Centuries and continents collide on the banks of the Bosphorus
Time Out Bahrain staff
It takes just one sunset to fall for Istanbul. You may be sipping tea among canoodling couples along the Bosphorus in Üsküdar with a backdrop of skyscrapers and minarets, or smoking a hookah in Tophane as freighters glide by on their way to the Black Sea, when the sun dips down low and sets the whole city afire. Just as the lights of the modern metropolis begin to sparkle, the muezzin rises from a nearby mosque, filling the streets with plaintive wailing. The effect is narcotic.
Istanbul is one of those accidents of geography where there will always be a city. For millennia, poets have been scrambling for new clichés to express how this area links past and present, Europe and Asia. Napoleon referred to it as the ‘capital of the world’; two empires were inclined to agree. In the simplest terms, Istanbul is a place of fusion and transition, a land that boasts a glut of history and Europe’s youngest population, home to a people who fast during Ramadan and gobble up Prada and iPhones. Istanbul is truly gargantuan: with a population of nine million, it is one of the biggest metropolises in the world. From the rooftop club 360 in Beyoglu, the city is a whirlpool, rising and falling on hillsides, broken only by water. The sheer slopes can make for teeth-grinding frustration when you’re trying to slither your way through a crowded market in Fener or dodge dozens of solicitous cabbies in Taksim Square.
The essential sights and experiences are straight from the pages of National Geographic: browsing mountains of produce fresh from Anatolia among legions of headscarved old women at the bazaar; chilling out along the railing of an Asia-bound ferry while hovering gulls beg for scraps of ‘simit’, the traditional pastry; a wiry teenager winding through the crowds with 80 of those simit balanced expertly on top of his head.
A city with so much can only be uncovered by degrees. The sites in Sultanahmet never fail to astound first-timers. Return visitors might find their way to Beyazit Square – home to a breathtaking mosque, a university and the Grand Bazaar. Experienced travellers might venture out to the city’s thousand-year-old walls and nearby Chora Church, within it the world’s greatest collection of Byzantine frescoes. Even some residents have yet to see Dolmabahçe Palace or ride the cable car up to Pierre Loti cafe for the exquisite view and Turkish coffee.
Not to be outdone by the wonders of the past, the Turks have built a canyon-shaped shopping mall, a restaurant floating in the Bosphorus, and are working on the first intercontinental tunnel. As Turkey regains its place among the global players, Istanbul will join the shortlist of the world’s most vibrant cities.
Getting there Turkish Airlines flies to Istanbul from BD190 return, including taxes.
Want to flee the city and see some more of the country? These are the five places you should not miss
Cappadocia Even if you have never head of it, chances are you have seen this place before. In a land eroded by millennia of bad weather, stalagmite-like fairy chimneys rise up from the earth and punctuate this mangled and very beautiful landscape. Getting a balloon over it at sunrise is obligatory. Fly into: Kayseri, get a taxi to Goreme
Ephesus Few countries with a Mediterranean coastline are bereft of Roman ruins. But few countries have such grand and well-preserved ruins as those found at Ephesus. For centuries, this was the second largest city in the Roman Empire, after Rome. Marvel at the well-preserved façade of the library while wandering streets that are over 2,000 years old. Fly into: Izmir, stay at Kusadasi (Ephesus is between the two)
Mount Nemrut A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mount Nemrut bears a closer resemblance to Easter Island than the rest of Europe. Home to a plethora of statues dedicated to Greek and Persian gods, this is ancient Turkey at its best. Fly into: Adıyaman, it is half an hour in a taxi
Antalya There are numerous hideous coastal resorts catering to brash English and Russian tourists. Antalya is one of the better ones. Think cute Mediterranean alleys, relatively nice beaches all in a traditional setting. Fly into: Antalya
Bodrum Another of Turkey’s coastal playgrounds, Bodrum is brash, teeming with tourists, and parties hard. It is also one of the most historically interesting places in Turkey. Heredotus (the father of history) came from here (though you’d be hard pushed to find a single statue of the city’s most famous son), and they recently recovered the world’s oldest shipwreck from over 3,500 years ago. If that weren’t enough, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, was once located here, though floods, earthquakes and Crusaders caused it to vanish. Fly into: Bodrum