Tragically it was bad weather that led to our departure time being brought back to 2am outside the Alington Hall, the trudge through the snow in the middle of the night was a depressing start to what turned out to be a thoroughly interesting and entertaining trip to Turkey. The flight over didn’t do anything to contribute to this, though, and the distinct lack of anything to do other than watch the BBC version of Great Expectations wasn’t entirely satisfactory.
On our arrival at the airport in Istanbul we were greeted by the man who would accompany us quite literally everywhere we would go on the trip. Yasar (or Yoshi as he became more affectionately known) constantly supplied us with his knowledge on just about everything we came across.
Our first day in the city was a busy one to say the least; our first port of call was the world-famous Blue Mosque which was conveniently located within walking distance of our hotel. This impressive structure, which dates back to the 17th Century when the city was under the Islamic Ottoman rule, is an architectural masterpiece with its enormous six minarets and intricate tile work on the interior. From here we only needed to stroll outside to see our next attraction the Roman Hippodrome. It was easy to picture the chariot races of Constantine’s rule that would have entertained the crowds when looking at the area. The Hagia Sophia church, whilst not still an area of worship like the Blue Mosque, was personally more historically fascinating due to the remnants that had been uncovered of its time as a church in the years of Christian Roman rule and its huge scale. It was great to see it so similar to how the Crusaders must have experienced it over 900 years ago – staring up in awe. From here we walked to the Basilica Cistern, an incredible underground structure, which was used as a place to store emergency water for the city for many years. Its eerily lit stone columns that loomed into the darkness of the high vaulted ceiling created a slightly unnerving atmosphere and it was a relief to emerge into the sunny streets after visiting its ancient depths. That afternoon we were given two hours to look around Istanbul’s archaeological museum that contained what was referred to as Alexander the Great’s sarcophagus. This sounded impressive but we later learned it wasn’t actually his. The mummy of an ancient king, who still had a considerable quantity of hair and even some skin still on the go, was probably the highlight of the museum which otherwise contained rather too many bits of broken pot that apparently originated from the fabled city of Troy.
From here we still had one more place to visit, the Golden Gate and seven towers. On arrival, we were told to watch out for gypsy children, so were rather worried when as we passed into the old fortified area surrounded by the seven towers to see a multitude of men all dressed in black and swinging AK-47’s rather haphazardly. They were “filming” apparently, although we weren’t convinced and kept our distance, going for a perhaps even more dangerous walk along the top of the walls. Health and safety being a rather novel idea in Turkey, these didn’t have any form of barriers between you and the fairly distant ground below. All that remained of our first day was to visit a restaurant in the evening and be forced to eat far too much hot bread that would ensure constipation for the rest of our stay.
The next day we went straight to the Topkapi palace, highlights included the world’s fourth largest diamond that was apparently bought for four spoons and Yasar’s gentle, calming voice telling us repeatedly about the multitude of women that were kept as concubines by the Ottoman emperor. We were treated again to his dulcet tones whilst sitting on a boat making its way slowly down the Bosphorus, this time over a microphone, which made him even more incomprehensible than usual. From here we trekked through the Spice Bazaar and into the Grand Bazaar, where it was possible to buy Dolce and Gabana and Armani aftershaves for less than a pound, although the safety of your skin couldn’t be guaranteed.
On our third day we journeyed out of Istanbul towards Iznik, what was the ancient city of Nicaea. That morning an unexpected visitor had arrived. Appearing at breakfast as if from nowhere, Mr Sheppe then decided to join us for the rest of the day, postponing whatever urgent CIA business it was he was meant to be attending to. The bus ride there was lengthy and our patience with Yasar and his incredibly consistent use of the microphone to make sure we were all awake was less than welcome. The Roman walls, that were the first line of defence against the Crusaders when they arrived, were incredibly impressive and our walk along them was enjoyable. Inevitably, we were followed by most of the school girls in the area who luckily weren’t able to join us for lunch or who knows what might have happened. The meatballs we had were excellent and made even more pleasant when the news arrived that Henry Dashwood’s bank card had been swallowed by the Turkish system and he would only be able to get it back when the bank staff’s lunch break ended, which was at 5pm. Ignoring his plight, we took a ferry back to Istanbul, on which Mr Sheppe kindly imparted his knowledge of the Turkish numerical system, and taught us how to count to ten. From here we took a walk through the more modern part of town, whilst Hugo Scott used the toilet facilities he had been dreaming of all day, in Starbucks.
The next day was our last and we were given free time to do as we pleased; expensive Turkish baths were had by some, whilst others used the time to buy as much cheap rubbish as was possible to bring back to the UK as “gifts”. Three Turkish coffees and extensive use of the hotel’s massage chair put me in a bad way and the flight home was a welcome time to get some sleep, after what had been an extremely pleasurable trip.
Alex Walker (O LVI)