Arriving in Istanbul, Turkey

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The music was lively and temperature was still warm despite it being almost midnight in Istanbul as we sat outside having a late supper at the Water Garden restaurant just by the Blue Mosque. With his blond hair, Tom seemed to attract a lot of attention and passing waiters could help but ruffle his locks as they passed by. 20130727-090128.jpg

The UK seems a world away and it was difficult to believe that only a few hours ago we were boarding the Turkish Air flight from Gatwick to Istanbul's Asian SAW airport (Istanbul has 2 main airports, one on the European side and one on the Asian side). Even at this stage we had started to get an insight into the relaxed Turkish mentality as we queued patiently even though there was no one at the check-in desk. Eventually a lady turned up and taking her time she gradually got everything prepared, chatting amiably with another colleague but in no rush to start serving the growing snake of passengers that were building up in front of her. Much to Callum's dismay, there was no entertainment on board in spite of the fact that he'd gone to the trouble of finding the flight brochure and checking the availability on different flights. 'It says on all flights over 2 hours' he said with clockwork regularity. However Turkish Air redeemed themselves in Callum's eyes with the food. We had Kofte and Bulgar rice, served with proper metal knives and forks. Followed by a delicious cheese cake which he gave 8/10 for!

When we finally touched down to a tumultuous applause from the passengers we were tired but looking forward to seeing Istanbul. We were met by our driver Ushman and we set off to the hotel. The outskirts of Istanbul in the quickly darkening evening made an impressive sight. Waves of houses and low rise apartment blocks stretched out as we drove through a landscape dotted often with mosques, many with colourful lights on either single or double minarets before breaking on the shore of the Bosphorus river which separates continental Europe from the continent of Asia. Crossing the bridge we noticed many boats on the river as well as the silent silhouettes of ships stationary at the harbour.

The buildings on either side rose up like the crowds in an arena, watching the boats in their lazy race up the dark waters of the Bosporus, heading to the Black Sea. Then we were in the beating heart of the city centre, driving down the bustling arteries with many restaurants packed with evening Ramadan diners. We noticed many large mosques and then noted the bus station at Taksim but in the dark we couldn't make out the infamous Gezi park!

Our hotel, the Yasmek Sultan hotel, is right in the middle of all the most famous buildings in Istanbul, just 10 minutes walk from the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia on one side and the Grand Bazaar on the other. We checked in at around 9.30 but as it was only 7.30 UK time we decided to head out and explore the nearby city. Which is how, after winding out way through streets teeming with tourists, local Turks and a good number of police, we found our way, like water buffalo sensing their way to the closest waterfront hole, at Water Garden restaurant. 20130727-191627.jpgThe tables and chairs are low, and there is a strong aroma of scent smoke as our waiter, who Callum swears it Taub from the House MD series introduces us to the delights of Turkish cooking. Chicken Shish Kebabs, Lamb Shish Kebabs, Koftes and Chicken wings all rapidly appear, served with cooked tomatoes, picked peppers and thin pancakes. The boys order chocolate and vanilla milkshakes, Kate has an apple tea and mine is a freshly squeezed apple juice which is delicious despite its dirty brown appearance! After turning down desert, complimentary teas and several offers of the Shisha water pipes, we drag ourselves back to the hotel.