What did you do during the first week of the New Year? Resulting from a quick and unofficial poll, common answers include dealing with tax returns, skiing holidays, spending quality time with the family, or being in bed with the flu.
While all those are surely very fine options (well, except the last one), I used the opportunity to do something that had been top of my list for ages: explore the fabled and fabulous Turkish metropolis - Istanbul.
There are uncountable reasons to spend time in that great city: its long and distinguished history, its wealth of archaeological monuments, its renowned beauty, and the wide array of excellent food it offers are perhaps the most obvious. Also, anyone who loves Turkey will, before long, have to immerse him - or herself in the country's cultural centre.
For me, having lived in Greece and with Greeks for many years, and for my Greek travelling companion, there may have been an extra element of interest - although everyone knows that the modern city is Istanbul, not Constantinople, the former Byzantine capital still retains many echoes of its Greek past and still maintains a sentimental place in the Greek psyche - surely only a Greek would express a longing to drink all of the Bosphorus...
So, did my Istanbul tour fulfil its many promises? Of course it did, and so much more than that! Travelling at an unusual season, usually marred by unpredictable and cold weather, we had a marvellous and diverse time, a mixture of imperial grandeur and intimate beauty, of urban scenes and marine vistas, of renewing old friendships and making new acquaintances, of cultural experience and of sheer sensual pleasure.
Istanbul is a city of many contrasts: between the stunning beauty of Istanbul in the crisp January sunlight and the city's melancholy atmosphere in the mists rising from a wintry Bosphorus, between the expected fascination of the grand monuments in the Old Town and the unexpected appeal of the unbelievably dynamic and hospitable New Town with its never-closing stores, wonderful bookshops and endless variety of gastronomic delights. We simply fell in love with that incredible city, and hope to return soon, and often.
While it is impossible to communicate the smells, sounds and flavours in a brief tour of Istanbul here, at least we can share some visual impressions.
If you're intrigued by any of the monuments illustrated in our gallery (but there are so many more), you can start exploring them online - good starting points include the Hagia Sophia, the New Mosque, the Theodosian Walls and, of course, the Topkapı Palace.
So, if you have not yet been but would like to tour Istanbul, get ready for an unforgettable experience. The city richly rewards a visit at any season, and you'll be sure to discover something new no matter how many times you have visited already. Needless to say, an ideal way to be introduced to Istanbul, or to deepen one's knowledge of its archaeological riches, is to join one of our escorted tours in Turkey, especially our 1-week expert-led Istanbul tour.