By Azamara Club Cruises on Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Istanbul, Turkey is where West meets East, and tourists can visit Europe and Asia in the same day. The city is an exotic, fascinating mix of old and new. World travel expert Lee Abbamonte wrote “Istanbul can be maddening at times, but Istanbul is a treat for the senses and will take your breath away. It is one of my favorite cities in the world.”
We currently have 28 voyages that begin or end in Istanbul. Once you book, you might want to extend your vacation by a few days to explore this incredible city. Or, make the most of your time in Istanbul by choosing a Land Discoveries tour that will help you hit all the highlights. Our voyages feature late-night departures and overnight stays, so there’s no need to rush. Though Istanbul itself is a bustling metropolis, your time there shouldn’t feel hectic. After all, you’re on vacation!
Istanbul has lots to offer, but we’ve narrowed down the list to five things you must experience while you’re there.
Istanbul is home to many incredible museums that highlight the city’s rich history. Topkapi Palace (pictured here) was home to Ottoman Sultans (and their harems) for over 300 years, but is now a museum. Visit to see the grandeur of the palace, the famous Topkapi Diamond, and other historical treasures.
The famous Hagia Sophia was once a church, then a mosque, and is now a museum. This makes it one of the most interesting places in Istanbul, both historically and architecturally. You’ll see both Ottoman and Byzantine influences under one great dome, as well as spectactular Byzantine mosaics that weren’t uncovered and refurbished until 1930.
For those with a deeper interest in history, the Istanbul Archaelogy Museums are a highlight and can be found near Topkapi Palace.
Istanbul’s Blue Mosque is the city’s most famous mosque, and absolutely worth visiting. From the outside, you may wonder how the mosque got its name. Inside, the Blue Mosque is covered with 20,000 spectacular, shimmering blue-green tiles. 260 stained glass windows and intricate floral patterns painted on the ceiling give the mosque a bright, airy atmosphere very different from the experience of the Hagia Sophia.
Of course, the Blue Mosque is not the only beautiful mosque in Istanbul. The Süleymaniye Mosque is the second-largest in the city, and features a grand courtyard. At Rüstem Pasha, you’ll find the best examples of Iznik tiles (the distinctive Ottoman decoration) in all of Istanbul.
Turkish cuisine is diverse, flavorful and world-renowned. Indulging in street food is a must, as well as enjoying a leisurely late-night dinner. (There’s another reason to be thankful that Azamara ships stay late in port – great cuisine should never be rushed!)
Döner: Turkey’s most popular street food, a sandwich filled with meat (usually lamb) that has been thinkly sliced from a rotating spit.
Börek: Phyllo pastries with a variety of fillings, like ground meat, cheese and spinach.
Meze: Instead of a main course, order these shareable plates of cold starters. Eggplant, artichokes, yogurt, chilis and tomatos are common ingredients.
Midye: Mussels (and seafood in general) are popular in Istanbul. You’ll see roving vendors carrying baskets piled with shells, which have been stuffed with mussels, rice, herbs and spices. At snack bars, look for mussels that have been battered and fried.
Kumpir: Huge baked potatos, taken hot out of the oven and split, then filled with a variety of toppings – cheese, pickles, olives and more. It’s not uncommon to ask for six or seven ingredients. The kumpir-maker mixes everything up and stuffs it back into the potato skin.
Simit: Sesame-coated bread rings. Simit is the ultimate street food – cheap, delicous, easy to eat and seemingly available on every corner.
Baklava: A popular Turkish dessert made with phyllo pastry, nuts and syrup.
Turkish Tea and Coffee: Turkish black tea is the national drink, and consumed plentifully. Turks often add cubed sugar, but never lemon or milk. Turkish coffee is made with sugar and very finely ground coffee. It’s typically double- or triple-boiled, with some of the grinds remaining in the bottom of the cup. The result is a strong, flavorful cup of coffee that is traditionally served with a glass of water.
Rugs, linens, fabrics, jewelry, art, antiques, spices, ceramics… the list of things to buy in Istanbul is endless! Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. It spans 61 streets, is home to over 3,000 shops and attracts anywhere from 250,000 to 400,000 daily visitors. Bring your bargaining skills, and take your time as you wander this incredible complex.
Photo Credit: Azamara guest Diane
Sometimes night is the best part of your day. In Istanbul, that couldn’t be truer. The city is vibrant and fun-loving, and comes alive after dark. Settle in at a meyhame for platters of hot and cold meze, or find a great rooftop patio where you can sip a cocktail and take in the views.
This June voyage embarks from Dubrovnik, Croatia and visits several popular Greek ports before concluding with an overnight stay in Istanbul.
By Bonnie MacLaird, Chief Blogging Officer, Azamara Club Cruises on Monday, March 23, 2015
Almost exactly a year ago I was attending my first of many meetings with Azamara Club Cruises and the very elegant British woman in charge of our marketing for the United Kingdom used the word ‘bespoke’ in reference to selling our cruises in the UK market. I jotted the word down with a note to look it up. Of course I had seen the word written but hearing it out loud brought me up short. It sounded somewhat Shakespearean. And frankly I was not sure I understood what she meant to convey by the use. As an aside I’ll point out that the word is used throughout our brochures and website, and I have even seen the use of it skewered a bit on a social media forum I monitor. Still, due to lack of time or attention span, I had not looked it up.
So fast forward to last night where one would have found me at home watching a Masterpiece Mystery on PBS (Grantchester) while, coincidentally, flipping through a friend’s copy of “The English Home” magazine. What do I see but the word ‘bespoke’ sprinkled throughout in articles and promotions, such as “Bespoke Furniture for your Home” and “Bespoke Hand Painted Tiles” and again I wonder, just what are they trying to convey? So merely one year tardy I looked it up online:
“Bespoke is an adjective for anything commissioned to a particular specification. It may be altered or tailored to the customs, tastes or usage of an individual purchaser. Synonyms are ‘custom-made’, ‘made to order’, and ‘made to measure’. Antonyms are ‘Off-the-shelf’ and ‘ready-to-wear’. The word bespoke is derived from the verb to bespeak, meaning to ‘speak for something’. The particular meaning of the verb form given in the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘to speak for, to arrange for, engage beforehand: to ‘order’ (goods)’, is first cited from 1583. The term is generally more prevalent in British English, for example, bespoke jewellery. American English, on the other hand, tends to use the word ‘custom’ instead, as in custom car, custom motorcycle etc.” (Source)
Ah ha! It means custom-made. In the case of our line’s publicity you will see it used throughout, such as “To add to your experience, we now include an exclusive, bespoke, authentic AzAmazing Evenings event on most voyages.” In this example it is meant to convey that each voyage will include a unique (made-to-order for that voyage) evening event ashore.
Or a word search of our website will result in various hits, most about tours, but here’s one I found about coffee: “At Mosaic Café, the ships’ central gathering spot, guests can purchase a freshly brewed cup of bespoke coffee or tea.”
I can attest to drinking many cups of bespoke coffee at the Mosaic Café while aboard the Journey this past fall. In fact I now realize I am a master at brewing a bespoke pot of coffee for my husband and myself nearly every morning! Ok, I jest a bit. I am happy to now know how to use the word in a sentence. And I am proud to be a part of a company that does do things differently, not in cookie-cutter fashion.
Note to the yet-to-cruise on Azamara…this is one of the least stuffy lines I have ever sailed. There will be no vocabulary quiz onboard!
Footnote: It turns out its usage is on the upswing according to Google.
Here are a few recommended “bespoke” voyages this summer:
By Azamara Club Cruises on Thursday, March 19, 2015
Beaches are great, but there’s more to summer than sunbathing. Imagine strolling down the cobblestoned streets of a village that appears to be straight from the pages of a fairytale, or cruising through mystical Fjords highlighted by picturesque waterfalls. The natural beauty of Northern Europe is best experienced in the summer, and it will take your breath away.
Belfast is no longer a destination that travelers should avoid. The city has undergone quite the transformation and visitor numbers are on the rise. Find Donegall Square in the heart of the city to see the Edwardian City Hall, and the Titanic Memorial. Afterwards, grab a pint at the Crown Liquor Saloon, a Victorian pub dating back to the 1880s.
Copenhagen is known for its skyline of spires, its colorful waterfront and its beautiful parks. Explore Tivoli Gardens, or cruise the canals with our Land Discoveries tour.
Douglas, Isle of Man
Douglas on the Isle of Man is small, but definitely worth visiting. Charming cafes and restaurants line the sea front, gardens brighten up quaint streets, and the island’s village of Cregneash is home to the fascinating Manx community.
A cruise through the Norwegian Fjords might remind some of Disney’s hit film Frozen. It’s a place so magical, you’ll think you must have entered a fairytale. A small luxury cruise ship is the ultimate way to explore the fjords and see the spectacular Seven Sisters Waterfalls.
When our ships dock in Edinburgh (Leith), Scotland, we often spend several nights. You’ll be thrilled to have so much time to explore this incredible city. Begin your day at Edinburgh Castle, perched high above the city.
The quiet seaside town of Cobh in County Cork is your gateway to this stunning part of Ireland. Explore Cobh’s hitosry of seafaring and relationship with the Titanic, see the fortress and monestrey on Spike Island, or take the train to the charming village of Cork.
Traditional architecture meets modern design in Helsinki. Visit Kauppatori Market Square to find fresh, local food and unique handicrafts. Join our Land Discoveries tour, and you’ll visit one of the largest ice bars in the world. How cool is that?
Fans of the British TV series Broadchurch have all fallen in love with the show’s locale, England’s stunning Jurassic Coast. Dover’s steep white cliffs and sparkling ocean made for a stunning panorama, so pack your camera.
Honningsvag, Norway, is the last village before North Cape and home to only 4,000 people. From Honningsvag, you can the majestic cliff of North Cape where the Atlantic meets the Arctic.
St. Petersburg, Russia
Enjoy several days exploring art and history in St. Petersburg, Russia. The stunning Catherine Palace (pictured here), the Hermitage, Peter and Paul Fortress and the Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood are only a few of the city’s must-see spots. Land Discoveries tours can help you make the most of your time in port.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
Portree, Scotland is your gateway to the magical Isle of Skye. Soak in the ambiance of rolling green hills, thick misty air and rugged coastline. The spectacular Quirang hike will leave you breathless. This is what Scotland is all about.
Guernsey, Channel Islands
If you’re in a book club, there’s a good chance you’ve read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The work of fiction brings Guernsey during wartime to life for readers. The small island of Guernsey was occupied by Germans during WWII, a fact that makes it such an interesting place to visit today.
Love sports? Music? History? There’s something for everyone in Liverpool. The city is home to excellent rugby, football (or, soccer, to Americans) and golf, and is the birthplace of The Beatles.
Tromso, Norway is situated far North of the Arctic Circle, and boasts a dramatic landscape of snowcapped mountains, stunning fjords and scattered islands. The town’s Arctic Cathedral is an architecural masterpiece, with eleven arching triangles representative of icebergs.
The fairytale-like town of Tallinn, Estonia will charm you immediately. There’s no need to rush here. Find a seat at an outdoor cafe along the Palace Square and enjoy your surroundings.
Montenegro is a small European nation that not many people know about, but everyone should. Born out of the 1990s war that created the new Balkan nations, Montenegro has benefitted greatly from its tremendous Adriatic Sea location, stunning vistas and old towns. It seems Montenegro gets lost in the shuffle of the European giants as far as tourism goes, but I am telling you that you need to see Montenegro!
Make no mistake, the best parts of Montenegro are the small towns and sites on the Adriatic, easily accessible from cruise ships. My favorite town in Montenegro is Kotor.
Kotor is a picture perfect place with a well-maintained old town; which is a labyrinth of little streets, shops, cafes and pathways. Just walk around and get lost in the beauty of a true gem. Then don’t forget to hike up to the top of the hill for some stunning views of the only fjords in Southern Europe. The views are to die for but keep in mind, it is a strenuous hike and in the summer the temperatures can get pretty hot with little shade along the way. So bring plenty of water and monitor yourself.
Not far from Kotor, is Perast in Boka Bay. This is another great little old town to visit with the highlight being the ‘Our Lady of the Rock’ little island church. There are frequent water taxis that head out to this great site and it should not be missed. The views alone of the mountains surround Kotor Bay are worth it to make you feel really small!
Budva is another great coastal town in Montenegro that is very popular with tourists as it should be. Probably my favorite thing to see or do in and around Budva is go to Sveti Stefan or St. Stephen.
It is another small island easily accessible from the mainland and is photogenic to a tee. It’s also a popular place with A-List celebrities including the Queen of England herself! Sveti Stefan is a very glamorous place and is not to be missed in Montenegro.
Inland from the coast there is also a lot to see and do in Montenegro including some excellent National Parks. I think the two best are Skadarsko Lake and Durmitor. Skadarsko is about a 20-minute drive from the coast. It has a beautiful river that connects the lake to the Adriatic and creates a gorgeous natural setting with lovely mountains breaking it up creating tremendous views. The river is shared between Montenegro and Albania but the best part is in Montenegro for sure. Durmitor is a great place to do fun outdoor activities; you can even bungee jump!
The capital of Podgorica is also an interesting place to pop into but I wouldn’t spend a huge amount of time there. The highlights of Montenegro are on the coast and the majority of your time should be spent exploring the old towns and natural beauty.
Ahh, Athens. The cradle of European civilization and the birthplace of democracy. That’s quite a reputation! Athens offers incredible sightseeing opportunities for tourists, thanks to the immense history of the city. But there’s another side to Athens, too. Resident Athenians and visiting night owls have been showcashing the incredible beauty of the city after dark using the hashtag #AthensByNight on Instagram. We searched through thousands of photos and selected ten of our favorites to share.
Athens glows at night. It’s the perfect city to take a few days to explore, before or after your cruise. Azamara Club Cruises has sixteen upcoming voyages that embark or disembark in nearby Piraeus.
The Acropolis is a wondrous place to visit during the day, but it’s even more beautiful when it’s lit up at night. In the evening, find a rooftop bar that faces the historic site and enjoy a glass of Ouzo and your breathtaking surroundings. Though hotel bars aren’t often frequented by locals, “A” for Athens in Monastiraki is an exception. The Terrace Bar at Central Hotel is another favorite. Wherever you go, arrive early to ensure you get a good view.
Culture lovers will enjoy Athens in the summer, when you can easily find outdoor concerts, folk dance and theater performances. The Lykavittós theatre is a magical venue, carved into rock and perched high above the city, close to the summit of Mount Lykavittós.
Athens is a foodie paradise. If you’re eating at a restaurant, check out what locals are ordering and follow suit. But don’t leave Athens without ordering a traditional Greek salad at least once. Horiatiki is a rustic salad made with tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, Kalamata olives and delicious feta cheese. No matter how great a Greek salad you think you’ve had before, it won’t compare to the real thing in Greece.
You also may want to try tyropita (cheese pies), souvlaki (kebabs), tyropita (cheese pies), and a tasty dessert of Greek coffee and baklava. Don’t forget to indulge in some street food! Greece is famous for its gyros. Gyro actually means “turn”, and the sandwich gets its name from the meat roasted on a vertical spit. The pita is filled with meat, onions, tomatos, french fries and tzatziki sauce.
Make your way to the Plaka neighborhood in Athens one evening. Plaka sits beneath the Acropolis, is the oldest section of Athens and is a favorite part of the city for many. You’ll be instantly charmed by the cobblestone streets lined with tavernas, cafes and shops. Sit back, sip on a frappé (a popular iced coffee drink) and enjoy the sounds of nearby street musicians.
While you’re in Plaka, visit Brettos. This old-fashioned distillery dates back to 1909, and draws guests in with its colorful, unique decor. The distillery boasts over 30 flavors of liquors, based on delicious Mediterranean fruits, herbs and spices. You can also sample Greek wines by the glass.
At Syntagma Square, you’ll find the Greek Parliament building. Visit during the day to witness the Changing of the Guards (this occurs every hour), but return at night for another photo opportunity – the illuminated building is beautiful.
World traveler Lee Abbamonte wrote a blog about visiting Athens and said: “…Ask the locals what’s good when you’re there, if you want a little off the beaten path. Athenians love to help tourists and share their city.”