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Holiday Hot Spots: Return of the hippy wanderer; 30 YEARS ON, ISTANBUL IS AS MAGICAL AS EVER.


YOU need to be a millionaire four times over just to buy a packet of fags in Istanbul.

But don't worry. With 2,500,000 old Turkish lira to the pound, you can live like a lord for a tenner.

Roaring inflation meant that since I first came here as a long-haired scruffy hippy in the early 1970s the Turks have devalued their currency and issued new lira notes worth one million times more than the previous ones.

But most prices are still shown in millions and there are plenty of the crumpled old notes floating around. So here's how to blow a cool 25 million lira - or 10 quid to you and me - in one day:

- LAZE away the morning taking a ferry up the Bosphorus, which splits Istanbul in two with Asia on one side and Europe on the other, for the price of a pounds 3 return ticket.

- CLAMBER off at the last stop, in sight of the Black Sea, and have a slap-up fish lunch at a waterside restaurant - but still get change from a fiver.

- SAIL back to the city before whiling away the afternoon in the historic Sultanahmet district.

- LASH out another pounds 1.50 on a spicy kebab in the friendly Doy-Doy restaurant, nestling in the shadow of the spectacular Blue Mosque. Finally...

- BLOW your remaining few coins on a strong Turkish coffee and a sweet cake in the "world-famous" Pudding Shop while reading your favourite Sunday newspaper.

Yes, that's right. Taking pride of place on the wall of this cafe, part of the setting for the movie Midnight Express, is a framed cutting from The People.

Written in September 1972, it tells how long-haired bearded hippies - just like I was - would rendezvous here on the way to the Far East.

"As caffs go," wrote former columnist Plain John Smith, "it's an unpretentious place but there is an air of ragged romance. Just as Raffles was the crossroads of the Empire, so the Pudding Shop is the international meeting place for a new generation of adventurers."

These days you don't see many hippies in the Pudding Shop. But according to owner Namik Colpan, lots of them pay a sentimental journey back to see how the place has changed.

The answer is totally since those carefree days. Fortunately though, much of this fascinating, bustling city has remained the same for centuries.

The skyline is still dominated by Aya Sofya, the stunning sixth century Byzantine cathedral converted into a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and the equally beautiful Blue Mosque, which the Turks built to rival it.

Taking a ferry across the Bosphorus on a warm summer evening to watch the blood red sun set behind their minaret towers is a magical sight. Mosques, of course, are everywhere. There's even one called Ey-up, presumably built by a group of Moslems from Heckmondwike, Cleckheaton or some other Yorkshire town.

Don't miss the fascinating Topkapi Museum, once the rambling palace of the sultans, with its harem and an Aladdin's Cave of treasures - everything from priceless jewels to Selim II's silk underpants.

No visit to Istanbul would be complete without a day spent haggling in the Covered Bazaar, a huge warren of more than 3,000 shops where you must never pay the asking price.

Then after all that shopping, unwind with a Turkish bath. The way masseur Erol Baltaci pulled and pummelled me, I suspect he probably failed an audition to play a brutal prison guard in Midnight Express for being too rough.

I feared he'd break both my arms and legs and then snap my neck as I lay on a marble slab at the historic Cember-litas Baths, where Turks have been sweating it out since 1584.

Finally if you tire of trudging round the historic sites, head for Taxim where hidden away in a quiet sidestreet is Sirius, Europe's only museum dedicated to flying saucers and aliens. It is, if you'll forgive the pun, out of this world!

There's only one place to stay in the city - the magnificent Pera Palas Hotel, built in 1892 to accommodate passengers arriving on the Orient Express train, and once a fabled rendezvous for spies.

These days its elegance is somewhat faded and the Persian rug in my room - next door to the Zsa Zsa Gabor Suite - looked a bit threadbare.

But it's worth staying here just for a ride in the amazing 110-year-old lift before following in the footsteps of Mata Hari, Trotksy, Greta Garbo and company by sipping a glass of raki in the elegantly decorated bar.

Little wonder John Smith wrote in The People 32 years ago: "There's magic on the menu at the Pudding Shop tonight." What he should have said, of course, is that there is magic on the menu in Istanbul EVERY night.

FACTFILE: Three nights B&B at the Pera Palas Hotel costs from pounds 293 per person including flights from Stansted, Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast. Extra nights from pounds 29. Or spend a three-night stopover for pounds 183 en route to a beach holiday in Northern Cyprus. Details from Jewels of the World (0870 116 2233,


TAKE some euros. Despite Turkey not being in the EU, many prices - including those in Istanbul Airport's duty-free shop - are shown in the European currency.

IF you're buying a rug and you want to know if it's hand-made, check the back of it. It should be rough and uneven.


STUNNING: Aya Sofya; TREASURE TROVE: Always haggle in the bustling Grand Bazaar; PRIDE OF PLACE: 1972 People story is on wall; DIVIDING LINE: The Bosphorus divides Europe and Asia; MINARETS TO SPARE: The skyline over the Topkapi Palace at sunset; PUD-U-LIKE: Old hippy hangout; OLD SWEAT: Mal suffers in sauna
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Competition/Offers
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Sep 25, 2005
Previous Article:Holiday Hot Spots: PACK AND GO pounds 200.

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