Had you been strolling down the back streets of Sultanahmet, Istanbul at 7am on Friday 28 March you would have stumbled upon a small tired person, mess of strawberry blonde hair scraped back, sat on a crumbling step in the morning light gazing up at the sky. The sound of a million birds whizzing in and out of rooftop crevices, trilling in delight at their freedom as they dashed across the bright blue sky captured her attention.
Having made it into my dodgily-decorated Airbnb apartment, I dropped my bags headed straight out, stumbling upon a little bakery selling börek – a Turkish cheese pastry which looked exciting but actually tasted like squidgy cold lasagne… ah well!
First stop was the magical Grand Bazaar. One of the world’s largest buildings, it contains a network of 61 covered streets and over 4500 shops teeming with glittery lanterns, intricately hand painted bowls, good and silver jewels, rugs and scarves every colour of the rainbow, copper teapots, Turkish delight and more. It is shopper’s heaven. I sauntered aimlessly, stooping to sniff flavoured teas and inspect intricately carved boxes. In the Bazaar, you’ll find teashops and cafés where you can give your feet a rest and watch the world go by over a steaming apple tea.
We dined in the old town surrounded by atmospheric chatter and entertained by a loud Turkish band. Although it’s still chilly at this time of year, chunky heated pipes suspended above the tables kept us toasty warm. As we walked down the street lined with restaurants, multi-coloured lights hanging above our heads, the sweet smell of shisha wafted through the air.
On Saturday it was off to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the eerily lit pillars of the underground Basilica Cistern. All are spectacles not to be missed. The Hagia Sophia has stood in place since 537AD and its giant domes are embellished with the tiniest, most intricate of gold mosaics. If you want to go into the Blue Mosque, get there at opening time and reserve your time slot or be prepared to queue.
For dinner we headed over to the newer side of Istanbul and sipped Apple Martinis at House Cafe in Beyoğlu before a delicious meal. After dinner drinks were at showy and expensive 360 bar which I was less enamoured by.
On Sunday morning we fancied brunch, so it was back over to Beyoğlu and the trendy literary district of Cihangir. We ate breakfast plates at Cafe Firuz and then meandered through the pretty streets lined with antique shops, most of them closed on Sundays but it was still a beautiful walk.
In the afternoon, we walked across the Galata Bridge teeming with fishermen and jumped on a boat at Eminonu to embark on the two-hour cruise down the Bosphorous. It was a bright sunny day as we sat out on deck, snapping shots of the Asian side of Istanbul and elaborate water front houses.
It was a spectacular destination for an adventurous long weekend, I only wish we had longer to explore!