I am a big fan of cities and Istanbul is now one of my favorites...

Authentic and decadent

I am a big fan of cities, and after a wonderful weekend in Istanbul I wonder why I've never been before. It's hectic like Cairo, fancy like Paris, authentic like Marrakech and decadent like Beirut. While many choose to stay in Sultanahmet - the old part of town, we picked upscale Nisantasi which is their equivalent of Chelsea. Our base, The Sofa Hotel, was a wonderful boutique hotel within walking distance of shops, bars and restaurants where the well-heeled locals hang out.

Haggling in bazaars and exquisite mosques

There is plenty to do, from visiting mosques, eating wonderful food, haggling at the bazaars for spices, textiles and gold, and all best done on foot. I highly recommend a visit to 360, the famous restaurant, bar and club located on the 5th floor of a residential building on Istiklal Caddessi. It has glass walls, large terrace and, as the name suggests, 360 degree views of the city.

A gastronomic delight

A word about food (which seems to be a recurring topic in my post-trip reflections) - it is very easy to eat well in Istanbul. Many restaurants are menu-less affairs with waiters bringing trays of mixed meze, followed by a mixed grill of meat or fish and all washed down with good local wine, raki or thick Turkish coffee. For something more low key head to the Galata Bridge where fishermen sell freshly caught fish, cooked up and popped into a roll of bread. Delicious.

Backgammon champ

For the competitive among you there is also the joyous game that is backgammon, readily available in most cafes. From my experience the waiters will be more than happy to join you for a shisha pipe and lesson in the dark arts of backgammon. After a private tuition session from a local I beat my opponent four times in a row which was, hands down, the highlight of my weekend. We played for gifts, and I'm now the proud owner of an Istanbul bell and fridge magnet.

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