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Travel & Holidays in later life


St SofyaOn the motor-coach in from Istanbul airport to the city centre, the tour guide said: "Don't think of this as a holiday. By the end of your stay you'll be footsore and weary. You'll be on the go every day and most nights. But, by the time you leave Turkey, I'll guarantee that you'll all qualify for your belly-dancing certificates."

Reg Butler was travelling to the Turkish capital as part of a mixed group. Some tour members were taking an intensive three-night weekend break. Others were staying a full week, or combining Istanbul for a two-centre holiday with a beach interlude.

I chatted with a businessman who had the figures all worked out. Adding in the single-room supplement, he gloated that his package-tour price was less than one-half the cost of paying regular air-fare and hotel separately. 

Travel Facts


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Visit our  holidays, breaks and travel options pages


A 'pay on arrival' visa fee of  10 is currently in force.

Short breaks are featured by several UK tour companies and also by specialized Anglo-Turkish travel agencies. Ask your local agent for brochures. 

Spring and autumn are the best seasons. A winter break can be a gamble. The weather changes course about every three days: cold and bright when the winds blow from the north, via Russia; wet and foggy when the winds come from the Aegean. Cold and bright can be delightful, with a sparkle to the air, but the wet days can be miserable. Istanbul's winter weather is little different from London, and one should dress accordingly. 

Avoid the taxi pirates who lurk at tourist locations and refuse to switch on their meters. Even those who queue outside hotels can be dodgy. 

More information: Turkish Culture and Tourism Office, Fourth Floor, 29-30 St James's Street, London SW1A 1HB
Tel: 020 7839 7778. 

Travelsphere escorted holidays


A cheerful sub-group of four salesmen and their wives were even luckier. They were getting the whole thing free! As reps for an engineering company, they were being rewarded with "incentive tours" for exceeding their sales targets. They said "it really gave us something to work for!"

A house-party atmosphere soon built up. As the guide had warned, Istanbul is so packed with sightseeing interest that sore feet and swollen ankles were inevitable.

The basic package included room and continental breakfast. Sightseeing tours cost extra. A half-day city sightseeing featured the great mosques, Hagia Sophia and a variety of Roman remains.

Especially varied was a whole-day expedition that started with a boat trip up the Bosphorus, paused at a fishing village for an excellent fish lunch, and then returned to Istanbul for an afternoon at the famed Topkapi Palace and finally the great Covered Bazaar.

The Galata Bridge departure-point offers a fantastic panorama up the Golden Horn, with hillsides stepped high with ancient and modern buildings, mosque minarets and towers.

Beat-up old ferry-boats chug back and forth across the Bosphorous, trailing wind-socks of belching smoke as they commute between Europe and Asia. A myriad smaller craft and fishing-boats go about their business, dwarfed by rust-coated tramp steamers and trim, well-painted passenger liners and cruise-ships.

The ferry-boats make occasional stops, punctual as a bus service, at delightful waterside villages. In the bright sunshine, photographers have plentiful colour-picture shots: blue and yellow summerhouses, green fishing-boats, and timber restaurants and cafes built out on piles over the blue Bosphorus. Some of the waterside mansions, set in luxuriant gardens, are owned by the wealthiest families in Turkey.

Ashore, the greatest highlight is Topkapi Palace - former home of Turkish sultans, the centre of the Ottoman Empire for some 500 years. The Harem quarters alone comprise around 400 rooms. At full strength the Harem housed about 500 people, including the black eunuchs, up to 200 concubines and the Sultan's children.

Buildings in the sprawling palace display all the riches of the sultans, including the world's rarest collections of Chinese and Japanese porcelain. The Treasury features enough jade and emeralds to turn even a millionaire green with envy.

Along the BosphorusThe famed emerald dagger which starred in the film 'Topkapi' is safe behind thick plate glass. Candlesticks are a hundred-weight of solid gold encrusted with 6,666 diamonds. The pear-shaped 86-carat Spoonmaker's Diamond was found by a pauper who swapped it for three wooden spoons.

The whole area from Topkapi to Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque is packed with more history and sightseeing interest than almost any other place on earth. 

Within walking distance is the Covered Bazaar, with 4,000 shops under one roof. Entire sections are devoted to each trade. Jewellers' stores stand shoulder to shoulder, each window glittering with gold bracelets, brooches, rings and cuff-links.

Other sections feature sheepskins, suede and leather coats; brassware; carpets; alabaster ornaments; kaftans and blouses; shoes and sandals. A shoppers' paradise - especially for those who pick up Oriental haggling!


A typical 'Istanbul by Night' featured a well-known fish restaurant beside the Bosphorous. A starter of raki was followed by Turkish wine and over twenty mysterious dishes of hors d'oeuvres, vegetables, bits of fish and meat. There was dance music, comedy acts and some luscious belly-dancing.

As the party loosened up, we were lured onto the floor to practise Turkish dancing. By midnight, all of us - young, middle-aged and senior citizens alike - were fully qualified for our belly-dancing certificates.

For a contrast in Turkey, consider this alternative

TURKEY - The south coast paradise of l deniz and Lykiaworld

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

"Lonely Planet: Istanbul" by Tom Brosnahan - an excellent guide to the lifestyle in Turkey's biggest city, by the founder of the Lonely Planet series. 

The Harem: Inside the Grand Seraglio of the Turkish Sultans - take a glimpse into the lives of the Ottoman emperors, and of the women in the Harem, closely guarded the eunuchs. 

"Blue Guide City Guide: Istanbul" by John Freely - A detailed guide around this confusing city, with a selection of 21 walks mapped out and well described.

"Istanbul: the Imperial City" by John Freely - A combined history and guide, a biography of the city, from early Greek settlement, through Byzantium and Constantinople to present-day Istanbul.

"Classic Turkish Cooking" by Ghillie Basan - A well-illustrated and readable account of Turkish cuisine, including classical recipes from the Ottoman palace kitchens.

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