Round The World by Bike: Istanbul with a Vengeance (20 October 2001)

Istanbul with a Vengeance

Listen! When you finish enjoying this article don’t just fold your paper and
get off at your usual stop. Go home, get your passport and cash card, head
for the airport and fly to Istanbul. This is Istanbul from scratch where
ignorance is bliss. No schedules, no preconceptions, no guidebooks, no
maps, no speaka the language – no problem! This is the incredible Istanbul I
have stumbled into.

I won’t woo you with historical tit-bits, fancy place names or lists of
‘must-sees’, purely because I don’t know any. Besides, it’s more fun to find
them for yourself. Before I arrived I knew that Istanbul was the gateway to
Asia. From my University nights I remembered that Turkey was the spiritual
home of the kebab. That was about it. After just a few days here I have seen
and heard and felt and smelt so much more now.

At dawn all 12 million of us in this glorious sprawl are greeted by the
exotic, haunting call to prayer from the minarets of countless skylined
mosques. As Istanbul awakes I join the mayhem, burying into the scrum at
random. Memories fly at me like a photo album scattered over the floor. I
find stalls packed tight together, humanity filling the gaps and huge
barrows of hazelnuts or pistachio nuts manoeuvring impossibly through it
all. Every way I turn are streets selling everything you could possibly
imagine, one product per street – bath taps, rugs, dodgy pirated music
cassettes, leatherwork in quick succession. Sacks of spices and herbs lure
me. I have no idea what they all are but the colours and aromas and textures
are intoxicating. Precarious pyramids of pomegranates for freshly squeezed
juice. I see old men sagely and ceremoniously sip from glasses of amber-like
tea. Sausage stalls, giant blocks of cheese, fish plucked fresh from the
Golden Horn of the Bosphorus.

As I burst dishevelled from the madness a vast mosque gazes down at me. In a
shaded park cool benches provide quiet respite from the noble strife of the
madding crowds in the bazaars. And six slender minarets spear skyward from
the mosque above a cascade of majestic domes and cupolas.

Wandering disorientated and enchanted I graze constantly on snacks from
street stalls, lured by scents, colours and persuasive sales talk. Sweet
cups of tea, stuffed vine leaves, walnut pastries, sesame rolls and of
course kebabs: several vendors stand on every street, red coals fanned
beneath a sizzling grill of lamb. Walking later beside the Bosphorus
looking towards the far shore and Asia I feel an almost magnetic pull
towards the Wonders that lie beyond.

Shouting shop merchants, watching shoeshine men, blaring taxi drivers: a
bubbling cauldron of sensations and life being lived with energy. Which is
more than I have as I sit beside the water in the warm autumnal sun. I have
no idea where I have been or what exactly I have seen, but discovering
Istanbul for myself and without prescription is proving to be a real thrill.

Essential Information

A passport, a cash card and the train to the airport is all you need to
launch yourself into the delights of Istanbul.

Traveler Article

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