Not everywhere in the world can you sit on your hotel balcony on a warm evening and watch the slow-winged cranes returning to their nests atop the trees in the park of a 15th century fortress.
The clear blue sky has other birds as well. Swallows, large crook-beaked seagulls and very fast green parrots. The gulls wheel and settle, the parrots dive fearlessly into the foliage.
Below them the last of the local families gather up and head off home.
If I told you I had an Efes beer in my hand, the well travelled would quickly narrow my location down to Turkey and if I said I could without too much straining see the towers of more than one mosque, you would be right to say Istanbul.
The hotel is the Sirkeci Mansion just outside the walls of Ghulhane Park which has settled comfortably under the ramparts of the Topkapi.
We have five days in this city, not nearly long enough for our first visit. But, just like an African wildlife park where you chase down the Big Five, we are diligent. No shame in catching for yourself the obvious tourist attractions that millions have seen before. Millions have seen them because they are bloody spectacular.
The Spice or Egyptian markets disappoint. The building from 1660 is worth studying, the modern stalls are mostly cheap souvenirs with few of the bulging sacks of glowingly coloured spices and herbs you have seen in the brochures. The Grand Bazaar is amazing in size, structure and content, a central section has some very tasty antiques. The Blue Mosque with its 6 minarets is sublimely beautiful outside and in, but as it is still a place of worship, visitors do not have unfettered access but shuffle in their plastic covered feet on a carpet down one side only. All over too soon. The Aya Sofia was much better for us. Now a museum, it allows plenty of time to explore over two levels each piece of stone, glass and decoration patinated by centuries. To rest your back against an astonishingly thick pillar and let your eyes drift over the detail of the dome is to wonder at the inspiration and skill of the men who worked to glorify their god 1500 years ago. The underground Basilica Cistern built by Justinian in 527 was another unexpected fascination.
But for us the Topkapi Palace was the most rewarding.
We arrived at opening time and had the place to ourselves for the first half hour. The tiled chambers of the Harem, the magnificent objects locked in the Treasury and the salons setting out the history of Islam and the Ottoman Empire were worth many hours.
But back to our hotel.
Like entering a friend’s house, really, with a front door you push open to an intimate foyer, but on the top floor (4th) our room was large, light and generously appointed and balconied. The staff were truly like a family too … you can meet them on the website below.
Over our five days we tried the food in many quarters … a long lunch of seafood under the Galata Bridge was memorable. We’d sampled the startling stacks of sticky sweets, even had a pint in an English pub. The hotel people had kindly directed us to neighbouring restaurants, but we found returning to their own rooftop Neyzade with circling birds at twilight and a view of the Bosphorus delivered us a couple of our best meals.
Have a look for yourself at www.sirkecimansion.com