At Europe's gateway to Asia, we explore the historic, crowded city of Istanbul. We get lost in the Grand Bazaar, feast like kings at a fishermen's wharf, and follow stories of the Byzantine Empire at St. Sophia and Topkapi Palace. We board a boat on the churning Bosphorus to see the Bridge of Galata and the elegant Dolmabahce Palace.
- Read the script from the show.
Istanbul (excerpted from Europe Through the Back Door)
Turkey is a proud new country. It was born in 1923, when Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey, rescued it from the buffet line of European colonialism. He divided church and state, liberated women (at least on paper), replaced the Arabic script with Europe 's alphabet, and gave the battle-torn, corrupt, and demoralized remnants of the Ottoman Empire the foundation of a modern nation. Because of Atatürk, today's 66 million Turks have a flag — and reason to wave it. For a generation, many young Turkish women actually worried that they'd never be able to really love a man because of their love for the father of their country.
At the same time, Turkey is a musty archaeological attic, with dusty civilization stacked upon civilization. The more they dig, the more they learn that Turkey, not Mesopotamia , is the cradle of Western civilization.
Turkey offers the most enjoyable culture shock within striking distance of Europe. But it's a rich brew, and, for most, two weeks is enough.
Flying to Istanbul is about as tough as flying to Paris. For instance, if you fly SAS, both are about a two-hour flight from your Copenhagen hub. When planning your trip, remember that flying "open-jaw" into Istanbul and home from Athens is usually a little cheaper than flying in and out of Istanbul...and makes for a more diverse and efficient itinerary.
Spend your first two days in Istanbul. Take the taxi from the airport to the Hippodrome, near the Blue Mosque, where you'll find several decent small hotels and pensions.
For an easygoing first evening, walk over to the Blue Mosque and enjoy the free sound-and-light show in the park. Spend the next day doing the historic biggies: Topkapi Palace , Blue Mosque, and the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) church. The latter was completed in 537, when Istanbul was called Constantinople and was the leading city in Christendom. It was the largest domed building in Europe until Brunelleschi built Florence's great dome in the Renaissance, nearly a thousand years later.
Bone up on Anatolian folk life in the Islamic Arts Center (just off the old Roman racetrack called the Hippodrome), then taxi to the modern center of bustling Istanbul for dinner in the "Flower Passage," where Istanbul's beautiful people and tourists alike enjoy the funky elegance. If you like baklava, stroll the city's main drag, Istiklal Street, in search of a pastry shop. From the heartbeat of Istanbul, Taksim Square, catch a cab home. Less touristy dinner options include Kumkapi, a fishermen's wharf district teeming with seafood restaurants and happy locals (a pleasant walk from the Hippodrome), and the more romantic Ortakoy district (in the shadow of the Bosporus bridge).
The next morning, browse the bizarre Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Spice Market. After lunch take an intercontinental cruise up the Bosporus. If you disembark in Asian Istanbul, you can taxi quickly to the station to catch your overnight train to Ankara.
This, the only reliable train in Asian Turkey, gets you to the country's capital by 8 a.m. As you munch feta cheese, olives, tomatoes, and cucumbers for breakfast in the dining car, it dawns on you that you're far from home.