Big hollow building built >1,000 years after the Hagia Sophia.
City Tour Rating:
Istanbul is a magnificent stop. Lots of exotic mix of eastern and western cultures. The Hagia Sophia is breathtaking. The Blue Mosque is OK, but was built 1,000 years after the Hagia Sophia and does not have nearly the history and engineering feats of the 6th century Hagia. We booked an all day tour with Ekol Travel (based in Kusadasi) and Aylin was superb. We did eat a very nice lunch at a courtyard cafe; the food was excellent but VERY expensive for lunch. For an added adventure, take the ferry over to Kadikoy; the evenings are bustling with cafes (try Ciya Sofrasi) and hordes of locals (always a good sign). Be sure to check the return ferry schedule before you depart.
Grand Bazaar Rating:
Enormous array of shops. There are many intriguing specialty shops, although many of the shops sell the same junk. Bargain hard.
Hagia Sofia Rating:
Topkapi Walking Tour Rating:
Very impressive. We found the Harem section worth the extra money.
Very nice Austrian re-construction of the original.
House of the Virgin Mary Rating:
Whether it is or is not the actual House of Virgin Maqry, it is where the faithful (of which I am one) celebrate the exemplary and inspiring life of Mary. Many religious shrines may not be the actual spot of the claimed event, they are always where the events are celebrated.
Ravello is so very picturesque. Glad we saw it and can now skip a future trip to spend a week there. Once you see the breathtaking views, there isn't much else. I would much rather go to Cinque Terra to the north.
We skipped Naples city and went directly to Pempeii, then Ravello (Amalfi Coast), and Herculaneum (Ercolano). Busy day, but well worth it.
Not many tourists go to Herculaneum, but the houses and other buildings are much better preserved than Pompeii.
Pompeii Walking Tour Rating:
The audio self-tour was very good. We could go at our own pace (probably faster than most). Don't miss the directional marker on the main street pointing down the alley to the Lupanare (brothel). Loved the ancient fast-food stalls serving take-out.
NOTE: By booking our own transportation from ship, we arrived 15 min before opening and could experience Pompeii for an hour or more before the massive hordes of buses arrived. Quite a different experience before the tourists ruin the atmosphere.