A Cultural Week in Istanbul 21-28 April, 2012
We had a wonderful week in Istanbul, with perfect weather for rambling around. It’s a fascinating city and struck me as surprisingly western, despite the ubiquitous head scarves and more complete forms of cover (burqa, chador, niqab, hijab – the definitions seem to be rather complicated).
It was interesting watching one lady consume an ice cream – the veil is clearly better suited to ice-cream consumption than the all-in-one burqa would be, though smoking would be a no-no (or at least one hopes so).
However, the city is very welcoming to tourists, with excellent hotels, restaurants and public transport, making it easy to get around and see the superb museums and other sites. We visited the Hagia Sofia, of course, and marvelled at the huge dome seemingly floating in space. It must be one of the wonders of the world.
We spent many hours walking through the city, watching the people and the stalls selling chestnuts and sweet corn (in April!) or mussels, ending up with tea at one of the top cafes in the city, with a huge choice of very sweet cakes, desserts and pastries.
Then there was the Spice Bazaar, a feast for the eyes with its colourful displays of exotic wares, and the Grand Bazaar for jewellery, rugs and presents.
To give us a break from walking, there were two boat trips – the first to the largest of the Princes’ Islands, where Trotsky lived after he left Russia and before he moved to France and then to Mexico. His house was up for sale for 5 million euros – a mere snap, with the way the euro is plummeting. Its location is gorgeous, overlooking the Sea of Marmara. We were tempted!
Another day we did the Bosphorus cruise – a lazy day sitting on a ferry in brilliant sunshine, admiring the summer palaces of sultans on shore. We did have a short but steep hike up to a ruined castle for a view of the Black Sea, a good spot to enjoy the fish sandwich we’d bought on the quayside.
Then there was the evening of Whirling-Dervishes-for-tourists – interesting, although rather expensive, especially as they didn’t whirl as fast as we’d been expecting. Whether they attained union with a higher power was difficult for us to ascertain.
And of course all the other remarkable sights: Topkapi Palace and the incredible decorations in the Harem, the Basilica Cistern, and the Blue Mosque, which some of us hired a local guide to visit. All this plus excellent food – definitely a city to return to!