Polo turned out to be a born bargainer (he bought 10 pairs of socks just because he wanted to see how low he could get the seller to go!) and bought lots of Christmas presents. Everywhere were people trying to sell you carpets or leather jackets (Yes Plis! You are English? You want carpet!). It seemed to be a universal truth that the English wanted carpet, and they were really surprised that we didn't. The weirdest thing was when we went to an English Language bookshop, and got the hard sell on *books*. That just seemed so wrong!
We did all the touristy things:
- a ride up the Bosphorus to Anadolu Hisari (I kept getting confused which shore was the european one and which was Asian, but I think I've now got it straight - anything called 'Andolu' is on the Asian side.
- wandered round the Ottoman palace at Topkapi Serayi (Wow! Big emeralds! We were torn between marvelling at them, and marvelling at the loudness of the Americans who were marvelling in front of us. Plus there were beard hairs of Mohammed, which was sort of... odd. And the sword of Suleyman the Magnificent, which was more practical-looking than I expected.)
- Haghia Sophia (specially wanted to see that, vast sixth-century churches being thin on the ground - though it has been revamped and repaired more than I had realised: I was reminded of the Terry Pratchett ancestral dwarf axe, where the blade and handle had each been replaced many times, but it remained *the same axe*. It had an amazing feeling of continuity, even though it was a mosque for a bit and is now a museum.
- the Blue Mosque - I thought I'd need a headscarf, but no, it's obviously such a tourist attraction that they've given up getting people to cover their hair, though we did have to take our shoes off (and carry them in a special Blue Mosque plastic bag)
- lots and lots of spare columns. If there was ever a city with a surplus of column capitals, it's Istanbul...
- Porphyry sarcophaguses! Extremely purple and pompous.
- the world's oldest treaty (between Egypt and the Hittites). Wow.
- the Grand Bazaar and the spice bazaar (and bought lots of Turkish Delight. Well, it's coming up to the festive season. And it is much nicer than the English version.
It was weird how the currency devalued while you looked at it. In January they divided *the entire currency* by 1 million, but our pounds were still worth noticeably more when we left than when we arrived. I had a manky fiver stuck in my wallet, and this seemed to be a hugely desirable item. If we go again, forget lire, we'll just take euros or sterling.
There were loads and loads of cats about, to Polo's delight. I guess many of them must have been strays, but (at least in the tourist districts where we were) they were all very friendly and didn't look too neglected: lots of tourists serving up chunks of their seafood snacks to the passing felines.