Edit Blog Post
Published: September 8th 2014
Near Topkapi Palace.
I think the old adage a picture speaks a thousand words
is one to embrace. I am probably guilty of writing too much and embedding too few photos in my posts. Here I have gone the other way but if you are interested in trawling through the pictures I have done my best to label and annotate them accordingly.
I never set out to 'do' Istanbul as some might attempt, seeking to tick off the major attractions as listed in a popular guidebook or magazine. The first time I was in the city last year I was there simply as a prelude to an assignment for a couple of days. A very interesting couple of days mind you whilst demonstrations in Taksim and various marches and protests elsewhere kicked off. No, I've taken Istanbul mainly as it saw fit to rise up and meet me. That's not to say I didn't have an agenda but it was primarily in the social domain. For the few days I decided to site-see I chose to wander a little off the beaten track. I felt I was rewarded in my meandering inspection of the old city walls which straddle the European peninsula of
the Bosphorus. These would have been a lot more prominent in ancient times when they were fully functional and citizens, traders and visitors going in both directions would have had to negotiate one or other of the gates along its length. Today they are crumbling in many places and most of the gates are bisected by roads or public transport systems, people hardly giving them a second glance as they whiz by. What were once moats are now fields of vegetables and buildings encroach upon them and in some cases overshadow them along almost the entire stretch.
As for the so-called Old City and Sultanahmet, I left that for the throngs of tourists mostly. I had done the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque on the last visit and the Grand Bazaar I avoided on account of knowing that I probably wouldn't be able to say no to the dozens of vendors and curio-sellers therein (and feeling terribly guilty as a result). I did peruse the Spice Market and walked many of the surrounding streets but I haven't taken many pictures of this area and if that's what you want to hear about, I'm very sorry to disappoint. I
regret not going to see the ancient cistern and water works but the queue was dismayingly long. Maybe because my interest was piqued last year whilst visiting the Armenian churches around the city of Van in the east and an amazing Byzantine-era church in Trabzon, I decided to investigate a little more in this direction. As a result I stumbled across the small but intensely decorated Chora Church near the Golden Horn side of the city walls. It was an interesting little adventure. I remember meeting a Spanish tourist in one of the convoluted side-streets in the vicinity a short time after having come out of it. He was evidently disoriented but seeing that I had a camera slung over a shoulder and a guidebook to hand he recognised me as a fellow traveller. He asked me if I knew where the church was and although I knew it must be close I couldn't honestly hope to tell him how I had got to where I was because I myself was a rather lost. Where are you from?
he had asked and when I replied England via Africa
he said in broken English that I must be very lost indeed.
With a bemused smile he pressed on hurriedly. What I neglected to mention was that the Church was closed to visitors at 6 pm and it had just passed the hour. I didn't have the heart and who knows, maybe that day they stayed open a few minutes longer?
Also worth a mention is one other character I met the year before, a Syrian named Samer. Samer hailed from Aleppo and worked in a small curio shop along a stretch of street which flanked the city walls alongside Topkapi Palace. I had stayed in a 2* hotel nearby the year before and we had become friendly, taking Chai every morning outside the shop as his potential clientele strolled by. He was very good at picking out the different nationalities by their dress and appearance, alternatively trying to cajole them inside by chatting in French, German, Spanish, Italian or English. He may only have had a smattering of several of those languages but it was more than I had anyway. Through the course of our discussions I discovered that he was a) gay and b) that Istanbul was only a waypoint in his quest to reach Western Europe. Whilst Turkey
is a lot more tolerant of gay people than other Middle-Eastern countries, or so I am led to believe, he accused 'them' of being ignorant and rude. My impression though was that he was surviving in a manner perhaps far better than many others could hope for at this difficult juncture in that regions history. He smoked almost constantly and talked in hushed tones as if the effort of talking any louder was pointless. There were times he seemed to receded into his own thoughts but when pressed he talked quite openly of himself and his thoughts on matters. On Syria he seemed to come down on the side of the present government; his elder brother had been 'martyred' (his words) whilst in combat serving with the national army. His parents and sister lived in Aleppo not far from where the Sheraton Hotel had recently been blown up he told me. "My father called me and told me there was a terrible noise and that they thought they were going to die in that moment." They hadn't and that is where they still lived. I didn't press him much on the politics of the conflict but he volunteered his thoughts
Park near Maramara side of Land Walls
Public recreation, a practical initiative or a little tacky?
on the people opposing the government. "They are stupid people who will believe anything they are told'" he said to me, "but they can be taught the correct way of things given one or two years." What 'the right way' was I could only speculate having something to do with embracing Assad's rule and the previous status quo.
At the end of this trip and can honestly day I spent far more money than intended, than I probably should have, but that I met some inspirational and diverse people from many different places. I would love to have carried on the adventure and know that I will again most certainly. It was particularly hard coming back to my lodgings in the south of England after the communal loving experience even though I know it would have worn me out in the end... but here I am and richer for it so let me not count the monetary cost and instead hold these memories and experiences for my benefit and those willing to to share it with me. You!
Tot: 2.826s; Tpl: 0.067s; cc: 13; qc: 28; dbt: 0.0339s; 2; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.3mb