We arrived in Istanbul with no plans, except a desire to see Cappadocia, Pamukkale, Ephesus, and of course, Istanbul itself. We were pleasantly amazed at how easy it is to travel around, how helpful are the Turks, and how inexpensive are hotels, restaurants, and just about everything else. In Istanbul we stayed in the delightful, 14-room Yesil Ev, a restored Ottoman home in the Sultanahmet district, just steps from the Blue Mosque, Ayasofya, and Topkapi Palace – the three absolute must sees for any visitor.
The city is exotic, eclectic, sophisticated, old-fashioned, colourful, sprawling, historical, and modern. It’s a gateway to two continents, linking Europe and Asia, and its event-filled history spans more than 26 centuries. Today it’s a showcase for the best of Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman cultures.
Some of the finest Byzantine mosaics are in Ayasofya, Christendom’s largest church for 700 years before it was converted to a mosque in the 15th century. Built in the sixth century by Emperor Justinian, it awes today’s visitors as much as it did travellers 1,400 years ago, despite rampaging Crusaders having destroyed its furnishings and decoration in 1204. To fully appreciate Topkapi Palace takes the best part of a day, but if you have limited time, at least see the Treasury (with the fabled Topkapi emerald), and the Harem (available only on an hourly guided tour). This was home to the sultan’s wives, children, female servants, and the Black Eunuchs, who ran the place