Istanbul, Turkey – Top 10 Nomadic Thoughts (06.12.14)
Having spent the last week in Istanbul, I am left with the sense of a city buzzing on all fronts. Wherever you go and however far you stray, the infectious spirit of the Middle East and Europe’s largest city picks you up and carries you along on a magic carpet ride.
Wailing mosques, sweet smelling street food, historical buildings, mazy streets and Bosporus waterfronts have left me awash with memories. They mingle with those from my first visit 32 years ago, when I spent a week camped up on one of the buildings next to the famous Pudding Shop – so well known in the 70s and 80s as the best travellers’ meeting spot.
Aladdin cave-style bazaars, spice-filled souks, pulsating night clubs, the tastiest restaurants, forts, palaces, mosques, hammams, an electrically vibrant street scene and the most welcoming of people abound throughout. Despite the cold, dull and often wet mid-winter weather, I have fallen in love again with this most magnificent of Euroasian metropolises.
Although I could expand upon a myriad of different locations, landscapes and experiences, I want to use this blog to highlight my favourite experiences. In addition to being honoured to moderate at the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) Conference over the past week, I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing my experiences with many fellow UK travel industry colleagues, local Turkish tourism partners and ground suppliers as well as staying with a friend who lives in Tophane, at the heart of the city.
Top 10 Nomadic Thoughts if you are visiting:
- Call to Prayer at Blue Mosque
Stand by to be knocked off your feet. Located in the main courtyard off the Mosque entrance, this most beautiful of sounds will take your breath away and make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention. As the sound echoed around the cloisters and the gentle crowd headed towards the massive inner-prayer dome areas I felt as close to religion as I have for a very, very long time. Spellbinding.
- Hagia Sophia – any time of the day
This iconic maze of buildings, dating back to 537AD, signifies the secularisation of Turkey’s government like no other. Serving both Christian and Moslem worshippers over the centuries, it induces an overwhelming feeling on the visitor that he has stepped back into history. The massive Byzantine dome has witnessed everything from the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to today’s multi-faith, uber-international variety of visitors.
- Galata Bridge – The Golden Horn
The epi-centre of Istanbul with a horn-shaped estuary running off the Bosporus Strait into the Sea of Marmara. Not only the perfect location to enjoy the swathe of mosques’ silhouettes overlooking the centre of European Istanbul, but also a hive of activity with busy boats, noisy fish markets, restaurants and the ever-present parade of bridge-based local fishermen.
- Grand Bazaar
The biggest and most constant ‘regular gathering’ – with over 3,000 shops covering 61 streets. Wandering the maze of covered alleys is as much fun as digging out the enormous variety of products on sale. It is unique in that the local hassle levels are minimal and a feeling of safety is paramount throughout. Attracting up to 400,000 visitors a day it is not surprising that it is listed as one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions.
- Bosporus Bridge – Europe to Asia.
Impressive in its own right with tremendous views and buzzing local waterfront scene. But even more impressive when you think it is one of only two city bridges in the world where you can traverse from one continent to another. The other, Fatih Bridge, is 5km north towards the Black Sea.
- Topkapi Palace
The primary residence of the Ottoman sultans. Tokapi is easy to visit with four main courtyards which offer not only fabulous views across the Bosporous and Golden Horn, but also an amazing variety of palace memorabilia. It is as much a place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, as it is to relax with spread of buildings, gardens and annexes of Ottoman bling.
- Spice Market with Yeni Cami Mosque.
You can spend all day here, exploring and photographing the traditional maze of market stalls which offer everything from Topkapi daggers and toothpicks to tarragon and Turkish delight. Safe, friendly, busy and bright at every turn. Yeni Cami Mosque, positioned less 50m away on the northern shores of the Golden Horn, offers a perfect place to chill and relax if it all gets too hot or hectic.
- Sirkeci Railway Station.
Whether arriving by Orient Express, or dreaming of it, this historic Prussian-designed train terminus is a great place for a quick visit. The Waiting Rooms offer a calm environment to enjoy a local coffee or tea. The station no longer serves the main city traffic, so it is relatively quiet and peaceful, making it easy to catch your breath and drift off into an ‘arriving in Constantinople’ dream.
- Rumeli Hisari Fort
Commandingly positioned, overlooking the narrowest part of the Bosporus, the great fortress of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror is as magnificent from the water as it is from the top of its sprawling ramparts. In my case the stunning night time lighting gave it as impressive a façade as the Tower of London over the River Thames, or Arabian inner-peninsular Forts overlooking deserts seas of sand.
10 The People
My most abiding memory of first visiting Turkey in 1982 will always be the people, who were overtly friendly, gentle and welcoming wherever you travelled. Whether hitch-hiking the west coast with my girlfriend, attending a local village wedding or squatting in one of the main city mosques, the resounding sense of welcome and friendship was paramount. Visiting Istanbul this week, 32 years later, it is fabulous to appreciate that the people of Turkey appear to have not changed in their unswerving sense of welcome.