Published on October 22nd, 2013 | by Ann Rickard3
Discover Instanbul – (part 1)
If ever there was an experience to prove the value of a local guide it came to us in Istanbul.
We had arrived on a Sunday afternoon and it seemed every family in the city had come out to picnic on the banks of the Bosphorus.
Not only had their kitchen grill come with them to sizzle kebabs over small fires, every pot, pan and piece of cutlery had joined the picnic. It was a charming introduction to this vibrant city and we were instantly captivated.
Later, a short stroll from our hotel, the Hotel Perula in the old city, took us to a rectangular square with obelisks, fountains and statues
“This is nice, ’’ we said after a cursory look before rushing to the nearest cafe for a big feed of Turkish pancakes.
In the morning Mutla, our guide for the next two days arrived, beaming, chatting in excellent English.
“Let’s walk,” he said, and directed us back to the square of the night before. “This is the Hippodrome, the centre of Byzantine life for a thousand years, where chariot races and athletic games took place.”
Chariot races here? Where we had so irreverently stood the night before? Without thought to the rich history beneath our feet?
Oh dear. And we like to think we are savvy travellers.
We spent a riveting hour at the Hippodrome with Mutla, gaining a sense of history so strong we could almost see the Byzantine Emperors cheering the chariots thundering around the obelisks.
“We’re sticking with you, Mutla,” we said as he steered us to The Blue Mosque, Istanbul’s archetypal landmark. Approaching this beautiful mosque with its six imposing minarets and marble latticework from the Hippodrome gives you the best view, something we would have missed if not for Mutla.
Standing in the mosque with its blue Inzik tiled walls and luminous effects of stained glass windows, Mutla talked in easy-to-understand language about the question many of us have: ‘what is Islam?’ His passion was infectious and gave us an insight into this religion we would otherwise have strived years to gain.
Later at the Topkapi Palace, home between 1453 and 1839 to many Ottomans both tragic and wicked, we wondered what the walls would tell if they could talk. According to Mutla, this palace has seen more triumphs and tragedies than any other of the world’s royal residences. The Imperial Treasury section had us so gawping at the riches displayed in glass cases, by the time we arrived at the third room where the fourth largest diamond of its kind in the world is housed, we were overcome by the dazzle of diamonds, the gleam of gold, the razzle of rubies.
Known as The Spoonmaker’s Diamond , this 86 pear shaped carats of brilliance, has a story as splendid as the vision itself. It is said it was found on a rubbish dump in 1669 by a peasant who bartered it to a spoon maker for three wooden spoons. Fortunately it ended up in the palace and is now a main drawcard.
We then lunched in a small cafe most tourists pass without a glance.
“I want you to experience the true local food,” Mutla told us as we contemplated steep stone steps to a basement where suitably swarthy staff brought us plates of spicy rice, fat meatballs, stewed vegetables. Later we watched a woman sit in a restaurant window making an endless line up of pancakes, her movements swift, fluid and efficient. “For Turkish people, food and family are the most important things,” Mutla said.
Istanbul is city of enchantment and mystery, of history sitting comfortably with moderninity. The massive Bosphorus Strait divides Istanbul and with its blue lapping waters, beckons every visitor to its lively banks.
With one foot in Asia and the other in Europe, Istanbul combines all that is thrilling of both these worlds.
The city brims with history and culture and deserves a lengthy stay. Part two of this story next week.
Icon Holidays – will tailor a tour of Istanbul to suit from a group tour to a private guide and driver.
Telephone: 1300 853 953
Binbirdirek Mah. Peykhane Sok No. 45 Sultanahmet, Fatih. Instanbul. 34400 Turkey