Straddling Continents & Oozing History. Where East Meets West & Where Europe Meets Asia
The Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey. April 10, 2014
Straddling the continents of Asia & Europe, Istanbul, the former capital & the most populated city in Turkey, has been one of the major centre points of the world for thousands of years. Once known as Byzantium & then Constantinople, it was home to one of the last Roman outposts for a thousand years before it was conquered in 1453 by the Ottoman ruler Sultan Mehmed II and subsequently became part of a Muslim nation; it’s still one today, one pushing to become the only Muslim member of the EU (& has been for a while).
It’s good to be back in Istanbul on what is my third visit to the city. Mostly good. I’ve only been here a few hours but I’ve already had a shawarma; I have visited the central courtyard of the Blue Mosque; I’ve got that comforting, sweet whiff of shisha/water pipe (but strangely I haven’t actually seen one yet); I have heard the melodious call to prayer a few times; I’ve cursed the smokers (Turks smoke like chimneys); & I’ve been asked a million times already by just as many touts where I come from – I invariably reply that I’m “from Turkey, just like you!” which always does the trick & stops them in their tracks.
I’m in the Sultanahmet area of the city, the heart of Old Istanbul, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site packed with some of the city’s most famous and thus visited sights, including the aforementioned Blue Mosque & the Hagia Sophia, one of the world’s great buildings. I’ll be taking a look at that tomorrow having failed to do so on my previous two visits to the city back in 2007 & 2008. I’ll also play with a few more touts in the city’s famous Grand Bazaar &, time permitting, I’ll take an amble across the Galata Bridge spanning the Bosporus strait to Asia. Oh, and I’ll take some pictures, too. I wanted more time back here but really only have one full day. That coupled with a long to-do list means tomorrow will be a busy day. Best get to bed so.
I saw the clouds rolling in towards the end of what was a gorgeous day today & I knew it was going to be a shitty evening. And it is. It’s pelting down outside. I’ve just been out in it, standing by wondering what all the Turks are protesting about. There are loads of them, all wearing coloured headbands & marching up & down Divan Youl Cad, Sultanahmet’s main drag. Something has gotten their ire that’s for sure. Surely not the rain & certainly nothing I did. All I’m guilty of doing today was buzzing around the city taking pictures. Honest.
I paid another visit to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and unlike yesterday evening they let me in this time.
I moseyed down to the banks of the Bosporus strait with the intentions of walking over the Galata Bridge from European to Asian Istanbul. But once I got there I sat around for too long on the European side watching the world go by before eventually deciding that my return to Asia can wait one more day at least – I’ll be in Dubai, UAE, this time tomorrow.
Regardless of its storied past, today Istanbul is a tourist city. And the city’s attractions don’t come much more touristy than its labyrinthine, chaotic Grand Bazaar.
I’ve just checked my flight details for tomorrow. And lucky I did too. I was checking for the time but I happened to notice that I’m not flying out of the airport that I flew into yesterday. Instead I’m flying from one I hadn’t heard of until a few minutes ago – Sabiha Gokcen International Airport. A quick bit of googling tells me it’s some 50 kilometres on the other, Asian side of the city. Best figure out how to get there so. I can’t be missing that flight to Dubai. The first of 2 5-star hotels that I’ll be calling home for the next 8 nights in the desert awaits. Time to put the backpacking on hold.