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All is well in Istanbul

Before I depart for Turkey, I question whether the current demonstrations in Istanbul would hinder my trip in anyway. However, I am very pleased to advise that all is well in Istanbul, despite the recent media hype. Yes there are demonstrations taking place, but from a tourist perspective, you will be hard pushed to see them.

As I am staying in the Pera district, just a short drive from Taxsim square, my curiosity gets the better of me and I ask my taxi driver to take me there; but today it is empty of people. There is an increased police presence and at certain points along the Bosphoros, but only out of precaution. Most are sat chatting with colleagues and drinking Chai.

The atmosphere on this side of the city is great fun with contemporary bars, eateries and chic hotels. A welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of the tourist crowds in Sultanhamet, the old quarter of the city.

As the guide books will tell you, Istanbul is a melting pot of East meets West and not a truer word can be said. Visible in the way people dress and the ancient buildings sitting alongside modern apartments and high rise structures. Talking to my various guides you also sense the dilemma between those looking to be a part of Europe and those wishing to retain their Eastern roots. “It’s a salad”, to quote my local Turkish guide.

A few of my highlights…..The Blue Mosque with its ornate interior, decorated in beautiful blue hand painted Iznik tiles. The Agia Sofia, a former Byzantine church, converted to a mosque by the Ottomans, with its wonderfully intricate mosaics that adorn the walls, only recently uncovered from the blanket of white wash that had them hidden for many years. The Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. A complete sensory overload. A word of warning! Be prepared to fine tune your bartering skills and spend a good couple of hours here as, like I did, you lose yourself in the maze of 60 alleyways and 3,000 shops!

I also spent a very worthwhile morning at Topkapi Palace. A former residence of Sultan Mehmett II. It is an oasis in the heart of the city, made up of a series of pavilions and gardens. Now a museum, the highlight for me is the treasury with its wealth of precious stones and jewellery and the beautiful, perfectly preserved imperial kaftans, as worn by the Sultans at that time.

I end my stay with a cruise on the Bosphoros, spending a glorious three hours seeing the city from a completely different perspective. This was my chance to also spend a bit of time on the Asian side. Very green, less populated and with lots of lovely little fishing villages dotting the shoreline.

Istanbul is a huge city with a population of almost 13 million and probably just as many vehicles. It reminds me a lot of Cairo, but without the smog. I’ve only scratched the surface during my three days here, and cannot wait to go back….