Just imagine that the great continents of Europe and Asia are two enormous sides of a Teutonic sandwich. Istanbul would of course, be the filling. The city straddles the mighty Bospherus, which defines the place, apart from the fishing and the commerce, it allows Istanbul to have three separate skylines and countless vantage points from which to admire them. The urban skylines don’t seem to expire in any direction, the murky waters just flank concrete to infinity. Istanbul is huge. 13 million inhabitants huge. And for a few days I was one of them, although my nearly transparent skin, lack of convincing beard and mosque-hat meant the locals might not have agreed.
I flew there from London, after 3 days of partying where I managed to lose my only bank card. So, armed with Crap Dave’s old card he leant me, which was almost sheared down the middle and stuffed with the fruits of my online bank transfers, I anxiously approached a Turkish ATM and keyed in the pin Dave had supplied me. As the lira came flushing out the machine I let out a great bellow of relief. Holiday was on. That could have been awkward.
I was staying in a hostel that offered free breakfast and a bar on it’s roof. The owner, a slick operator called Paco, checked me into my room and just as I entered looked me in the eye and husked, “good luck.” A bit ominous, I thought. That night I hit some bars with three English chaps who turned out to be 18. It was like hanging out with the Inbetweeners. The next morning I realised why Paco had forewarned me. Two Spanish couples had draped towels over their respective lower bunks and were both going for gold. Paco later told me one of them was a ladyboy. I never got to confirm or deny this claim as by the next day they had departed, probably to an orgy in Ankara, or dogging in Damascus.
Ladyboy clarification was one of the few things I didn’t see that day though. I blitzed the streets of Istanbul, taking in the vast Hagia Sofia (surely one of the oldest churches in the world) which had Viking graffiti etched into some of it’s masonry. The blue mosque! The Bascilla Cistern! The Archeological Museum (with the actual Alexander Sarcophogus, of which I’d seen the replica of in the British Museum mere days before)! The Spice Market! You get the picture (if not, go on google). To summarise, Istanbul is very, very old and very, very busy. It makes Britain look like a placid baby. Only Egypt, China and Iran can compete with the length of the Turkish lineage. I saw 1500 year-old mosaics of Jesus made of gold leaf and stones. The next minute I saw old fishermen screaming foreign expletives at an errant sailor whose boat was dragging all their lines. What a place.
That night the city came to a standstill to goggle at fireworks for the 90th birthday of the Turkish Republic. They were rather impressive. Some of them exploded in the shape of stars and half moons to resemble the national flag. I have no idea how a firework can do this. If someone could explain this to me I’d be very much obliged.
The celebrations were also for the opening of the first rail tunnel link between the Asian and European side. I tried to board the train the next day but it was closed due to technical faults. Solid start. However, who would want to traverse this place underground when for less than a quid you can board a ferry, drink a tea and watch the whole minaret-laden place swim by. I boarded the boat with a gorgeous American Chinese girl called Tiffany (Tiff to her friends). The captain of the ship took a shine to her and not before long had us in the bridge steering the boat to Asia. It reminded me of a time in Vietnam when I woke up on a night bus to see the drunk driver letting a sexy backpacker weave the bus down the highway. Reassuringly irresponsible.