Istanbul was in such contrast to Dubai with lots of very green trees and flowers everywhere.

It was cooler about 30degrees but also quite humid. We stayed across the road from the Grand Bazaar in a lovely family owned hotel the “Niles”. They have a beautiful rooftop terrace overlooking the sea of Marmara and serve a fantastic breakfast with delicious breads and salad,cheeses, very tasty tomatoes and their own olive oil as well as all the usual breakfast fare.

They won a “trip advisor” award and it was well deserved as they went out of their way to make us welcome with tea and turkish delight and gave us maps and tips on the city.

The first afternoon we wandered about and went to see the “Blue Mosque” and the Yerebatan Cistern which is a most amazing underground water reservoir built in 543AD. It is a beautiful structure and has a lovely tranquil quality in the half darkness notwithstanding the number of tourists wandering along its walkways. Drops of water drip from the roof continuously.

We had some fresh juice on the way back to the hotel. They have some interesting combinations with tamarind and fresh fruit juices as well as delicious pommegranate juice.

We asked the hotel for a recommendation for a very late lunch and we went down the road to a very local place where they didn’t speak much English but we managed to order a couple of dishes to which they added a mountain of various hot tasty breads. I just got a rude awakening when I ate what I throught was a large whole capsicum but it was the hottest chilli I’d ever eaten. Another person we met was caught out with the same thing.

We found the food in Istanbul was very reasonably priced and the vegetables were all extremely fresh and tasty and the grilled meat was spicy and delicious. The tomatoes which were blood red and tasted like the homegrown ones.

After breakfast on the terrace overlooking the many boats in the harbour we set out for the Topkapi palace with thousands of other tourists. It is an enormous palace with 180degree views over the Bosphorus to Asia and overlooking the sea of Marmara. The Harem where the sultan, his family, concubines and eunuchs lived has over 300 rooms and many of them are decorated with beautiful tiles from floor to ceiling. The palace has many separate buildings some of which house a wealth of artifacts from weaponry to carriages as well as an 86carat diamond which was very impressive.

We walked about 20minutes from there to the so named Egyptian Spice Market which was full of displays of spices and all forms of Turkish Delight some made with sugar and some with honey with many kinds of nuts. This market was extremely crowded and it seems it has become as popular than the Grand Bazaar which sells everything but was not as crowded.

We had nice bottle of champagne when we got back to the hotel to celebrate my birthday and then had a wonderful dinner of a mixed mezze plate and delicious lamb dishes at a lovely rooftop restaurant overlooking the sea. We loved the balmy nights there.

On the 10th July our last day in Istanbul we went to go to the Hagia Sofia museum but as there were hundreds of people waiting in line we decided to keep that for another time.

We caught the tram over the bridge to the other side of Istanbul and then caught the train through the tunnel to the Taksim district which is only a short trip but was contructed about 1870 about the same time as the London underground. From there we walked a long way up the main street which is very wide and mainly pedestrian apart from the old trams which run from the tunnel to the main square. There are many boutiques,cafes and restaurants everywhere.

We went back to the Sultanahmet area the same way and treated ourselves to a Turkish bath at the Cemberlitas Hamami which was built in 1584. It is between 40 and 60degrees but the women’s side was not so hot whereas Maurice said his side was much hotter.

It was very relaxing lying on the central round marble platform (I was going to say slab but that sounded a bit morbid) on the small sarong that they gave you. The ceiling is a dome with many holes to let in light. The two women who did the scrubbing and the soaping were not model types (picture Gina Rinehart in a black bra and bikini pants) but they scrubbed and soaped each person then scooped up lots of water and threw it over themselves to keep cool. They then took you over to a running tap and washed your hair and doused you with lots more cool water. I found it very envigourating. There were also side alcoves with water fountains running cold and hot water that you could mix and throw over yourself. We then had a 1/2 hour oil massage and we both looked very fresh and scrubbed by the time we came out – Maurice was still a bit comatose so we went into a lovely old  coffee house and had delicious walnut type baclava and a strawberry tart. I had a Turkish coffee which Maurice likened to black tar. The waitress also gave us a redish coloured piece with syrup  to try and asked us to guess what it was.  We thought maybe preserved fig but it was a tomato!  Tasted delicious.  I wouldn’t have thought of making a tomato into a sweet.  They had a long original marble trough were you could wash your hands.  They had these in various forms in the Grand bazaar and all over the city and it was good to be able to wash your hands and face and feet we saw in some instances.

We wandered down to the waterfront and sat for a long time overlooking the busy harbour and the locals swimming off a jetty and fishing off the rocks. We found a lovely little park and restaurant attached also overlooking the water and had an early dinner there which was very pleasant and then went to a sufi music concert and whirling dervishes ceremony which we very much enjoyed. It is amazing that the dervishes whirl for about 10minutes at a time with their eyes closed and they stay in the same spot and are perfectly stable when they stop.

We then headed back to the station for our bus/train ride to Bucharest.  We will definately come back to Istanbul.

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