In Istanbul, several experiences reminded me that I was hardly the first traveler to visit this place where East meets West.
My hotel's inviting terrace was open at night, ideal for gazing past floodlit husks of forts and walls, out at the sleepy Bosphorus, with Asia lurking just across the inky straits. The strategic waterway was speckled with the lights of freighters at anchor stretching far into the distance.
Noticing the power of the moonlight shimmering on the water, I recalled the legend of the Turkish flag — a white star and crescent moon reflected in a pool of bright-red blood after a great and victorious battle. From my perch, it seemed that now the crescent moon shone over not blood, but money: trade and shipping…modern-day battles in the arena of capitalism.
At breakfast, the same view was lively, and already bright enough to make me wish I had sunglasses. An empty oil tanker heading for a Romanian fill-up was light and riding high. Its exposed tank made its prow cut through the water like a plow — a reminder of how, today, trade is sustenance and oil is a treasured crop. As I scanned the city, it occurred to me that Istanbul is physically not that different from my home city. I could replace the skyline of domed mosques and minarets with churches and spires, and it could be the rough end of Any Port City, USA.
Rather than my standard bowl of cereal, for my Turkish breakfasts I go local — olives, goat cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, bread, and a horrible instant orange drink masquerading as juice. Gazing at my plate, I studied the olive oil. Ignoring the three olive pits, I saw tiny, mysterious flakes of spices. They were doing a silent and slow-motion do-si-do to a distant rhythm with lyrics that told of arduous camel-caravan rides along the fabled Silk Road from China.
About This Entry
You are reading "Istanbul: Crossroads of Travelers for Centuries", an entry posted on 18 December 2009 by Rick Steves.