Across Continents

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A city divided

Divided by the Bosphorus, connecting the northern Black Sea to the southern Sea of Marmara, Istanbul is the only city in the world to bridge two continents, Europe and Asia. It’s more than just immense. Wander around the narrow labyrinthian streets within the walled city and you quickly get a sense of the sheer density of the place. Steep cobbled passageways, twisting and turning. A myriad of small shops, colourful carpets, bright, ornately painted ceramics, gold, silver. Tantalizing aromas from endless small eateries.

I’d found a cheap hostel in the heart of the old city, on the European side. It was one that’d be suggested to me by Pam Goodall. She’d stayed there when she’d cycled around the world a few years ago. Came across it quite by chance as I explored the back streets. By now I’d a map which gave you a sense of the place, a few landmarks and the main streets. But that still left out an awful lot.

Whilst there is a vastness, a complexity to the place, it’s not without order. Shops tend to be grouped together by their wares, sometimes just one or two streets like the cycle dealers I’d found the previous day. Others, like those selling gold and silver, occupying whole districts. There’s a sense that you can probably find pretty much anything you want here.

In the evening I ventured into the Grand Bazaar, a vast, cavernous, covered market. An ancient trading centre, it dates from the fifteenth century, some five thousand shops spread along sixty streets. Bright and bustling, a gauntlet of carpet salesmen, a sense of direction easily lost. Thought I’d left the same way I’d entered, but, by now dark outside, it was hard to tell. Circled around for ages before I found my one trusted landmark, the modern tram system. Quickly regained my bearings, but a salutary lesson in the merits of always carrying a map in an unfamiliar city.

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