I’VE been to Istanbul as a weekend tourist before so I knew what to expect.
Raki-fuelled nights out, the buzz of a city straddling two continents and steeped in history – and being chatted up by Turkish waiters.
Istanbul is a city of views but you won’t be inspired by the 30-minute cab ride (three hours in the rush hour) from the airport into the city.
The only view you’ll get is through a haze of exhaust smoke as you ride nose-to-tail at a snail’s pace through the urban sprawl.
But the minute you turn a corner and see Istanbul’s three waterways – the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara – shimmering in the sunlight, you realise what all the fuss is about.
“Manzara cok guzelle”, indeed. That’s Turkish for the view is very beautiful.
If you’re staying in Sultanahmet, the touristy part of town and home to the “must see” Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya and Topkapi Palace, book a hotel with a roof garden and enjoy breakfast while gazing at the sights.
Should you really want to splash out on a room with a view, the Four Seasons is the obvious choice.
It’s a former prison – the film Midnight Express was set there – and has been remodelled into a shrine to five-star luxury living.
Another five-star establishment with picturesque panoramas is the Ritz-Carlton, a ten-minute walk from bustling Istiklal Caddesi, the city’s main drag populated 24-7 by bright young things.
Bag yourself a room overlooking the Bosphorus and you can see Asia twinkling in the distance of an evening. And, should you fancy a Turkish football match without the much-publicised aggro, the Ritz-Carlton is bang next door to the Besiktas Stadium.
Just grab an Efes beer from the minibar and watch the game from the comfort of your bedroom.
Top spot for view voyeurs is the 250ft high Galata Tower, built in 1348. But the narrow outdoor viewing platform is not for vertigo sufferers.
Naturally the city’s most fashionable restaurant stakes its claim to chi-chi fame on the basis of its view.
Indeed its name – 360 – refers to the vista, its huge glass windows and outdoor roof terrace.
The food is good and, for a place that’s such a firm fixture in the social calendar of any self-respecting Istanbul resident, it’s not too expensive.
After dinner, if you really want to live it up, head to the city’s uberclub, Reina – the place to be if you want to spot a Turkish pop or dizi (soap) star.
You can pay top dollar for your view or you can enjoy it for under a quid by hopping on a ferry from Eminonu, Karakoy or Besiktas in Europe to Kadikoy in Asia.
Landmarks along the way include the Maiden’s Tower, which is bang in the middle of the Bosphorus and starred as a location in the Bond flick From Russia With Love.
While you’re in Asia, jump in a cab and climb up to Camlica.
It’s not really on the tourist trail but this hill, atop which flies a huge Turkish flag, has the whole city spread out beneath it.
The great thing about Istanbul is that the best views are the ones you stumble across by chance. You’ll turn a corner and there laid out in front of you is the Bosphorus twinkling in the sunlight.
You can look out of your hotel room window and see fireworks lighting up the sky as a well-heeled Turkish mama and papa celebrate their progeny’s wedding.
Or you’ll stumble out of a night club on Istiklal Caddesi at 4am to the show-stopping sight of some of the most elegant transvestites this side of Asia.
My favourite view when I lived in Istanbul was from the roof terrace of our flat.
We’d look across the Golden Horn to Sultanahmet and congratulate ourselves on having moved to a city where we could afford to rent a plush pad in the Istanbul equivalent of Kensington or Knightsbridge.
“It’s a bit different from Camberwell,” my flatmate Elisa used to laugh.
You can say that again!