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Time off in Istanbul

In between visits to Istanbul’s awe inspiring sights, it sometimes feels good to come up for air. Here are four suggestions for Istanbul experiences on the lighter side .

Cruise like a Sultan on a Sultanboat

A cross between a royal barge and a massive Venetian gondola these splendid open vessels hold 30 passengers and make regular excursions throughout the year. When the Sultan travelled on his gilded and bejewelled vessel loyal subjects bowed to him from the shore. As your boat passes under the Galata bridge, pedestrians and fishermen greet you almost as enthusiastically. Prepare to wave! Cruises on the Golden Horn depart from the dock outside the Halic Kultur Merkezi in Sutluce daily at 10.00 and 20:00. For a shorter outing take the Sultanboat shuttle from the Dolmabahce Palace on the European shore across the busy Bosphorus to the Beylerbeyi Palace and the Kucuksu Summer Palace on the Asian shore (daily except Monday and Thursday). Or book a Sultanboat for a private cruise any day between 10:00 and 20:00.

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Treat yourself to a view to remember

In the 19th century, the mystique of Constantinople was at its romantic height. Julian Viaud, a French naval officer who wrote under the pen name of Pierre Loti, was just one of those enchanted by the city. Loti used to climb the hill behind Eyup’s tomb to write in a humble coffee shop with a remarkable view of the Golden Horn. This 19th century coffee shop, now called the Loti Café, is still there.

And the view, too, is still worth the journey. Take a taxi, or better still, use the funicular signposted from the Eyup Mosque. (Eyup was a friend of the Prophet Mohammed and his was the first mosque built after the Turks took Constantinople.) The funicular glides up and over the ancient Ottoman cemetery that extends uphill from Eyup’s tomb – like a landslide in reverse – to bring you to the coffee shop terrace. From here, you can survey the Golden Horn in all its sinuous beauty. The view is best at twilight, when the sun’s rays gild the water of this natural harbour. Pierre Loti Café is open daily from 8.00 to 24:00. It serves non-alcoholic drinks and snacks. No credit cards. The funicular costs 1.30 Turkish lira. There’s a token dispenser at the station.

Commune with Agatha Christie at the Pera Palace

The mystery writer Agatha Christie began her love affair with Istanbul in 1923. She visited many times in the next few years and always stayed in room 411 at the Pera Palace Hotel, where she was inspired to write Murder on the Orient Express. Guests can still stay in room 411 where the key to her diary was found hidden under the floorboards three years after her death. Agatha Christie’s books form part of the décor. But you don’t have to book in to the hotel to enjoy the atmosphere. Take afternoon tea under the magnificent domes of the Kubbeli Salon, have a meal in the Agatha Restaurant, or muse over a drink in the Orient Bar, a favourite of Ernest Hemingway’s. The father of the Turkish Republic, Ataturk, stayed at the Pera Palace too, and his preferred room – 101 – is now a museum open to visitors. Just ask a bellman to show it to you. Pera Palace Hotel, Meşrutiyet Caddesi No. 52 Tepebaşı Beyoğlu 34430 Telephone: +90 212 222 80 90.

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Explore the Koc Industrial Museum

This is the private world of a world-class collector, Rahmi M Koc. Thousands upon thousands of items are housed in an elegantly restored 18th century anchor house and in 14 adjacent waterside buildings that were once a ruined dockyard on the Golden Horn. It’s impossible to describe the inventory adequately; it includes gleaming ranks of vintage cars, an olive oil factory, the Sultan’s railway car, a submarine (book in advance to visit) an airplane, a 1917 X-ray ambulance – just about everything that has wheels that go round or a motor. There’s also miniature doll’s house furniture, sailboats, a horse-pulled tram, and a street of reconstructed shops; I can only recommend that you see it for yourself. The museum is located at Haskoy Avenue No. 5. Open 10:00 to 17:00 Monday-Friday and until 19:00 Saturday and Sunday.

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