Istanbul

30 Sep

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Istanbul has long been on my bucket list. Blame it on novels of Constantinople, the Golden Horn and the Sultan’s Harem. Consequently I was worried about having pre-conceived expectations and had to do my best to remember that this is a modern city that attracts huge numbers of tourists. The largely low-rise sprawl of the new and the quiet, rather ramshackle, cobbled streets of the old city came as a pleasant surprise then.
We’d carefully chosen a small hotel, more of a guest house really, in the old quarter, with the major attractions in reasonable walking distance. The gleaming glimpses of the Bosphorus soon had us heading down to the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn, Istanbul’s famous port. The gaggle of tripper boats tied up at the quay and jostling around the bridge as they maneuvered the entrance along with all the small stalls selling toasted sweetcorn, roast chestnuts, fresh mussels and all manner of pastries to the throng of tourists, at first seemed a world away from its past as the centre of Eastern trade. In fact, it was probably not so different. The dockside cranes unloading their cargos may have moved and the whole area been rather sanitised but the hustle and trading, the multitude of foreigners all trying to make themselves understood, would surely have been the same.
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Not wanting to bore you with a travelogue, nevertheless I must mention that joining the locals on a ferry boat trip around the Bosphorus rather than succumbing to the numerous touts trying to sell tickets is by far the best way to go if you’re not too worried about a guide. For a paltry sum you get to see just as much.
At the top of my list of “must see” sites was the Topkapi Palace. Fortunately, Neil was happy to go along with this – as long as we went early to avoid the horrendous queues we’d seen as we arrived. We were literally the first through the turnstiles to the Harem. Rather disappointingly, large chunks were closed for renovations but it was still possible to imagine the past, particularly the enclosed atmosphere that must have prevailed. I was struck by what it must have been like to see a tantalising glimpse of the outside world over the walled courtyards overlooking the distant port.
Another tourist tip: the cafe inside the palace may look very tempting but the prices are literally double (four times outside the city) what you would pay elsewhere. It’s the only time we felt ripped off. There are no prices on display so consider yourself warned!
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Our visit coincided with the Eid holiday when some tourist sites have later opening times and the mosques close at specific times to allow for prayers. So we were a bit caught out on our second day and had to change our plans. Instead of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque we once again headed for the Galata Bridge, this time crossing the water and heading up (it’s always up) to the Galata Tower. However, there is an incredibly slow lift to take you most of the way up the tower itself and it really is worth it for the views over the city. We returned to the old Sultanahmet district by way of the Suleymaniye Mosque (yes, all uphill again), grabbed a lunchtime flat bread and were stopped in our steps aghast at the queues for the yet to open Hagia Sophia. Our horror must have been written all over our faces as we were immediately approached by a guide offering to get us in straight away. I’m not sure about the ethics of this tactic and we were certainly given some rather pointed looks but there’s no way we would have visited otherwise. No such guide appeared for the Blue Mosque, though. We gave it a miss.

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2 Responses to “Istanbul”

  1. Stuart December 20, 2015 at 4:28 pm #

    Hi Cathy, I’ve been following your blog for ages now. Very few blogs can last in my Reader favourites, but yours continues to capture my attention, and is one I know I can look forward to. So I’ve nominated you for a blog award in my latest post, to say thank you for a really interesting read!

    • lamputts December 22, 2015 at 8:56 am #

      Thank you so much, Stuart. I’m enormously flattered.

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