Twenty-two years ago we thought it was the most romantic place on earth, we loved it and vowed to go back. We never got round to it until this weekend and it was a bitter disappointment: Istanbul is a bit of a dump.
When we first went there as friends back then, we returned as lovers, if that turn of phrase doesn't make toes curl. Perhaps it clouded our judgement, because we both recall hot, balmy nights, dinners on roof terraces, lots of the local brew, haggling with friendly locals, seeing all the sights unbothered by the endless hassle, this song pouring out of every speaker, and more.
But in the driving rain and freezing wind, those ultra-steep streets are an exhausting chore, rather than a leisurely potter, and the glassy, grey Bosphourus casts a deathly pall over a crumbling city.
Our hotel billed itself as a luxury destination in the heart of a hip design district. Turns out it was miles from town, accessible by taxi only, with the number of bars and shops countable on one hand, with the hotel thinking it was far trendier than it was. It may caused a sensation when it opened a few years back, but it's trading on past glories like you wouldn't believe. Customer service was not on its agenda and after the less than warm welcome we received it could only go downhill from there.
However, it wasn't all bad. We took time to relax, bought loads of stuff, had some really nice food - and lots of it - and walked miles. We saw all the thing we wanted to see and at least we had each other. And all those stray cats and sad-faced dogs reduced us to quivering wrecks. But at least they're cared for.
How they think they can even countenance the idea of hosting the Olympic Games in 2020 (they're one of the candidate cities) is anyone's guess. In a city where you can't even flush your arsewipes down the lav in 2023, coping with an influx of millions of visitors would cripple it. The traffic is shocking, the public transport infrastructure is in its infancy, and it's basically a city falling apart.
Anyhoo, it was good to leave London, but I think we'll remember the first time.