ISTANBUL AUGUST 2019
The new IST airport at Istanbul claims to be the largest in the world, and Turkish Airlines claim to fly to the most destinations in the world. It’s certainly big and spanking new. We thunder into town in 30 minutes and check in to the Pera Palace Hotel, a piece of bygone splendour now hemmed in by a six-lane highway. After going up in what purports to be the first ever lift in Turkey, we settle in for dinner on the terrace.
It’s a 30-40 minute walk from here to the Sultanahmet area, down cobbled streets past the Galata Tower, over the Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn, and round into the heart of what most people come to see. The Hagia Sophia is predictably crowded by thousands taking endless selfies, and marred by extensive scaffolding on the inside. The Blue Mosque across the square is even worse, with the entire ceiling dome obscured and replaced by a bland flat roof for restoration. After a long queue and security, it’s a disappointment. A decent lunch at the Medusa restaurant provides a welcome break from being harassed to buy a carpet, and the Basilica Cistern showing the city’s original underground water supply is a shade more interesting. Because of the relentless crowds, it is always better to pay extra to jump the queue. We end the day at the Hamdi restaurant on top of the Radisson Blu Hotel with a great sunset backdrop and curious seagulls looking in through the window.
Arguably the best attraction in Istanbul is Topkapi Palace, a huge set of sprawling grounds high on Seraglio Point with views all the way up the Bosphorus. There are thousands here as everywhere, but the artefacts are worth the struggle. The Baghdad Kiosk is not to be missed – a little-known gem inlaid with intricate tile and mother of pearl detail. We escape for an excellent long lunch at the Four Seasons courtyard round the corner, with particular emphasis on the Turkish rosé. More to report on our way back here, but on this showing, no higher than 6 out of 10, but see notes from a previous visit too.
See also Turkey (Istanbul) 2013