Thursday, February 21, 2008

Istanbul (not Constantinople)

One of the cities I’ve always wanted to visit, despite tending to get the song “Istanbul not Constantinople” stuck in my head, Istanbul is the largest city in Europe and the classic “East meets West” destination. Napoleon Bonaparte said “If the earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.” Historically it was called Byzantium and then Constantinople. It straddles the Bosphorus Strait between the Mediterranean and the Caspian Seas, and is the only metropolis sitting on two continents – the Western side (Thrace) is in Europe, Eastern side (Anatolia) Asia. The exchange rate according to is 2.37 Turkish Lira to the UK pound, a nice awkward number!

Obviously it’s not ideal arriving late into a large city that you don’t know, hence why I’ve reserved a place stay – the Antique Hostel at Kutlugün Sokak 51, Sultanahmet, just round the corner from the Four Seasons Hotel which is of course where I should be staying! It’s a bit expensive, but I need some comfort, and the description drops in the magic words “free wifi” which tends to sell a place to me, regardless of how much you pay for the room! Haydar Pasha station, where my train arrives, is on the Eastern side, so I’ll have to take a ferry across the Bosphorus. Assuming they’re still running. Gulp!

Istanbul not Constantinople
by They Might Be Giants

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it's Turkish delight on a moonlit night

Every gal in Constantinople
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
So if you've a date in Constantinople
She'll be waiting in Istanbul

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can't say
People just liked it better that way

So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works
That's nobody's business but the Turks.

The ferries are still running, and I catch one with Fadi, a nice Syrian chap, and a German girl who’s been doing Erasmus here so speaks the lingo and knows where to take the ferries from. 1.30L fare, and about a ten minute ride brings us across, and I can see some of the big guns on our left, the Blue Mosque, the Sophia Church and Topkapi Palace. My hostel is somewhere near all of that stuff – good to have bearings. I end up on a tram to Sultanahmed Station, and from there walk down the gardens between the Blue Mosque and the Sophia Church, which seem to face each other in a real East meets West situation – they are both deeply impressive – I’ll come back as soon as I’ve dumped my bags.

It’s hard getting attention at the hostel, they’re in the final minutes of Fenerbahce (one of the local teams) vs Seville, a 3-2 nail-biter Champions League match. We actually passed the stadium on the way in on the eastern side, and could hear the crowd roaring! It also turns out they’ve given my room to someone else, so I’m put in a double and moved the following morning. Best thing of all? High speed internet wireless everywhere, hurrah! Civilsation! I head back out to have another look at the two churches which are a minute’s walk away, just past a swanky coffee bar which no doubt I’ll be in at some point tomorrow!

The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia

The Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque

The Hagia Sophia

It takes quite a lot to impress me these days, but I am in awe of these magnificent buildings, facing each other no more than a couple of hundred feet apart. I don’t think these are the last photos I’ll be taking here!

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