Istanbul....Constantinople.... The very names conjure up images of an ancient civilisation, of East meeting West, of an unimaginably exotic land.
An alluring and romantic city - once the seat of sultans and their harems - it entices the visitor with its mixture of chaos and paradoxes.
It is this combination of history, culture and art (along, it's fair to say, with the cuisine) that has inspired us to visit Istanbul in the spring of 2020. We can reasonably expect seven hours of sunshine while we are there. What better way to wave goodbye to the grey skies of a British winter?
We will, of course, make time to explore the famous, colourful and lively bazaars of Istanbul, including the Arasta Bazaar, the Misir Çarsisi (the spice bazaar – a place of intoxicating aromas) and the stunning Grand Bazaar (or Kapali Çarsi).
These are places full of the atmosphere of the east, a chaotic tangle of laughter, light, noise, bustle and colour. An environment to slow down and take in the daily life of the local people. To spend time, bartering in a good-natured way for some beautiful craftsman-made objects to take home as treasured memories of our visit. To sample local delicacies. While not forgetting the reason for our journey - the making of compelling images full of vibrance and vitality.
We will include a visit down into the Basillica Cistern - the Yerebatan Sarniçi.
A huge palace-like underground hall, it is supported by 336 coloumns in 12 rows and once held the water supply for the Byzantine emperors. Now it is beautifully lit and makes for a wonderful spectacle – enhanced as an experience by the gentle sound of trickling water and magical reflections.
The gardens of the 19th-century Beylerbeyi Palace on the other side of the river are worth visiting, if only to be able to say that we are 'popping into Asia for a couple of hours'.
The Istanbul equivalent of the Staten Island Ferry is the commuter ferry service that goes across the Bosporus. The ride affords us a view of the historic peninsula from the Sea of Marmara side - and the realisation that Haghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque were probably designed to be seen from this angle, particularly at sunset.
Like virtually every other city in the Western world, Istanbul's cafe culture is alive and kicking. Rest assured we will be giving Starbucks a wide berth and instead seeking out the atmospheric environs of the local nargile cafes where the locals disappear behind clouds of vapour as they enjoy their water pipes.
Historically, smoking nargile was looked upon as a status symbol, with the highest honour reserved for those who smoked pipe with the sultan. In those days, the pipe contained just tobacco. In recent years, all manner of flavours are now enjoyed - mint, strawberry, apple, rose and cappuccino (!!).
The colours, sounds and smells of Istanbul will assault our senses. The Turkish coffee, the rich spices and the fragrant rose petals will all help to transport us back to the days of Aladdin and Alí Babá and the 40 thieves.
We have detailed just a few of the many attractions of this extraordinary destiantion - it is a city awaiting discovery.