Istanbul – capital of two empires, gateway to a continent, an imposing, fascinating, exciting city. Full of colours and aromas, carrying traces of all the cultures that have flourished in it yet modern and vibrating, Istanbul can captivate your heart for ever.

Sparkling clean – unusual for a city of such an enormous population- Istanbul is a pleasure to discover on your own. Be adventurous and explore. The tourist areas are heavily policed so you feel relatively safe. Pickpockets abound in all metropolises so why should Istanbul be an exception….

One thing I always try to do is walk a city. In the Greek tradition Istanbul or Constantinople as we call it was called the city of the seven hills. Therefore walking is rather heavy but the city has a continuously expanding underground and tram railway system that helps across the uphill parts and there is always the Bosporus coast, one of the most beautiful I have encountered.  The coast is also an integral part of the city so there is a long strait that one can follow and experience the life of the city in a more natural way than the established route.

You can easily find the sights in other sites. Let me just add a couple that are not often mentioned. For example, while  the interrior of the  Hagia Sophia – exquisite architecture, unique I believe – is disfigured there is a Monastery called the Hora Monastery  near the Theodosius Walls, whose mosaics have survived and are worth seeing. The small islands dotting the Marmara Sea have long been vacation spots where cars are not allowed. A carriage drive through their narrow streets, looking at the mansions of the cosmopolitan elite of Istanbul, is enjoyable and relaxing.

Food is a glorious and laborious event: first courses and main courses somehow mingle, pilafs are buttery and fragrant, fish that is not found elsewhere,  is grilled and served from stalls in the street, legume soups with a different touch. The drinks are different as well: I loved airani, non alcoholic yoghurt based, sour and refreshing. Raki is the turkish equivalent of the greek ouzo. But the most commonly served is tea,  strong and aromatic.

Finally nothing can describe the sweets. Rich and yet light, syrrupy and yet not too sweet, with exotic names to match:  kataif and kazandipi, lukum and baclava, and so many many others.

Istanbul is a total experience. A witch of a city that you want to return to again and again