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Istanbul with a vengeance

Turkey_Istanbul

Listen! When you finish this article don’t just fold your paper and get off at your usual stop. Go home, get your passport and cash card, head for the airport and fly to Istanbul. This is Istanbul from scratch where ignorance is bliss. No schedules, no preconceptions, no guidebooks, no maps, no speaka the language- no problem! This is the incredible Istanbul I have stumbled into.
I won’t woo you with historical tit-bits, fancy place names or lists of ‘must-sees’, purely because I
don’t know any. Besides, it’s more fun to find them for yourself. Before I arrived I knew that Istanbul was the gateway to Asia. From my University nights I remembered that Turkey was the spiritual home of the kebab. That was about it. After just a few days here I have seen and heard and felt and smelt so much more now.
At dawn all 12 million of us in this glorious sprawl are greeted by the exotic, haunting call to prayer
from the minarets of countless sky-lined mosques. As Istanbul awakes I join the mayhem, burying into
the scrum at random. Memories fly at me like a photo album scattered over the floor. I find stalls packed
tight together, humanity filling the gaps and huge barrows of hazelnuts or pistachio nuts maneuvering
impossibly through it all. Every way I turn are streets selling everything you could possibly imagine, one
product per street: bath taps, rugs, dodgy pirated music cassettes, leatherwork in quick succession. Sacks
of spices and herbs lure me. I have no idea what they all are but the colours and aromas and textures are
intoxicating. Precarious pyramids of pomegranates for freshly squeezed juice. I see old men sagely and
ceremoniously sip from glasses of amber-like tea. Sausage stalls, giant blocks of cheese, fish plucked
fresh from the Golden Horn of the Bosporus.
As I burst dishevelled from the madness a vast mosque gazes down at me. In a shaded park benches
provide quiet respite from the noble strife of the madding crowds in the bazaars. And six slender minarets
spear skyward from the mosque above a cascade of majestic domes and cupolas. Wandering disorientated
and enchanted I graze constantly on snacks from street stalls, lured by scents, colours and persuasive
sales talk. Sweet cups of tea, stuffed vine leaves, walnut pastries, sesame rolls and of course kebabs:
several vendors stand on every street, red coals fanned beneath a sizzling grill of lamb. Walking later
beside the Bosporus looking towards the far shore and Asia I feel an almost magnetic pull towards the
Wonders that lie beyond.
Shouting shop merchants, watchful shoeshine men, blaring taxi drivers: a bubbling cauldron of
sensations and life being lived with energy. Which is more than I have as I sit beside the water in the
warm autumnal sun. I have no idea where I have been or what exactly I have seen, but discovering
Istanbul for myself and without prescription is proving to be a real thrill.

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