Across the Bosphorus - From Asia to Europe

Trip Start Oct 30, 2005
Trip End Jun 19, 2006

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Friday, May 12, 2006

One of the most evocative names in the world, Istanbul to me has always represented a semi-mythical place, as legendary as Rome but with an exoticness that embellishes its pivotal place in history. Just saying the name conjurers up images of conquerors and heroes, oft-told stories and forgotten battles, the last bastion of Rome as the hordes of darkness gathered like scavengers around the dying empire. At once both West and East, the legacy of Constantinople is twinned with a beguiling flavour of Orient. Istanbul is both a bridge between the ancient and modern worlds, and between the vast lands of Asia and Europe. Like a giant, the city stands with a foot in both worlds, one in Asia, one in Europe, while the narrows of the Bosphorus bisect the continents.

Istanbul also represents the last reaches of my Asian odyssey. On reaching this city, I have now traversed the breadth of Asia, from Singapore, glittering icon of Asian capitalism, to Istanbul, city of Leander and Constantine, heart of the Old World. My trip has not finished here, not yet, but I will return before the end, for a final look before flying to Rome, so European and my singular favourite city in the world.

Although that title is coming under some serious challenge at the moment. From the first, I fell in love with Istanbul, and She continues to wrap me deep within her spell. Tangibly European and Mediterranean, the Asian influence lends Istanbul a mystic beauty, and the air is pregnant with the aroma of spices and the haunting echoes of the muezzin. Very different from the architectural styles seen in other parts of the Middle East, the Turkish mosques are easily my favourite, with their tall slender minarets and graceful domes. Istanbul is full of them, all beautiful, such that they grace the cityscape like a string of flawless pearls, from the ancient Aya Sofia to the delicate and whimsical Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet).

Every angle of this city is beautiful, be it from the top of the Galata Tower taking in a 360 degree view, or cruising across the Marmara Sea from the Princes' Isles, as the sun sets behind the Aya Sofia and Topkapi Palace. I still have another two weeks to explore Turkey, but it's going to be hard to find somewhere I love more than Istanbul.
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