The 21 strong TRA 4 day excursion to Istanbul from March 25-29 started with a faultfree and on-time flight and a seriously edible meal courtesy of Turkish airlines. They also allowed a free check-in bag, for the record. We were met by our vivacious and carefree but very caring guide, Mellmet, who was with us for the duration of the trip, even tending us with solicitude through the intricacies of the departure process (think 3 security checks + 2 passport controls with accompanying queues).
Our hotel was near Taksim Sq in the modern part of the European side of the city – well placed for possibilities of ‘restauration’ in the French sense and public transport, both of which were explored by our members, mostly with 100% success. Bedrooms judged unsatisfactory were very quickly exchanged for the better following requests by 3 or 4 members of the group. But the Director of the agency which provided our guide was so upset that this had been necessary that he offered us all a free beverage on the second night as a token compensation. Good vibes all round.
As part of a larger group with the Travel Department we enjoyed the Highlights (and some of the Lowlights) of Historical Istanbul. It was truly awe-inspiring.
Here are some of our memories: The profound awareness that we experienced of it being a meeting place of civilisations West and East, Christian and Muslim (and Ottoman), personified in the Hagia Santa Sophia; the splendour of the Sultan’s palaces, Topkapi and Beylerbeyi; the spirituality of the places of religion (such as the Blue Mosque, the Suleiyman Mosque, the headquarters of the Patriarchy of the Orthodox Church); the antiquity of the Hippodrome and of the vast underground Basilica Cistern; the detail of the marvellous 12th century mosaics in the Chora Church (featuring notably a puzzled Joseph, head in hands, at the birth of Jesus); the frisson we felt from a cruise on the Bosphorus which unites and divides all these elements.
We marvelled at the 23Km of (mostly intact) city walls and tried to deal with the unremitting sales talk of traders in the colourful Spice Market and the complicated maze of the Grand Bazaar. Some of us thought we came away with great bargains. The sales people were happy too. And a very intrepid foursome among the ladies of the group subjected themselves to the (doubtful) pleasures of a (very historic) hammam and lived to tell the tale. Would I do it again? Yes! Jean Whyte See Photos in the Gallery