata Tower where the queue was so long we decided not to go up. We then headed back to our hotel on another tram where we met our 'group' for a boat trip. We felt like cattle being herded down to the quay and then pushed onto a boat through a narrow gate in the railings! We were not happy at this point but the trip was fine taking in the city and bridges from the water as we cruised along the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. We couldn't miss the views and spent the whole trip, around 1.5 hours on deck in the cold wind. When we got back to land, the priority was to find a warm restaurant.
Day 3 started with the Topkapi Palace, the home of the Ottoman sultans for hundreds of years. It is in a wonderful spot on the confluence of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. The courtyards, gardens and architecture were amazing and really interesting - especially as there was no queue! We followed this with a visit to the Blue Mosque, again no queues but once we got in we realised why. The dome was being renovated and was completely covered! A bit disappointing. On the way in from the airport we passed impressive city walls which we thought needed investigating and so we took a tram that was heading that way and the walls were as impressive as they looked - huge, deep and imposing. From there we got another tram which appeared to be going in the right direction but it was a bit of a mystery. We got off and walked down hill through a residential area finishing by the Golden Horn in a very local area but with a really nice feel full of people, cafes and shops. Then we found a cable car going up a hill which was a big cemetery called Pierre Lote. From the top there were fab views over the city and we discovered chip kebabs which were spiralized potato's on a stick, fried and sprinkled with chilli and salt - delicious. From there we took the cable car back down and took the ferry and tram back.
We had a morning before our flight home and went to the Cistern Basillica as featured in James Bond and Dan Brown's Inferno. It was huge and very atmospheric built with odd pillars from random ruins including huge Medusa heads at the base of 2. Again it was a bit disappointing as it was being renovated which will be a lasting memory of Istanbul - along with people walking around with bandaged heads following hair transplants or nose jobs! We finished with a walk through the palace gardens admiring the interesting sculptures before heading for the airport and the end of another cruising year.