I planned to write about our trip to Turkey in one essay, but going through the pictures convinced me it would take several. First I want to congratulate O.A.T. (Overseas Adventure Travel-Turkey’s Magical Hideaways Tour) on a superbly run trip that was well worth the money, the cost not being much more than I usually spend when I plan everything myself. When I plan it myself, I don’t include a 24/7 guide, nor 4* and 5* hotels. So, in truth, all things considered, OAT can do it cheaper and better than you can. If you are going to learn about the culture, its history, its geography, its industry, its everything, then OAT, with an every present guide, is the way to go. If you want to see, see, see, meet locals, visit museums, go, go, go, then OAT is your route. If you want to sit by some mighty fine pools or on some spectacular beaches, you can do that in Turkey, too, and you won’t need the guide.
Istanbul, once was Constantinople, the final capital of the Roman Empire, so chosen by Constantine the First, the same Constantine, who according to legend, baptized his army before defeating Maxentius in a battle to control the empire. A millennium later, the same Constantinople, a mere fragment of the Roman Empire, was defended by Constantine the XI and fell to the Ottoman, Mehmet the Second. Texans, you thought you fought the Alamo—No Constantinople was the first Alamo, eight thousand against over a hundred thousand with damn little help from the rest of Europe. That was shortsighted on Europe’s part. After Mehmet’s victory, he moved to conquer all of Greece, the Balkans, and was on his way up the Italian Peninsula to Rome when he died of an intestinal dysfunction.
Read about the fall of Constantinople in Roger Crowley’s book “1453”. It’s a great story for history buffs.
Today, a city of thirteen million people and they all are on the streets after work. I suppose those apartments, all built on the same architectural plan, four and five stories high, all build on a square base, are not as fun as milling around, drinking, eating and yakking at your neighbor, a compliant stranger, or whoever is at a nearby table in the pub or bistro. Yes, night life in Istanbul is busy, exciting, and fun. And, yes, the Turks drink, or there are a hell of a lot of Europeans touring there, because a lot of alcohol is consumed.
As you might image Istanbul is soaked in history. Probably because we are of European heritage, our tour focused on the Greek, Roman, Christian—yes, Hagia Sophia was once center of the Christian world.
Maybe Rome had reason to be slow in assisting the last stand of the Empire. Hagia Sophia was turned into a Mosque, rubbing sand in the face of the defeated. Later Ataturk converted it into a museum, but it is still magnificent to behold, with its inner doors that came from the ark of Noah, so they say. Some radicals want Hagia Sophia to be turned into a mosque again. Can secularism square its feet and stand?
Probably the most fun we had in Istanbul was getting lost and winding our way out of the old town, in the wrong direction and having to hike a mile or so, the sea on our left, the old wall of Constantinople that held for 5 months, now punctured here and there by roads, lined with boutique restaurants and hotels—just like any old European fortress, but still impressive. We arrived at the dock after being told, in broken but friendly English, the wrong direction which turned out work anyway.
The ferries, I would ride them all day if I could. What a kick, shoulder to shoulder at rush hour, people commuting from Europe to Asia, and the reverse, Turkish tea served, the boat rocks, but the tray holds level as the waiter maneuvers among the crowd of commuters. The ferries, you can count six or seven at any time, weaving between each other, each hell bent for its destination. You dock and, carried by the surge of the crowd, maneuver among the vendors. The boat empties in two minutes, another crowd enters in two more, and it’s gone for the next destination. You and your fellows wander into your sector of town, but most, it seems, end up somewhere other than their apartments for conversation, drink, and food—but I said that before. Now you are part of it, and you’re loving it.