Istanbul (not Constantinople) – Sunday

Feasted on our first breakfast buffet which duly set us up for a day’s sight seeing. We ferried over to Uskadar ands thence to Eminonu, and took the tram up the Sultanahmet.

First stop was Aya Sophia, disappointingly half filled with scaffolding, such that the nave was inaccessible and the tremendous ceiling obscured. Lots of tourist parties, and cold inside.

Next stop were the Baths of Lady Hurrem, now a state run rug shop, but the inside of the baths have been restored to provide an inventive to peruse the rugs in a splendid setting. and it was warm!

En route to the Blue Mosque we went to the beautifully tiled tomb of the Blue Mosque’s patron, Sultan Ahment I, filled with green baize covered tombs of the Ottoman sultans I learned about in A-level European history. Well worth the 1m TL donation, and the chilled feet – gorgeous tiles and painted ceiling.

The Blue Mosque, aka Sultan Ahmed Camii, proved the highlight of the day, even with the touts trying to persuade us into the carpet/souvenir shops. Each one of them seemed to have a friend or relation living in London! Stunning tiles, painted ceiling and carved exterior, and fantastical huge and curving light holders. They’re not really chandeliers, but impressive and elaborate light providers at least.

After a warming, albeit small, hot chocolate in the famous Pudding Shop (which is definitely no longer the hippie hangout it used to be according to the newspaper cuttings adorning the walls), we moved on to the Topkapi palace where yet again we encountered the Turkish state’s 15m TL pricing double whammy. We elected to give the Treasury a miss, and see how we felt about shelling out for the Harem once we’d had a look inside the main palace. The Agia Sophia had not been a good introduction the Turkish monument VFM.

The Topkapi Palace was fascinating, particularly the sultans wardrobes, with 16th century robes bearing patterns looked like they as inspired by the 1970s. The talismanic paper shirts were equally impressive – hard to believe that the oldest have survived over 500 years. The views from the lower courtyards were lovely, and the Baghdad Kiosk (built by Sultan Murat IV to celebrate his victory over the city of Baghdad in 1638 – hmm, wonder what Geo. Bush Jr will do….) beautifully decorated with more Iznik tiles. It must be a lovely spot in summer, but by 4pm the warmth had gone from the generally overcast day, and we ended up taking a taxi back to the Conrad, in suitable style.

After a hour or so’s snooze, we went to check out the eating options, not feeling able to shell out on $ price room service, we sought a local recommendation from the info desk. Their suggestion proved decidedly un-veggie friendly, and we ended up stuffing ourselves in more relaxed environment of the local equivalent of IHOP, except these were very filling turkish savoury filled pancakes. Although eyes turned out to be too big for tummies, I really enjoyed it!

Before attempting our first uphill walk to the Conrad, we nipped into the Tansas to stock up on a 5l bottle of water and Nestlé fruit and nut chocolate, the yummy dark chocolate variety. TV films not a patch on last night’s Carlos the Jackal epic, starring contact lens wearing Aidan Quinn (to provide different colour eyes, so that you could tell when he was Carlos, and when he was the guy impersonating him….)

09 February 2014: for photos see my Flickr set Istanbul, March 2003