Istanbul is a city where history walks the street with you. When I arrived Sabiha Gökçen Airport and began the bus journey to the centre of the city I was struck by its rich historical texture. As the bus pulled past suburban malls and the multi storey offices of multinational companies a strange thing happened to the skyline. Like a fractured mirror revealing alternate perspectives you begin to see the past emerge between the hulking monoliths of glass and steel.
The city straddles the the bosphorus as it straddles the ages. The city’s European quarter based around the İstiklâl Caddesi is the perfect location to base yourself for any trip to the city. Cheap hostels abound and some of the cities best clubs are within walking distance. But don’t waste your time. Seek out the 5 Cat rooftop bar and restaurant. Based on the the rooftop of an old french colonial apartment building, with soft jazz,solid drinks and view dominated by the many bridges spanning the Bosphorus. It is without a doubt one of the best ways to spend an evening.
The highlights though of any trip to Istanbul are to be found in across the river, in the historic core of Sultanahmet. The sights here are too many to discuss in any detail and to list them would rob them of their significance. However two are worth highlighting here, even if the necessary brevity will not do them justice. The Basilica Cistern is an underground water tank dating back to the roman period. It’s cavernous ceiling is held up by dramatically lit columns. It is a truly unique place – eerily calm,cool and beautiful – beneath some of histories most frenzied streets.The Aya Sofia is the the must see of any trip to Istanbul. It’s stunning architecture and juxtaposition of Christian and Islamic iconography makes it one of a kind. No other building has inspired in me as much awe as it. See it.
Istanbul is a mere four hours from the U.K and while no direct flights run from Glasgow, a recently opened route from Edinburgh to Istanbul makes the city more accessible than ever. Cheaper flights are available, although travelling to Luton to take some of them is a bit of a pain.
In terms of accommodation I found the I-hostel just off the İstiklâl Caddesi cheap, cheerful and close enough to the action to be practical. Fresh, delicious and interesting Turkish food is available at such cheap prices that when you return you’ll look at our cheap street eats in brown paper bags with a new found hostility. While a little pricer than the tedious undergraduate jaunt to Amsterdam, a trip to Istanbul is a rich trip to a past similar and yet alien to the European history taught in our schools and Universities. So much is the same, so much is different and most of it is good.