I'm posting this pretty late because, as mentioned in the last post, there are no tubes for the internets in italia.
By coincidence, after leaving India we were scheduled to go to the two capitals of the Roman Empire: Istanbul (Constantinople) and Rome.
We went to Istanbul first from India. We had a 3 day stopover there before continuing to Rome.
Entering Istanbul from India felt like entering Europe, despite what the French might have to say about it. Our last day in India had been fairly chaotic, hot, and surrounded by lots of people. We had a marathon journey -- we left Varanasi by plane at noon, arrived in Delhi, and then had to catch a 4am flight to Istanbul, so we didn't bother getting a hotel room. We spent our last few hours in India in a packed airport waiting area that was dusty from current construction. We tried to sleep on top of a luggage cart piled with our bags and were tired enough that it sorta worked.
We arrived in Istanbul the next morning. In contrast to India, it was very quiet, cold, clean, and there were well trimmed gardens and flowers everywhere. (Apparently the sultans loved tulips, so Istanbul is full of beautiful tulips that are meticulously tended to.) It felt refreshing almost instantly, as I think we were looking forward to some order after the relative chaos of India.
Of course there are many ways that Istanbul did not feel European -- the muslim call to prayer is played on loudspeakers from all the mosques, which is not something you normally hear in Europe. While many people dress very fashionably (definitely more fashion-conscious than Americans), there are a significant number of women with full hijabs, and even more with headscarfs and modest clothing.
We wished we had more time to spend in Turkey. We didn't venture outside the city at all. Inside the city we saw the popular sights like the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and some amazing old Byzantine Christian frescoes and mosaics.
One of the coolest places we saw was an underground cistern built by the Romans that was only recently discovered. It's right underneath one of the main squares of historical Constantinople, and it's enormous, e.g. the size of a football field, and 4 stories deep. It's hard to believe no one knew it was there. There's currently a few feet of water in the bottom of it, in which fish fish swim around in the eery mood lighting. We wondered what the fish feed on. (perhaps errant tourists)
We also had some fantastic Turkish food, including doener kebabs, and lamb at almost every meal. The lamb was perfectly spiced every time - or perhaps lamb just tastes that good on it's own? Despite the following picture, we did eat at more places than McDonald's. The McDonald's in Turkey had a very interesting menu, though. Besides India, it's one of the places we've been with the most different menu from in the US. They had a lot of lamb burgers.
I wanted to make like odysseus, so we considered spending more time in turkey and traveling towards italy via boat through the greek islands. We could see Athens along the way. This plan fell through, though, because it's low season and we read that many of the ferries were only operating twice a week, and we didn't want to get stuck in the islands for weeks. Instead we kept our flight and went straight to rome.