Istanbul has the best of East and West, writes NATALIE CHALK
ISTANBUL provides the backdrop to the latest Bond flick Skyfall.
And star Daniel Craig, 44, said the rich and colourful surroundings of the glamorous Turkish city give the film an "old-fashioned Bond movie" feel for its 50th anniversary.
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NATALIE CHALK took a trip to the hip, historical hotspot.
SO there's Europe on the left and Asia on the right.
And there I was in the middle of these two giant continents on a passenger boat gliding along the turquoise Bosphorus in Istanbul.
Playing pass-the-parcel with my eyes, the shoreline unravelled mosques, old palaces, mansions, castles, churches, fashionable restaurants, international hotels and nine islands.
Istanbul is the sprawling, eclectic home to some 20 million Turks. The Bosphorus runs through its heart from which all the major landmarks can be spotted.
The main shopping area Taksim is as busy as London's Oxford Street, with the same familiar shops. By night the streets turns into a blur of bars, cafes, restaurants and clubs.
Empires I stayed at the new Hilton Garden Inn Golden Horn hotel, where the beds have a dial to adjust the firmness of the mattress. The restaurant even serves up Americanstyle waffles for breakfast, which are the perfect way to begin the day.
But behind this seemingly modern metropolis, Istanbul is full of eastern promise and ancient mystery.
This is the only city in the world to boast being half in the West and half in the East, with the Bosphorus Strait the great dividing line. The waterway stretches for 19 miles leading to the Sea of Marmara in the south and the Black Sea in the north.
This ancient city was home to three empires - the Eastern Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman.
Now starring in Bond flick Skyfall, Istanbul bul has already made the perfect backdrop for two blockbusters - Murder On The Orient Express and the 1963 Bond classic From Russia With Love. The Basilica Cistern is a spookily-lit underground water chamber the size of a cathedral, which was used as a location for the 007 film starring Sean Connery.
More than 300 marble columns support the structure but only two have the carvedout face of the mythological Greek monster Medusa. No-one knows why they are there.
Another amazing spectacle is the Hagia Sophia. With its huge dome it was the greatest church in Christendom for more than 1,000 years. It then became a mosque and is now it is a museum.
I also managed to hit the opulent former royal residence Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque and even the Grand Bazaar, all in one day.
There was a scrum to get inside the Blue Mosque as tourists and worshippers took off their shoes at the entrance. When I finally squeezed inside, I found myself in a huge empty prayer hall.
The first thing I noticed was the deep red carpet, then the immense chandelier that offered up an intense glow on to the blue tiles and the glorious hemisphere dome in the roof.
As the Islamic call to prayers rang out across the city, I pushed on into the grey light towards the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest covered markets in the world, with 60 cobbled narrow streets housing 5,000 shops. The chaotic artisan hive sells everything from jewellery and hand-painted ceramics to carpets, spices, antiques.
Istanbul doesn't have to be a holiday in history though. One great way to get to its heart is through the food.
Turks make the most incredible meatballs and, of course, it is the home of the shish kebab and doner. These are made with seriously good carved pieces of mixed meats roasted on a spit and served on warm flat breads.
The Turkish kitchen offers up mostly light, vegetarian style dishes served meze style. Plus there is the warm bread, tangy salads, red peppers, beans and lentil dishes, tomato and chilli relishes and soup. To top it all off there's the yoghurt, which Turks seem to eat with everything.
Fortune Even the street food is tempting, with sellers offering roasted chestnuts, pastries and mussels freshly plucked from the sea.
It would have been easy to gobble and guzzle my way around the city as I dipped in and out of cafes for rest stops.
These establishments are not like our western coffee shops. They are places where you take a seat among the comfy cushions, textiles, lace tablecloths and even the waterpipes, alias hookahs.
And then there's Turkish coffee, where the powered grounds are left in the bottom of the cup and if you are lucky someone might read your fortune with the remnants.
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Fact Box ¦FLIGHTS are available to Istanbul from Gatwick with Turkish Airlines. Prices start from £149 return. To book go to turkishairlines.com/en-uk/ ¦ A night at Hilton Garden Inn Istanbul Golden Horn costs from £96 a night with breakfast. To book visit hiltongardeninn.com