Get away: The spice of life and the sultan's pink pyjamas

Ooh, I feel like a proper sultana - in Istanbul for a weekend's shopping and staying at the sultan's summer palace. The Ciragan Palace is now a sumptuous hotel with all mod cons. As I nibble on the complimentary apricots and almonds and watch the mosques and the fading light over the misty Bosphorous, the stress melts away. I forget the early start, the four-and-a-bit-hour flight (slightly long for a weekend) and the traffic jams on the long journey through the ugly, rubble-and-goat-strewn suburbs from the airport.

Next morning, I'm ready to hit the shops when they open at nine. The city has modern shops with names we recognise, but I haven't come all the way to Asia for that. So first we make for the Spice Market, or Misir Carsisi.

This was once the end of the Silk Road, along which merchants brought goods from the Far East to trade with Europeans. Who'd like that belly-dancer outfit? Or those gold-embroidered slippers? And do I know anyone who'd like some "Turkish Viagra", made from 31 spices and honey? The market is small, the traders friendly. I buy amazingly cheap saffron, jars of nuts with honey, halva and Turkish delight.

Then it's time for the main event. The Grand Bazaar, or Kapali Carsi, dates from the 15th century and has more than 3,000 shops. My companions speed off with squeals of joy - gathering kilims, fake Chanel and Fendi handbags as they run. I am overwhelmed by the amount of stuff. Here, a stallholder carries his Turkish coffee on a silver tray; there, ancient lanterns hang next to Versace underpants.

One more experience would complete this sultana's day - a visit to the hamam, or Turkish bath. The Cagaloglu Hamaminbsp; is more than 300 years old and my masseuse looks as if she's been here from the start. She scrubs me throughly, and finishes with a washcloth on the face that reminds me of nursery. I emerge from its marble chambers cleansed of Mammon, ready to see the spiritual side of the city the next day.

To read this story in full see Friday Magazine in this week's TES.nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;

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