Of ancient Constantinople


Seat of the Eastern Roman Empire, capital of the Byzantine world, a city of stunning architecuture and infrastructure back when London was barely a village!

I’ve been here 72 hours now and I’m enjoying being on the road again. The only thing I don’t like about my post-MBA life is I’ve less time for travel (the interesting kind, anyway) so even four days out is something to be treasured. And treasure this city is. It’s a museum of humanity’s first millennium. If you had museums where the exhibits kept trying to sell you ornamental rugware.

There are a lot of people in Istannbul, as I noticed when I went off-piste earlier today and threaded through narrow streets in some very poor areas. And it’s intoxicating. The throng of massed humanity crammed between decaying Ottoman walls held together by faded posters scented with the grilling of fish and lamb.

But if I tried to sum up impressions of Istanbul in one word, it wouldn’t be the usual cliches of heat and dust. Above all, Istanbul is blue.

A blue that isn’t everywhere, but is always around: tiling the edges of mosques, rippling over the Bosphorus, a tint in the air over the Marmara Sea seen from my hotel’s rooftop breakfast bar. A blue that spices every experience.

And it’s between those filaments of blue that you understand Istanbul today.

A city with soaring tower blocks a klom or so from the coastal peninsula, and a swoopy new tramway picking its way between urban centres. Yet where people are cooking food on open fires and spooning spices from merchants’ heaps a metre away in the shadows they cast.

The streets are still narrow and full of mysteries. The bazaar is huge and the workshops that fill it are still nearby; this city still lives in an age where people made things near where they lived and sold them from their front rooms.

And best of all, Istanbul has geography. With the two great monuments of Haghia Sofiya and the Blue Mosque plus the steep slopes of the streets as they roll down to the harbour, it’s harder than you think to get lost here. Don’t worry about east and west; just orient yourself with up and down and you’ll get where you’re going.

Istanbul’s a great town, and I’m glad I made it out before winter sets in. Aside from the heady streets, the museums are terrific and the food’s a real catch.

What’s more, it’s been my first experience of London City Airport. Despite it being my local ‘port, I’d never used it before: the geography of the Thames means it’s three river bends away as the crow flies, and the planes take off away from town, so I’ve just never been aware of it.

But you soon realise that the UK’s appalling air travel infrastructure isn’t a problem with airports per se; it’s just a problem with BAA. London City is managed by a different company, and it really shows, with fast check-in, great transport links, and a smooth passage onto your plane. These people’s business is to get you in the air, not (as with BAA) send you shopping. And the LCY guys have just bought Gatwick. Good things ahead.

2 thoughts on “Of ancient Constantinople

  1. I recommend you pick up Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres in the airport if you can… a beauitiful and at times agonising account of the religious schisms in turkeys history.

  2. Great city for the tourist, try doing business there, it`s tough to say the least. Definitely intoxicating though for good and for bad reasons. Agree on Ldn City – fantastic little airport. Think perhaps its got more to do with the throughput rather than the operator though, hopefully I am wrong re Gatwick but in my experience, when it comes to airports, size matters: small = good, with very few exceptions.

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