My head is spinning. I feel dizzy and there is a buzzing in my ears.Around me hordes of tourists are milling about in the clinging heat. Themyriad tongues of their shouting tour guides make the Blue Mosque sound likethe Tower of Babel.
But then I look up and suddenly Im sure I hear an angel choir although itsprobably next-stage auditory delirium brought on by exhaustion. For a momentI am enraptured. The vastness of the dome is spellbinding. Millions of bluetiles lining the massive dome sparkle high above me, arranged in the mostbrilliant mosaics.
At its lower levels and at every pier, the interior of the mosque is linedwith more than 20 000 handmade ceramic tiles, in more than fifty differenttulip designs. The design of the Sultan Ahmed (or Blue) Mosque here inIstanbul, is the culmination of two centuries of both Ottoman mosqueandByzantine churchdevelopment and succeeded in its ambition to totally overwhelm the senses interms of size, majesty and splendour.
After our tour of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque we make our way throughthe crowds to the blinding September heat outside. By some miracle all nineof us in our group recover each other after Hiddo, our exasperated guide,nearly spontaneously combusts. We order pomegranate juice and smile at ourdiscombobulated host and the chaos and colour surrounding us. We are inIstanbul!
Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), once known as the capital of capitalcities, is one of the most colourful, vibrant and beautiful places I haveever seen. It is the only city in the world to straddle two continents, andthe only one to have been a capital during two consecutive empires -Christian and Islamic.
Once capital of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul still remains the commercial,historical and cultural heart of Turkey. Ancient and modern, religious andsecular, Asia and Europe, mystical, earthly and ultra-modern all co-existhere.
We have breakfast on the banks of the Bosporus and then tackle the crowdsfor the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque tours. The tour is spectacular but notrecommended for families with small children. A walk through the undergroundcisterns follows and it proves to be a surreal experience.
The Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns thatlie beneath the city of Istanbul,built in the sixth century. The waterways are lit from below and from thesides and the eerie orange light reflects off the water in the almost pitchblack bowels of the earth. Lunch at a nearby traditional restaurant istypical Turkish cuisine consisting of a wonderful lamb stew in a pastrycase.
A fantastic choice with kids however, is a boat trip to the Maiden'sTower, a small islet located at the beginning of Bosporus, near Marmara Sea,where we have a lazy Sunday brunch the next day.
A spiral staircase leads to the top of the watchtower and children mustliterally be torn away from the telescopes. The subsequent boat voyage onthe Bosporus is surely one of my fondest memories of Turkey. The emeraldgreen water twinkles against the vast blue sky as the sun radiates off it inthe light breeze.
The vibrant nightlife of Istanbul
We gently glide past promenades, old wooden houses, churches, and synagoguesdating from Byzantine and Ottoman times. After a visit to the Topkapi Palaceand lunch, its back to the hotel for a quick shower. Then back to the cityagain for dinner and a spot of belly dancing.
The dancing is fabulous, but this is straight out of Tourist Trap 101 andafter much cursing, begging and gnashing of teeth our guide finallyacquiesces and leads us deep into the vibrant night life of Istanbul.
Istiklal Street is the place to be. Here in the historic Beyoglu district,down every alley traditional live music beckons with its seductively melodicrhythms and its happy, beautiful people. This is the nocturnal heart ofIstanbul.
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