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.  

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(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.

14 thoughts on “An actual holiday.”

  1. I had the choice of Istanbul or Tallinn last week. I went for Tallinn because I did not fancy flying out of Heathrow at some god forsaken hour and arriving in the early hours in Istanbul.

    As for Tallinn, absolutely marvellous, people friendly, food great (wine horrific price so stuck to beer), travelling round by bus or shank’s pony very easy and a short flight from Stanstead.

  2. 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.

    I think you mean half a millennia until Brunelleschi in the 1400s. Differing form of construction though, sorry to be so architecturally pedantic!
    Pity they have let it go to rack and ruin though.

  3. CO: arguably some of the Gothic architecture is also remarkable, though I agree that the same levels of grandeur were not to be met until Gentileschi. Ah, the Renaissance. A time when Italy wasn’t a third-rate theme park for tourists and spongers.

  4. Sorry chris didn’t make myself clear was talking about open span domes. Mostly constructed previous to, and after the height of the Gothic.
    Several UK cathedrals tried to integrate similar but they all collapsed! Which is why naves and apses were used so much, to get the support pillars, at least until the flying buttress was invented!
    Very interesting that it is much harder to build arches and domes in stone/brick than it is in concrete of which I believe Sofia is constructed.
    Pity we have no contributing architects here! We could grill him.

  5. I remember as a small child, too, too long ago, running along the beach at Beira in Mozambique, chanting to myself. ‘Constantinople is a very long word, if you can’t spell it, you’re the dunce of the world.’

    I have always wanted to go to Istanbul. One day I will.Thanks for this post.

  6. Christina, I think it’s brick and stone. Also, there are 9th century flying buttresses added to strengthen the walls after the weight of the dome caused them to start bowing outwards – I think Ely Cathedral, another of my favourites, was started about then with its squat, low, earliest construction?

    Don’t read too much into it, Pseu – my ex and I have been good friends since the rough patch after the separation 🙂

  7. Bravo, was forced to go and read the history of the architecture! Yes brick and stone ribs and all sorts of problems because they didn’t cure the mortar layer by layer! Then covered in stucco.

  8. I am delighted to read that your idea of an ‘actual holiday’ is to do something!

    My daughter keeps telling me that I need a holiday – why don’t I go and lie on a beach somewhere – I cannot imagine anything more boring! A trip to Istanbul sounds just what I need!

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