Night location: Istanbul, Turkey
This morning we bade farewell to Italy and flew to a new country for both of us, Turkey. The monolithic new Istanbul airport is the largest in the world and Turkish airlines proudly boasts that they fly to more countries than any other airline, so we can only assume they are a competitive nation on a mission to be the biggest and the best.
David had arranged for a transfer to our hotel and after waiting a few minutes while other couples and groups continued to join us, we followed the leader to a massive pick up zone where one by one the groups were called to their respective vans. Our van was a pimped out Mercedes designed for a sultan with cream leather, walnut timber features and large orange LED Mercedes logos on either side of the interior cabin. If nothing else, we were arriving in style.
Arriving in the old town we checked into our hotel and were delighted to find a handwritten note and a container of four different Turkish sweets waiting in our room from Tennille and Robby. They left us some really helpful tips, which after enjoying the Turkish delights, we immediately set off using their directions.
In Istanbul, a museum pass comes in handy as you are able to skip lines at busy tourist attractions. We bought our passes from the Museum of Islamic Art before entering into the shaded courtyard cafe for a snack. David enjoyed his first Turkish coffee and then we walked through the rooms of the 16th century Ibrahim Pasha Palace which is a beautiful example of Ottoman architecture. The museum tracks the changing historical periods of Islamic empires and exhibits the evolving artistic styles, particularly in the intricately gilded illustrations of the Qur'an.
We walked back through the hippodrome and admired a beautiful German fountain which was built in 1898 to commemorate the second visit of German Emperor Wilhelm II. The Roman hippodrome was built for chariot racing in 203CE and is now a lovely urban park known as Sultanahmet with the Blue Mosque rising just behind it. On the street leading to our hotel we were invited into many restaurants, each one rated 5 stars and claiming to be the best. One man maintained that he had kindly saved us a table all day which was really quite special. We thanked him graciously and moved on, returning to our lovely hotel in order to make plans for the next few days.