I would make a return visit to the Byzantine/Romanesque church of Saint Saviour in Chora, Istanbul. Along with the Hagia Sophia, the church has very recently been reconverted into a mosque, despite condemnation from Greek and Protestant Christians in Turkey. Saint Saviour in Chora is famous for its interior, which is decorated with an extensive series of mosaics for the Palaeologan Renaissance. Among some of the oldest surviving Christian mosaics, they were rediscovered and restored when the building was secularised as a museum in the 1940s. There is debate as to whether the iconography, style and composition of the church’s mosaics provided a crucial model for painters of the early Italian Renaissance period such as Cimabue, Giotto and Memmi. There is a startling similarity between these Byzantine depictions of the journey to Bethlehem, the life of the Virgin and the Anastasis and the paintings of Giotto.
Would you make any special stops?
Travelling overland in the comfort of our Jaguar Sovereign, a stop off in Vienna would be a must. It’s the home of my best man Simon, his Austrian wife Christine and their family. We could enjoy a Kapuziner and a croissant in my favourite coffee house, Café Landtmann, while contemplating the siege of the city by the Ottomans in 1683. Both these café delicacies are legacies of the routing of the Ottoman forces when the Capuchin Franciscan, Marco d’Aviano, made milky coffee from the bitter beans left behind by the invading armies.
Who would be your travelling companions?
My wife Melissa would be driving the Jag. She is from Texas which accounts for her love of driving over long distances. My daughter Grace is a student of history of art so she could provided the guided tour.
You can transplant your favourite restaurant onto the route. What is it?
We would ask Anna and Nevio, owners of our favourite local caff Pellicci’s (established 1900) to pack a hamper full of their simple and sustaining Italian dishes – chicken escalopes, their mamma’s special meatballs and cannelloni. A big Thermos
of strong east London tea for refreshment.
Camp under the stars, or find a church hall to sleep in?
Stopping off in Hungary, we’d need to find the real-life equivilent of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. My daughter is a huge fan of his films and none of us can stand the absurd idea of camping.
Which books would you take?
The novelist and travel writer Jan Morris conjures up the frighteningly palpable prescence of a non-specific oriental capital through its strange traditions and rituals in her novel Hav. The 19th-century French romantic writer Pierre Loti goes even further. His descriptions of the sounds, sights and fragrance of the exotic plunge modern readers into a florid realm at odds with current literary taste. Loti lived in the Fatih district of Constantinople. His former house is now a tearoom with views over the Golden Horn.
What Bible or religious verse would you ponder as you walked?
Twiddling the car radio dial would help to mark our passage from west to east as the airwaves broadcasting Bach Masses gradualy fade away to be filled with recitations of Quranic verse and the call to prayer.
What’s your go-to prayer?
I once bought my daughter Grace a book of the graces for the various Oxbridge colleges. I’d hope she might memorise these en route in readiness for blessing the kebabs.
What’s your favourite eating dish?
Turkish food is a wonder. Always fresh and delicious and available everywhere in Istanbul. I was disappointed to hear that the local council was getting rid of the brightly coloured bobbing boats in the Golden Horn from which one could buy a hot grilled fish in French bread. The rooftop restaurant Hamdi is perenially popular with Istanbulus. It has a fantastic view over the Galata Bridge and their smart waiters serve some of the best meze in city.
What singalong keeps up the spirits?
“Istanbul (not Constantinople)” would be a popular tune to sing en route. The They Might be Giants version is a favourite.
You’re allowed one luxury in your bag. What is it?
Caviar is much more affordable in Istanbul. I’d load up the ice box with a selection from one of the more reputable sellers in the Spice Bazaar before the home journey. We knew our caviar man could be trusted to have decent produce because he had pictures of himself with his arm round Bernie Ecclestone and Mickey Rourke up on his stall.
What would you miss most about ordinary life?
Our Scottie dog Dr Watson, who would have to stay at home in London. The Istanbul climate wouldn’t agree with him. Neither would the local street dogs.