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A client’s view of Istanbul

Bernard’s last trip with partner Mercedes, saw them partake in a cultural tour of Greece and The Netherlands. This time we sent them to Istanbul, to enjoy the architecture, museums and of course The Four Seasons Hotel. Here’s how it went…

“Our trip has gone thoroughly well. Apart from the tiredness so many hours at airports provokes in such ‘young’ people as us, we are very happy with our latest grand tour.

The great city of Istanbul is one of enormous contrasts. Most cities are, but somehow this one seemed so even more than others.

The Four Seasons Hotel, as well as being a splendid place in itself with magnificent gardens, is also superbly situated just a couple of minutes walk from Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace. We found the staff there friendly and helpful and moreover the conçierge Loreta speaks beautiful Spanish.

We managed to see almost all the sights we were most interested in, the only exception being the Blue Mosque, which, unfortunately for us, was closed to visitors for a while longer.

The organisation of our transfer from the airport to the hotel was perfect. The journey was one of the most beautiful and memorable arrivals at a city, with the sides of the roads full of tulips, the Turkish national flower and then the spectacular view of the Marmara Sea on one side and the walls of the great ancient city of Constantinople on the other.

We spent several hours in the wonderful Topkapi Palace. As well as its beautiful pavilions it also has magnificent gardens.

The following day, we decided to visit Hagia Sophia before having breakfast in order to avoid the queues. This wonderful sixth century Byzantine Church is quite awe-inspiring in spite of being in need of restoration. We thought it might be worth the effort of climbing the ramps up to the balcony level and indeed it was, both for the general view of the church and for the superb frescos which have survived the five hundred years of Muslim presence.

After breakfast, one of the conçierges arranged for a taxi to take us first to The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora. The visit to this lovely Byzantine church was also one of the highlights of our stay in Istanbul. This little church has superb frescos and mosaics and reminds us of the wonderful churches in Ravenna.

After this exciting visit, we went on to another spectacular place, the Süleymaniye Mosque, a stunning five hundred year old masterpiece in superb condition.

We had the intention of taking a taxi to the Bosphorous to visit the Dolmabahçe Palace. We had been warned by the hotel conçierge that the taxis in the street might not be very reliable, but we were quite a long way from the hotel, so we decided to take the risk. The first taxi-driver we found told us that the price would be according to the taximeter, but, as soon as the taxi began to move, he said we should pay him 55 Turkish Lira. He then tried to put his hand in Mercedes's purse trying to take a hundred euros note, so we decided to jump out before things became worse. Another taxi driver told us that he would charge us 50 lira, but, after a few minutes, he said that, due to the traffic, he had had to take a longer route, so we would have to pay 70 lira. It was a relief when we reached the Palace.

After a couple of hours visiting the Palace and its lovely gardens, we decided to go and see the nearby Four Seasons on the Bosphorus. When we told the guards at the gate that we had been recommended by the conçierge at our own hotel, an extraordinarily polite and friendly gentleman appeared immediately and showed us around his hotel before taking us to the splendid Terrace Restaurant, which offers an excellent all-day menu.

We enjoyed a most delicious lunch and took numerous photographs before asking for a taxi to take us back to our own hotel. For this journey we were only charged 32 lira, the equivalent of about six pounds sterling. Our conçierge's information about taxis had been confirmed. They are by no means expensive if you pay the proper price, but it seems that there are drivers who charge tourists exorbitant prices.

We decided to visit the Archaeological Museum, which is situated in the grounds of the Topkapi Palace. This Museum is located in several beautiful buildings in various styles, most of which are being restored. The collection includes Classical Greek and Roman pieces as well as Byzantine and Ottoman ones and also interesting ones from various Oriental cultures, including Asiria and Egypt. In short, a splendid Museum, well worth a visit for anyone interested in Archaeology or Ancient History and Art.

The day of our departure for Amsterdam, as we were not to leave our hotel until the afternoon, we took the opportunity of wandering around the magnificent Sultanahmet Square in the morning. First we went into the courtyard of the Blue Mosque, which we found very beautiful and impressive. What a pity that the interior of the Mosque was closed.

We went out by the other door and were able to see the Obelisk and the Roman Hippodrome as well as the beautiful gardens and fountain. We then decided to visit the Byzantine Basilica Cistern, which is of considerable historical interest, but the lighting did not allow us to distinguish much detail and the descent was rather uncomfortable for our elderly legs, especially as our visit coincided with an invasion by most of the student population of Turkey.

Our thanks once again and our best wishes to everyone at Abbotts Travel for another splendid trip.” Bernard and Mercedes

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