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April 12th 2018
Published: April 26th 2018
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Having said goodbye to most of my group yesterday - lots of them left early this morning and I'm not getting up that early for breakfast - I am now on my own in Istanbul for a few hours to look around places I'd missed on my first day of the tour. First off on my wish list is a visit to the Topkapi Palace. This sumptuous residence was built in 1459 for the Ottoman Sultans to swan around in. Over the centuries it was added to and improved. Earthquakes and fires took their toll but it was renovated and redecorated to within an inch of its life. The life of a Sultan in the Topkapi Palace was that of a spoilt little rich kid getting whatever he wanted. He had his very own harem of wives. Yes, not one wife, but many wives all vying for his attention. And if that wasn't enough he also had a plethora of concubines (or mistresses to you and me). The women were all trying to pop out a son to become the heir to the Sultan and through this increase their own standing in the Palace. This created a very competitive atmosphere among the wives, concubines and children of the Sultan, particularly the sons. Even the first born was never really guaranteed their top spot. As heir to the throne they needed to have eyes in the back of their heads to avoid getting murdered by their rival step-brothers.

It seems the Sultans liked to look after their women. The harem is a separate section of the Topkapi Palace set aside just for the Sultans wives and concubines with a residence so opulent it is literally dripping with colourful wall tiles and painted murals. I pay a little extra to get entrance to this little slice of heaven in Istanbul. It's absolutely breathtaking and my jaw is to the floor as I enter many of the rooms. It's hard to take it all in, there's just so much decoration in every room. I love the tiles so much. They are so beautiful and clad the walls and ceilings in their entirety. In the gardens and courtyards it's easy to see what a luxurious existence these privileged few had. They would have been able to look down from their elevated position over all of Istanbul from their very own gated community.

I find I've timed my visit perfectly, the early morning slot obviously the best time to come. As I'm leaving I'm swimming against the tide with hoards of visitors turning up to queue at the turnstile and fill up every spare space inside the Palace. I buy a last few items from the museum shop before escaping the hoards.

My next stop is the open area near the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. I've happened upon Tulip Festival mania. In front of the Hagia Sophia building they have set up a tulip pattern on the floor in a massive rectangle. It's hard to see what pattern the tulip flowers have made until I realise they have fixed up a camera on a boom system that is playing footage over a big screen. It's only just been set up so isn't fully working yet, but I get the idea as it shows the tulips in some sort of geometric pattern. At each end of the rectangle is a raised viewing platform area, but these are just for the great and the good who begin to arrive as I leave.

Next I find the entrance to the Basilica Cisterens. I enter this underground site and learn that it used to be a water filtration system for Istanbul. It's huge inside and very dark and for my visit I am joined by what seems to be a thousand school children all finding it necessary to scream and shout at each other at top volume. Considering we are in a massive, high vaulted space with columns supporting cathedral like ceilings it's somewhat echoy and I can barely think for the noise. I actually laugh as I go around it's so ridiculous. I squeeze past row upon row of school kids all shouting at each other excitedly in the dark of the cistern. I don't know how the teachers can stand it if the kids are like this all day on their outings. Inside the cistern, apart from seeing the building itself there are also a couple of points of interest that are proving quite a draw. I have to wait my turn to see the weeping or hens eye column - a column decorated with what look like dripping tears or hen's eyes - take your pick. Next I battle past the hoards of screaming kids to get a view of Medusa, two massive carved heads at the base of two of the columns. Many films have used the cisterns as a location including the 1963 Bond film From Russia with Love and the more recent Assasin's Creed. It is turning into my very own Little Shop of Horrors with all the screaming kids so I make my escape back out into the bright sunshine.

Next I make my way back down to the Galata bridge and this time cross on the lower section passing the gauntlet of entreaties to come and dine at the many restaurants. I have to climb the stairs when I reach the waters edge and cross along the top before going down again to see the other side's 'catch' of the day. Some of the restaurant touts are very cheeky and it's quite funny having little exchanges with them. I'm determined to walk up to have a look at the Galata tower in daylight having only seen it up close the previous night. I hadn't factored in the heat and find I'm sweating and my face is burning red by the time I reach it. I don't have time to climb the tower so after taking a few photos decide as I've got this far I may as well make it to the very top to get some lunch. I'd spotted a vegan place the night before. I get myself a delicious aubergine and salad wrap and a can of diet coke - mostly to use as something to cool my face down. What a sight I must look. It's time to head back to my hotel so I go back over the Galata bridge and past the railway station.

This is my last stroll taking in Istanbul in all its bustling, splendiferousness before a taxi ride to the airport. Goodbye Turkey you've surpassed expectations and I take not only physical souvenirs to remind me of my trip, but mental images, sounds and smells that I will remember for a lifetime. I take a little slice of Turkey to remain in my heart forever. Teşekkür ederim - I thank you! You've been a Turkish Delight!

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