BY SUSAN WALKER
If you have been following along with the last two editions, you will recall that Don and I had a chance to sail on the beautiful Celebrity Reflection from Athens to Istanbul in June.
Our disembarkation from Istanbul was surprisingly smooth and we were soon greeted by our tour guide who escorted us to our lovely hotel before we headed out for a walk to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar.
Our tour guide directed us into the Blue Mosque where I was required to wear a robe that covered me from my shoulders right down to my feet. From the Blue Mosque we walked across the square to the Hagia Sophia where the history in this one building was incredible.
A year ago the line up to go in and see this spectacular building would have taken us a couple of hours. However, in the light of what had been happening with tourism, we were able to walk right in and spend all the time we wanted touring this magnificent building. From here we continued down to the Grand Bazaar while our tour guide filled us in on what it was like to live in Turkey especially Istanbul and the changes he had seen with the new government. Our guide took us to one of the oldest Turkey coffee shops and showed us the proper way to drink Turkey coffee while at the same time in a soft voice told us more of what was really happening in Turkey. Having a private guide really gives you the insight of what life is like. He recommended we book a private guide to the Topkapi Palace for the next day, which he arranged for us and made sure we had his card in case we needed him for everything.
Our next day was on our own and we had time before our tour of the Topkapi Palace to jump on the hop on hop off bus so we could see the rest of this amazing city. The route took us over the bridge to Asia which is still Istanbul and then it turns around and comes back to Europe. Along this route we stopped off at the Egyptian Spice Market and once again immersed ourselves into the sights, sounds of this amazing city.
The next morning, we had another tour guide pick us up and with the driver drove us to the airport. Our guide escorted us all the way to our check in and once we were confirmed with boarding pass in hand he bid us farewell. From here we were flying Turkish Airlines for our next four days in Rome.
After a quick flight to Rome we once again were met by a private driver to take us to our hotel in Rome. Our hotel was in the same piazza as the Pantheon. When we checked into our room we were delighted to open our window and look right down into the Piazza and have the Pantheon right in front of us.
From this hotel we had about a 10 minute walk to the Colosseum and with our front of the line pass, we were able to walk right into the Colosseum. If you are not going on a tour group, this is certainly the way to not waste your time standing in line.
Our next morning, we were happy to find out that we were the only ones on our walking tour of Rome. We saw all the highlights – The Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain ending at the Piazza Navona. After a quick lunch we met up and had another skip the line pass of the Vatican, and the Sistine Chapel. The rest of our days were spent on our own time and due to our location of our hotel we walked to all kinds of amazing piazzas and found lots of great wine places to sit and enjoy the scenery.
The next day was my highlight to finally see Pompeii and to show Don the Amalfi Coast. As with most of our tours we were fortunate to be by ourselves with our own guide. Pompeii was very interesting and while it did not live up to what I was expecting it is certainly great to mark another destination off the bucket list. From there we drove the Amalfi Coast and I found it as spectacular the second time as I had the first.
Our final day we decided to leave it free so we could experience Rome on our own and once again we purchased a hop on hop off pass. We ended our day at