And yet, this ancient city is striding into the future. During my visit, everyone was buzzing about the upcoming completion of the new tunnel under the Bosphorus, which will give a million commuters in the Asian suburbs of Istanbul an easy train link to their places of work in Europe. This tunnel is emblematic of modern Turkey's commitment to connecting East and West, just as Istanbul bridges Asia and Europe. I also see it as a concrete example of how parts of the developing world are emerging as economic dynamos.
Stepping out of my shoes, I entered the vast and turquoise (and therefore not-quite-rightly-named) Blue Mosque. Hoping for another déjà vu, I didn't get it. Something was missing. Yes…gone was the smell of countless sweaty socks, knees, palms, and foreheads soaked into the ancient carpet upon which worshippers did their quite physical prayer work-outs. Sure enough, the Blue Mosque had a fresh new carpet — with a subtle design that keeps worshippers organized the same way that lined paper tames printed letters.
The prayer service let out, and a sea of Turks surged for the door. Being caught up in a crush of locals — where the only way to get any personal space is to look up — is a connecting-with-humanity ritual for me. I seek these opportunities out. It's the closest I'll ever come to experiencing the exhilaration of body-surfing above a mosh pit. Going outside with the worshipping flow, I scanned the dark sky. That scene — one I had forgotten was so breathtaking — played for me again: hard-pumping seagulls powering through the humid air in a black sky, surging into the light as they crossed in front of floodlit minarets.
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You are reading "Reconnecting with Istanbul", an entry posted on 11 December 2009 by Rick Steves.