Okay, so Topkapi Palace is a world-class attraction, it wasn’t a mosque and it’s in Istanbul. We’ve not been to the Alhambra (it’s on our list), but we guess it’s the same intensity to Topkapi in terms of calm, beauty and magnificence among another bustling major city scorched by Mrs Sun and all of her relatives. It is a must see – the jewels, armour and clock museums alone are worth five-star status. But for both of us, leaving aside the overarching cool splendour among an urban miasma, clothes shops and mosques, it’s the small museum of religious writing which took the top award. Along with the Mullah who sat at a chair and beautifully chanted us around of the religious relic museums, the ancient, framed Arabic scrolls were the best bit of the trip. There is something mesmerising about Arabic. It does to the written word, what the French accent does to conversation. It’s elegant, lyrical and, when painted and framed, truly fabulous. Loved it.
After Topkapi we wandered down town and found the spice market – a rainbow of smells – had another picnic lunch by the water, tried to find a special mosque that had great tiles (but it was closed for restoration) and then ambled back up the hill through endless markets, stopping for fruit tea before we flopped into the hotel.
Surprisingly C, with me, sat by the pool and listened to PMQs on R5 and were immensely impressed with David Cameron and equally unimpressed with Boris who, for reasons I will never understand, didn’t turn up for the event? And he’s meant to be our next PM? Vote for me! Afterwards we walked around and found some supper. We then bought a couple of beers and retired to our hotel room to watch the footy.
So what have we learnt? Istanbul is a place you have to come to. As expected the Blue Mosque and Topkapi should be on your bucket list as should be having a drink in a cafe under the bridge, as well as a ferry ride (and back) across to Asia. Istanbul is a prosperous enough city. There are plenty of expensive cars and very few old ones (as you get anywhere south of Rome). I never felt threatened, although Turks are slow to smile and some appear disinclined to talk to Westerners. Many, however, were more than happy to chat, although we never got round to religion. I had my rucksack opened by an indigenous middle-aged Italian when we were in Naples (I turned and caught him at it). It never once crossed my mind that that would happen here.
It may be an Islamic country, but, unlike say, Jordan, few seem to stop for prayers and certainly many dress in a v western way – some not wearing much at all. All of the infrastructure works, but you don’t have to stray off the main road far to see a lot of broken stuff. But, it’s mostly very clean.
And, like Greece, there are Turkish flags everywhere – some huge ones. It is a v proud country. And, I’d say, a mark of their civility is the way they look after their strays. I don’t want to harp back on about Italy, but we got sick of seeing stray cats and dogs. Nearly all of them in a v poor state. Much the same was true of Greece. Here there are only a few stray dogs and most of them seem to have been tagged, and they all seem to be looked after. The same is true for the cats (there are more of them). The ones we saw were all fed and watered.
So, do you need to go? Ehh, yes. I think, on reflection, we could have got away with three nights – tomorrow is a free day for us and our plane doesn’t leave until 6pm. However, we did walk pretty much everywhere (a fitness thing, I think) and needed a late pm snooze and no rush in the morning. It has made it a real holiday for us.
So well done Istanbul. We won’t be coming back (Iceland next?), other than maybe to transit in Doris to do the south coast. But it was really worth the effort.