The Sights of the Old City, Istanbul

A beautiful sunny autumn day. The perfect temperature for sighseeing – 17C – warm but not hot. Blue sky for the photos. We started with breakfast up on the roof terrace of our hotel. A very nice Turkish affair of bread, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, cold meat, cheeses, boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, jams, fruits., salads….. we made a good meal of it and it saw us through without lunch.

A small mishap before breakfast. I was in the shower, which was lovely, covered in soap from head to toe, literally just lathering my hair, when the water stopped flowing….. what to do? I managed to squeeze a kettle full out of the tap before it stopped there too and gave myself an inadequate rinse….. Bob rang reception. A problem, yes, we will fix it. To be fair, it was fixed by the time we finished breakfast….

We set off for our first stop: The Grand Bazaar. It was about 5 minutes walk away and we got there about 1015 while it was still quiet. What a place it is!!! Words fail me really. The covered part is just beautiful, gorgeous painted roofs and jewelled shops running off in all directions. Lovely displays of bright sweets and fruits. Bags of course. Whole lanes of jewellery shops. I particularly like the section labelled The Old Bazaar, which seems to house mainly antique collections. Fantastic aladdin’s cave shops full of treasures or at least things that look like treasures. You could spend all day and a fortune. Oh, of course there are amazing rug and carpet shops there too. Beautiful creations. If I was rich, I would fill a container with things and furnish my home with their wares…. The bazaar extends well beyond the covered area though into the tiny streets radiating off it in every direction. We wandered for some hours and then found a tea shop to sit and refresh ourselves with some local tea. I had mint and Bob had apple. It was a nice little place, very quirky and we needed to rest our feet.

On we went, wending downhill from the main bazaar into the local shopping streets leading down to the waterfront and the Spice Market or the Egyptian Bazaar. I’m always fascinated by these streets too, to see ordinary local people and what they are buying. We had a mooch around the spice market, loving the smell and the colours of the food displays in there. Emerged out onto the Eminou waterfront near the Galatea Bridge. Lots of fishermen up there as usual.

We sat for a while beside the Bosphous and watched the ferries go back and forth between Europe and Asia, the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. It was lovely. We also checked out the pier where we need to buy our round trip Bosphorus tickets tomorrow. There are so many piers and it can be very confusing, plus you have all manner of touts trying to sell you private boats which are very much more expensive than the ferries.

There are 2 cruise ships in town. It’s nearly the end of the cruise season and frankly Istanbul will be much the better when it is over. As the day progressed the crowds around the main tourist areas really built up to enormous proportions. I made a mental note to myself that in future the best time to visit would be November through April before it all starts. We’ve been lucky enough to see things like the Aghia Sofia and the Roman Cistern when you could just walk in, and almost be alone. The crowds for those sights today were like those lining up to visit the Vatican Museum in Rome. Truly daunting and destructive to any sense of atmosphere.Luckily we have been to those sites a number of times and had already decided not to visit today.

We walked on uphill again and into Sultanahmet, the old town proper. It was crowded up there but we walked in Sultanahmet Square and saw the Roman Hippodrome and the Egyptian Obelisk. It was very noticeable today that so many – many – of the main Ottoman era important buildings are being renovated. I mean….. so many…… It reminded me of our visit to St Petersburg in 2012 when we remarked that it was being restored as an Imperial Capital. I do wonder about plans for the future here…..

We ended our visits at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum which was a revelation. What an amazing place: an incredible collection of artifacts brilliantly displayed. It cost £4.50 to go in and we were very impressed by what we saw. Really, one of the very best museums of its type we have ever seen. One wing was given over to the display of tombs and sarcophagi, funeral steli etc. The tombs were the best I have ever seen. Incredible carving and sculpture, even with traces of the pigment left. And they were displayed beautifully with muralled walls and very atmospheric lighting. Not crowded in there and a pleasure to walk around. Another room had lovely jewellery including 3 incredible golden wreath crowns. And a whole wing of sculptures from the Greek and Roman time which were very well preserved and much more intact than many. The V&A have this summer returned the head of Cupid to one of the major sculptures and it was good to see that so beautifully displayed.

We had more tea in their gardens and then had a quick look around the Tiled Kiosk, a beautiful Ottoman palace now housing an outstanding ceramic collection including a lovely fountain. The building that housed the collection of Ancient Middle Eastern artifacts was closed for renovation.

We limped back to the hotel about 4pm for a lie down!!!!! We’d walked about 7 miles, climbed numerous steps and a lot of it over cobbles.

Tonight we went to another local restaurant for dinner – the Hamzade Terrace which we had been recommended. It was a great little spot on the roof of a small hotel overlooking the Bosphorus. The food was cooked on an open bbq in front of us and it was delicious and very reasonably priced. We started with a plate of mixed meze and then Bob had grilled chicken with chips, veg, rice, salad and special sauces. I had grillled lamb with the same accompaniments. Both were really good, very tender and succulent. Afterwards they brought us baklava for dessert and we had coffee. I had red wine and Bob had a large Efes Malt beer. It was about £47 including tip. Not as cheap as Cyprus by a long way but not too bad for the meal we’d had with drinks. Got chatting to a very nice American couple who’d just arrived after being in Athens and Crete. Would definitely go back there.