An actual holiday.
I have no idea how long it is since I had an actual holiday, as opposed to breaks between contracts where the time was filled with visiting relations, or spent in Cyprus with the grandchildren when their wishes needs must take precedence over Granddad’s – not that I begrudge them the time, of course – but I’ve just managed a short break in Istanbul.
My ex, being the good little Greek Orthodox person that she is, has always wished to see the cathedral of Ayia Sofia. She arranged two trips last year, and both were cancelled by the operator, one because of a bomb in Istanbul, and the other because of an earthquake hundreds of miles away, so, when I said I was coming to Cyprus, she asked me to take her and I agreed.
(Bugrit! Just lost half the post! Second time around…)
Three days wasn’t enough, but it was all we could fit in. It seems that all of the junior generation of the family are getting married at once – my son was not among them, but he did propose to his girlfriend this weekend. I picked the hotel – the Celal Sultan – for convenience as it is a ten minute walk or a short tram ride to most places you would wish to see. I can heartily recommend it – three/four star, plain rooms, but clean with plenty of hot water. The common spaces were nicely laid out and decorated in antique style and there was planty of food and drink for breakfast. In spite of the fact that we went to Ayia Sophia twice – and it’s probably worth another couple of visits, I reckon. The only thing on my own list I didn’t get to see was the Topkapi Palace.
The touristy places were all very well managed, clean and tidy with plenty of tourist police around. There were hawkers, of course, but they were polite, well-mannered, friendly and not too persistent. In fact the service levels wherever we went were excellent. We found a local lunch counter – with clean rest rooms – almost in the centre of gravity of the tourist attractions, where we ate lunch on two of the three days at around four quid a head including drinks. We also found the best confectioners I have eaten in in many a year – Hafiz Mustafa Bakery – where, on our first visit, we were presented with a menu the size of a volume of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica.
Would you Christmas Eve it, I walked out of the house in UK without my camera, so the photos are not as good as I would have liked. The dark place is the Basilica Cistern, and the one with a rather chubby, (alright then, fat,) Bravo is taken next to one of those things that suddenly hits you with the weight of history of a place – Ayia Sofia aside, of course, where it was sobering to realise that the cathedral was completed in the sixth century AD, after the Roman withdrawal from Britannia, and our civilisation declined to such an extent that we would be unable to match it for half a century or so. The stubby pillar – no, the stone one, not the one in the blue shirt, is the last remains of a triumphal arch from which all distances in the Empire, well into Ottoman times, were measured. Ah, yes, and the two feathery thingies show an Angel, the one with the face, and how the picture was altered after the conversion to a mosque. The restoration work is still on-going, as may be seen, so another trip in a couple of years would probably be worth it.
All in all, an excellent break and Istanbul is on my list of places to return to, along with Rome of course.