It’s amazing what you can cram into 30 hours if you really try (or are really foolish).

My approach to dealing with jet-lag is to try and get into sync with local time as soon as I can. This can entail staying awake for a long time until local bedtime, and Friday certainly fell into that category.

The plane from Bangkok landed at 5:30 local time, and thanks to Turkish Airways I’d had a reasonable sleep on the way over. The shuttle was waiting for me when I got through immigration (long queues, about 45mins waiting and 1 minute to get through) and customs (two really disinterested looking fellows waving at us as we walked past, although they did stop one person who had what looked like two 50-inch TVs in a huge box).

I got to the hotel at just before 07:00, checked in and went to my room for a shower. Free WiFi means I’ve been able to Skype with home a couple of times a day, unfortunately the time zone difference results in somewhat unsociable hours.

The Orca Royal hotel is right in the middle of the old city of Istanbul, cobbled streets and tiny alleyways not at all conducive to modern traffic, and some of the roads are shared by tram lines. I have decided that they don’t have road “rules” in Istanbul, at best they could be considered guidelines and might is right – everybody gives way to the tram, and the bigger you are the more right of way you have. I foolishly accepted a lift on the back of a scooter (see the carpet story below) and I would classify that as one of the scariest travel experiences of my life 🙂

Nicola (she used to be a tour guide in Turkey and is a fountain of knowledge and advice – Thanks) gave me a list of things to do and see that would normally take about a month to complete. I managed about 1/3 of the list in two days, and will need time to sort out the memories. I took a few hundred photos and some videos so will be able to put things in order by looking at the timestamps. I’ll include some of the photos in this post when I get my camera back- sadly I left it in the shuttle on the way to the airport on Saturday afternoon, fortunately the really helpful people at Ager Tourism found it and are sending it home for me.

Having showered and spoken to home I was off into the wilds of Istanbul. My first stop was the Topkapi Palace, 10 mins walk from the hotel. This is an amazing complex! Easily as impressive as the Forbidden City in Beijing and wonderfully well preserved. I’ll add some links and references below, but beautiful treasures, impressive buildings and seeped in history going back over the last 2000 years. Something that moved me is the building where they keep religious relics – David’s sword, Moses’ staff, the right arm and hand of John the Baptist, and more. I felt truly awed.

On my way out I mentioned to someone that I was considering buying a small kelim or carpet, and got a rapid education in carpet buying – what to look for and what distinguishes a good from a bad carpet. I ended up buying a kelim for the lounge floor and a small decorative carpet for the wall. I was nervous that I’d been suckered, but a visit to the Grand Bazaar later in the day showed that what I’d purchased was at least as good value and quality as anything available at the Bazaar, so I felt satisfied. (Nicola warned me that it’s impossible to get out of a rug store without buying something and she’s right; they are so hospitable and friendly). My newfound friend the rug merchant packed my carpets into a carry bag (they filled the spare space in my suitcase) and offered me a lift back to my hotel to drop them off. After I accepted the ride I discovered it was to be on the back of a scooter – with the rug bag in the footwell, I climbed on the back; by the time we got to my hotel my knuckles were white and I had a deep and profound gratitude for the travel insurance policy.

Then it was off to Hagia Sofya, an amazing building that has served as Orthodox Basilica (360-1453), then as a Mosque from 1453 to 1931, and has been a museum since 1935. History seeps out of this town, and the Hagia Sofya personifies the ebb and flow of occupancy in Istanbul.

Next to Hagia Sofya is the Blue Mosque (more properly the Sultan Ahmed Mosque) – I wandered around the outside of the building but didn’t go inside – it was Friday and there was a service going on, and I don’t like to intrude on people’s worship. From outside (the sermons are broadcast over loudspeaker) it sounds just like a church service, and the live English translation on a sign outside reads just like many sermons I have sat through in churches around the globe. We have more in common than differences, why can’t we live more harmoniously?

From the Blue Mosque I walked to the Grand Bazaar, the largest covered market in the world with over 4000 shops. I DIDN’T visit every one of them, but I had been tasked to find a specific type of handbag for Nancy, which I managed to get at a decent price. This market is a cacophony of sensations – noise, aromas, people – sensory overload. I wandered the market for a while, did some more shopping and headed back to the hotel, stopping for lunch along the way.

Then it was back to the hotel for a much needed nap. I had booked a dinner cruise on the Bosphorus and got a couple of hours sleep in before I was collected from the hotel.

The dinner cruise was great. Istanbul from the water by night is beautiful. We cruised up the straight on the European side, and back down the Asian side. I got some great photos which will be added to this page when the errant camera comes home. The meal was a Turkish feast, chicken kabob, lamb kabob, a whole variety of salads and vegetable dishes. I don’t believe it’s possible to get a meal in Turkey that doesn’t include eggplant in some form or another. Entertainment was a troupe of dancers showing various styles of dance – belly dancing, Turkish folk dancing, Romany dance and a simulated Turkish wedding. A lovely show. After the show the deck became a dance floor while we cruised between two bridges. I fell asleep while my fellow passengers danced the evening away. The cruise ended at about 11:30 and then back to the hotel by midnight.

The next morning I was collected from the hotel at 8:30 for a morning tour – a visit to the Spice Bazaar and another trip up and down the Bosphorus, but this time I could see more than the lighted buildings on the shore.

The Spice Market is another sensory overload experience – the smells and flavors are overwhelming. Hundreds of stalls selling every possible spice and a vast array of other foodstuffs, from Turkish Delight in every flavor imaginable to Bulga Caviar, to processed meats of every kind. I did some shopping (which filled the remaining space in my suitcase), got a bread roll for breakfast and wandered around avoiding buying more (those stall vendors are amazing salespeople – and can’t hear “no”).

The cruise took the same path during the day as I had covered the evening before, now I could see more than the city lights.  The buildings and palaces along the waterfront are impressive and the tour guide gave us a good overview of what we were seeing.  Plenty more photographs to be inserted when the errant camera comes home.

After the cruise I had an hour and a half back at the hotel – just enough time to relax in the rooftop bar with Turkish coffee and a swim in the pool  The view from the rooftop is magnificent, photos to follow.

Refreshed from the swim it was off to the airport in the Ager Tourism shuttle, with a couple of interesting traffic incidents: who has to give way – a shuttle bus or a delivery van?  An interesting game of chicken if you’re not sitting in the bus staring at the oncoming van.   I’ll use this as my excuse for leaving the camera in the van.

I checked in to Turkish Airlines for my flight to Israel.  The business class lounge in Istanbul airport is probably the nicest lounge I’ve been in anywhere in the world.

The flight to Israel was delayed by two hours, so we departed late and only landed at 10:00pm.

Stay tuned: the story of my visit to Israel will follow next week.