Istanbul Bosphorus Grand Bazaar Mosque of Suleyman

There's far more to Turkey's capital, Istanbul, than belly dancers and steam baths.

It's certainly still possible to while away the hours watching the mesmerising twitching of a glamorous maiden, or letting the cares of the world drift into space in a relaxing Turkish bath.

But where else could you view the life and styles of a couple of continents in a few hours?

The Bosphorus marks the dividing line between Europe and Asia.

And a boat trip on the river - all hustle, bustle and stops on the way - is a must during any visit to Istanbul.

For peanuts (a couple of quid, although it seems much more because you get so many Turkish lira to the pound) you can sail away on an enchanting mix of past and present, splendour and simplicity, as you zigzag across the Bosphorus from Asia to Europe.

Our trip had a party atmosphere as groups of schoolgirls practised their disco and Turkish dancing.

The only trouble with the exchange rate is that once you get bargaining in Istanbul's massive Grand Bazaar you forget that tens of thousands of lira can be less than a pound!

The bazaar is a mesmerising maze of tempting treasures in almost 5000 shops.

It's great for exquisite carpets, beautifully carved pipes, luxurious leather goods and the inevitable counterfeit Cartiers.

You can't visit Istanbul without getting your fill of mosques and minarets. There are more than 1,000 domes in the city and the faithful are called to prayer five times a day from the from the pencil-slim minarets. But with new technology, the chanters don't hike it to the top now. They stay on ground level, using microphones and speakers to project their message.

WHEN it comes to checking out Istanbul's mosques you're spoiled for choice, but expect to be given a wrap-around skirt - that goes for the men, too - if you're wearing shorts.

The Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent - with its 52 metre high dome - is pretty magnificent, standing as it does on one of the seven hills of Istanbul.

Topkapi Palace isn't too bad either. The former great palace of the Ottoman sultans, it overlooks the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, the inlet that splits the European part of the city in two.

But if you've had your fill of grand buildings, what better way to wind down than sipping a welcoming beer in the Palace grounds restaurant?

For a lively evening, head for the Fruit Market where, under a giant domed ceiling, locals and tourists mix in a non-stop babble of conversation.

Or plan to eat at Kumpali, a former fishing village now full of open- air fish restaurants with strolling musicians.

For a change of mood, head for the sophisticated Tepe Bar on the 20th floor of the Marmara Hotel, which has a panoramic view to take your breath away.

As many tour operators now do twin-centre trips to Turkey, why not mix and match a beach holiday with a visit to Istanbul?

Perhaps Marmaris, with its surrounding shores dotted with isolated coves and hidden beaches.

The town has a cosmopolitan "Riviera" feel to it, and 8 km away is Icmeler with its sand and shingle beach and wide range of watersports.

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