Istanbul April 2015

As the only city in the world that straddles two continents, and with three and a half thousand years of history, a visit to Istanbul is a unique experience.
We started with a visit to the Sultanahmet Mosque popularly known as the Blue Mosque, one of the largest mosques in Istanbul followed by a guided tour of the former centre of sporting and political activities in Constantinople, the Hippodrome, where we saw the Obelisk from Egypt, the Serpentine Column from Delphi and the fountain of Willhelm II. From there we went to the nearby magnificent Byzantine church of Hagia Sophia, the church of the Divine Wisdom, one of the finest architectural works in the world constructed as a basilica in the 6th century by Byzantine Emperor Justinian.
From there we went on to Underground Cistern, the largest of the many underground cisterns built during the Byzantine Empire to supply the city with water. This cistern is especially fascinating because the Byzantine builders recycled many stone structures - capital heads and columns - that had been used in earlier temples.
The day ended with a visit to the Grand Bazaar, the vast and legendary covered market that is the biggest souk in the world with nearly 4000 shops of antiques, jewelry and carpets.
The following morning began with a drive across the magnificent Bosphorus Suspension Bridge, which divides the continents of Europe and Asia and on to Camlica Hill, the highest point of Istanbul. A short drive from here took us to the summer palace of the Sultans, located in a small village by the Bosphorus called Beylerbeyi. Beylerbeyi Palace is a mansion influenced by Western architecture built in the 19th century and we toured the extravagantly decorated interior. The afternoon was spent cruising the Bosphorus. We passed marble palaces, beautiful mosques, and ancient wooden Ottoman villas. Amongst other sights we saw the Dolmabahce and Beylerbeyi Palaces, Ottoman summer mansions, the Ortakoy Mosque, Rumeli Fortress and the Bosphorus Bridge. We ended with a visit to the Egyptian Spice Market and its tiny shops selling spices, dried fruits and nuts.
In the evening we watched a belly and folk dancing display.
The following day we visited the Topkapi Palace. For more than 400 years this was the imperial residence of the Ottoman sultans and is now home to priceless collections of porcelain, jewellery, calligraphy and many art masterpieces.