Thursday 6 March 2014
Istanbul (and Constantinople and Byzantium too)
I've just come back from a glorious weekend in Istanbul (well, I say 'just' - this post is slightly delayed owing to my having to dash to Amsterdam as soon as I got back.) So many people had raved about the city that I was a little bit worried I would be disappointed. I wasn't. It's every bit as beautiful and interesting as I had imagined: the sense of being at the crossroads of East and West is palpable. Not just that, but the convergence of so many cultural ideas - Islamic, Christian, European, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, Ottoman, Turk, Byzantine, secular, religious - is fascinating.
I wished, oh how I wished, I could have arrived on the Orient Express, alighting at Sirkeci Station, taken in a litter to the Pera Palace Hotel (where we had drinks and admired aforementioned litter). I wished to jump back in time to the pre-Ataturk city (before he banned the wearing of the fez) and also to the heyday of the Ottoman Empire and the Byzantine Empire before that (especially I would like to have met the Empress Theodora, former showgirl, daughter of a bear-tamer). But then, much of the charm of Istanbul today lies in the glimpses of all of these times and people that are still there, layered into the fabric of the city.
And if I settled for transportation via Turkish Airlines, rather than the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons Lits (I do love that name), our trip across to the Asian side of the city on Sunday afternoon meant that we did experience arriving in Istanbul by sea, having crossed the Bosphorus and watched the crescent moon rise over the city.