Sunday, 11 April 2010

Istanbul - first impressions

I have waited so long to visit Istanbul that it could easily be a disappointment. Early signs are encouraging, though. Getting here was easy enough - the flight was smooth and on time, our promised free hotel transfer showed up and initial impressions of the hotel are good. Safir Hotel is in a quiet pedestrianised street very close to the Topkapi Palace and Ali on reception was keen to explain what to see and how best to see it. Our room is traditionally furnished and quite compact but has everything we need, including bathrobes and free wi-fi.

It's cloudy and not very warm - in fact, I think it was warmer at home - but I can't wait to get out and explore. We had passed many of the key sites on the drive from the hotel, it's all very close by. Rather than head for these, we walk down to the waterfront. I'm immediately struck by how grey the people are; everybody wears dark, drab colours. There are vendors selling roasted chestnuts, bagels and fish sandwiches, and boats touting for passengers. We walk up as far as the Galata Bridge and quite by chance find ourselves at the New Mosque - which is still half  century old - and the spice market where we buy some sumac that we've been looking for at home.

For dinner we go to Hamdi's restaurant, recommended for its view across the Golden Horn. The view is certainly stunning but the service is rather quirky, with dishes arriving in  no particular order and then being whisked away before we've finished with them. We wander back to the hotel via the Topkapi Palace - there is some uncetainty about what time it opens so we want to check. No opening hours are on display but I'm so glad we went. The minarets of Aya Sophia are spectacular, illuminated against the night sky, and there are so few people about. I'm sure it will be very different in the morning.

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