Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Out There In Istanbul

Istanbul was Constantinople,
Now its Istanbul not Constantinople,
Been a long time gone from Constantinople,
Now a 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 from Constantinople,
Why did Constantinople get the works?
Thats nobodys business but the Turks.

Istanbul, Istanbul!

Istanbul or Constantinople or Byzantium. Whatever you call it, in my books it is certainly one of the great cities on earth. More ancient wonders per square kilometre than .. well anywhere besides Rome I guess. And what could be a better place on my first port of call on this latest leg in my year of bumming out and travel, than Istanbul, not Constantinople.

So jet lagged and bleary eyed I arrived the other day in the Europe meets Asia city. Over 24 hours in travel, minimal sleep, and a feeding frenzy .. all that airline food .. 7 meals and then other snacks .. I just couldn't say no. I vowed to stay awake though until a normal sleeping hour, even if I was checked into my hostel before midday.

Getting to the hostel was typically my style. No way was a (relative) expensive taxi going to be used when there were light rails and trams to be caught. So I crammed in with the rest of the Istanbullus on their morning rush and headed into the old city, Sultanahmet. Once there I was back into backpacker mode and was shrugging off the touts and spruikers on the way to a hostel, like an old pro.

Once done with the pack in the room it was time to explore. It has been 4 years since I was last here and I wanted to make sure that the old city was still the same as I left it. From initial inspection I can say that it is. Not many changes on the street level, still dotted with 1500 year old ancient wonders and relative newer 500 year old mosques.

Street scene

Highlights so far from my ramble wanderings would have to be just soaking up the crammed narrow cobbled streets lined with shops selling everything from spices and spades to nuts and ninja stars. Then there are the hawkers peddling whatever small items they can flog off. My personal favourite has to be the guy selling Viagra individually.

Spice anyone?

Seeing the sights has been also on the agenda. The magnificent Aya Sofia was first on the list and I am still impressed by this masterpiece of ancient architecture. 1500 years old and still going strong. In terms of world cathedrals, can any really come close? A few shoeless pokes into various active mosques has also been achieved. And there are plenty of them. It would take a long time for anyone to get around all the mosques that this city has to offer. And to be honest after a while they all look the same. Those Sultans loved that dome style.

Blue Mosque

Also checked out the Archaeological museum for the first time. Mightily impressed. The "famous" Alexander Sarcophagus was well worth the entry price alone. Two and a half thousand years old and it just looks like it was made yesterday. Intricately detailed. I was also impressed by the way the museum translated just about every inscription on all their ancient artifacts. Something that most other museums I have been to don't bother with. The best bit was the translations of the clay Hattite tablets. There were ordinary letters, IOU notes and then the write up on what to do if you are impotent. Go and catch a pigeon and crush the whole thing up, sprinkle it with salt, add the saliva of a bull which is erect at the time of collection, do the same with sheep saliva and then eat and wash it down with beer. Hah. I love it. And this was written 3300 years ago.

Anyway I am here for a few days more. To do, more sightseeing (tons to see), socialising with the fellow backpackers and watching the world cup at a normal hour. (I managed to miss Australia vs Brazil due to being on a plane at that time, doh, at least Aust v Croatia should be a cracker). So after Istanbul, not Constantinople it is off to the west. Bulgaria awaits. See ya there.

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