Sunday 30 November to Thursday 4 December
We arrived in Istanbul 92 days after we left Melbourne. Most of the journey had been on the Silk Route, and Istanbul seemed an appropriate place to mark the end of that journey. But surprisingly we couldn’t find any reference to the Silk Route in Istanbul. We decided that an entrance to the Grand Bazaar was as good a place as any.
It was quite cool, with winter settling in, so we weren’t too adventurous. We took a boat ride across the Bospherous for one last step into Asia, but we couldn’t find the excellent restaurant we’d dined at a couple of years earlier. We returned to “Europe” and settled for a touristy lunch on the Gallat Bridge.
We called into our favourite sports store and stocked up on winter clothes for our upcoming Iceland trip. Then we walked the length of İstiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue), the fashionable shopping street with its tourist tram running down the centre.
It was a new experience wandering through the spice Market of the Grand Bazaar in the evening. The lights in the stalls added colour and atmosphere. Stall vendors were friendly and good natured.
We visited the Basilica Cistern which was built in the 6th century as a water reserve for the ever increasing population of Constantinople. Water was transported 19km via aqueducts from the Belgrad forest.
The columns that support the cistern vary enormously in style – Ionic, Corinthian and a few Doric. It is believed they were recycled from the ruins of other buildings in the empire. Some columns are interesting. One with tears is said to represent the hundreds of slaves that died during construction. Two other columns have the head of Medusa, lying sideways and upside down, I wondered where they came from.
The cistern is under some of the most notable parts of Istanbul and provides “another world” experience with its dampness and echoes and constant water drips.
We then meandered through the beautiful Guihane Park where gardeners were busy planting bulbs and spring flowers. It will surely look magnificent as the weather improves. The gardens rise up toward Topkapi Palace with some stunning views over the Bosporus and the Golden Hind.
And as we wandered back to our hotel on the last evening we noticed an old caravanserai in great need of some TLC. Well at least there was a mild reference to the Silk Route.
Istanbul and Turkey are highly regarded by many people we met on our Silk Route adventure. It is a favourite shopping and holiday destination. It is considered the wealthiest and most liberal country in the Asian continent and also a gateway to Europe.
We found the city much more expensive than previous visits – perhaps Turkey’s economy is doing better than Europe’s?