It’s late afternoon when the plane begins its descent. The sky is the colour of candyfloss. In need of some early autumn sunshine, Tom and I are visiting Istanbul for a few nights, before heading to Antalya. As we come into land, dusk has already turned to dark, and hundreds of twinkling lights welcome us to the Asian side of the city. Before we know it, we’re in a cab, eagerly anticipating a quick arrival at our old-town hotel. An hour later, the taxi is crawling over the Bosphorus Bridge. The driver turns to us, and shrugs; “Istanbul. Traffic bad!”
We finally arrive at our accommodation and head straight out to enjoy what’s left of the evening. We settle in at a simple kebab restaurant, where I make a friend of the feline variety (not hard in Istanbul), before enjoying a traditional water pipe.
We’re awoken early by the mesmerising call to prayer, and head out for a day of exploration. As we’re nearby, we do the touristy thing and queue up with the multitude of guided tours for the Blue Mosque, which is both spiritually warming and swarming in equal measure.
We’re not the types to do much research, and we learn the hard way that the Grand Bazaar is shut on Sundays at this time of year (we return the following day and find it full of cheap souvenirs and fake designer goods, but still worth a look). Instead – armed with a corn on the cob from a street vendor – we stroll along the edge of Sultanahmet, where fishermen line the banks of the Bosphorus. There are so many boats on this stretch of water it’s like observing a game of Battleships. We reach the Galata Bridge, and the repetitive cry of tour guides selling boat trips fills the salty air: ‘Bosphorus, Bosphorus Bosphorus’. We cross the bridge to take in some contemporary culture at the Istanbul Modern, before catching a tram back to our hotel.
The Ibrahim Pasha – located deep within the old town – stands out for its roof terrace, which has views of the Blue Mosque, majestic in the hazy October air. We enjoy an early evening glass of red, while all around seagulls rest on rooftops; squawking and shrieking like naughty children.
That night we dine at Sarnic – a restaurant set within an ancient cistern – where the soothing tones of live violin and piano echo around the exposed walls as we eat traditional Turkish fare. It’s in stark contrast to dinner the following evening, when – after an historical tour of Topkapi Palace – we embrace the modern setting of Vogue on the 14th floor of an office block. From there we enjoy a panoramic view of Istanbul and watch the bridge do its well-choreographed hourly light display.
Our Istanbul break is over before it’s begun, and soon we’re heading back across the disco bridge to the Asian side, bound for the next leg of our Turkish tour. Istanbul is everything we hoped it would be: vibrant, bustling, and brimming with culture. A perfect introduction to Turkey.