When I was writing The Lost Revolution my wife Joyce asked me why in the world I would choose Istanbul as the location where a good part of the action in the book takes place. I told her that it was kind of intrinsic to the story and that there’s a lot of relevant history in that part of the world but, until we actually visited Istanbul, I didn’t have a better answer.
It was a few years ago that we took a cruise in the eastern Mediterranean where the easternmost port of call was Istanbul. There were nine of us in 4 cabins, each having connected balconies. As if it were our own extended front porch we all sat back and watched as we sailed peacefully through the Dardanelles then entered the wide blue expanse of the sea of Marmara. It was early afternoon when the northern and southern shorelines began to converge and the low, white buildings dotting each of them grew more numerous.
We were seven decks above the waterline and from that vantage we watched a speedy craft come alongside. It carried a pilot who, being familiar with these waters, came aboard and took the helm to guide us in the rest of the way.
As we continued our slow approach, other ships passed outbound, some were cruise ships like ours, but most were tankers and freighters. From overhead, the deep blast of our horn saluted each of them and announced our entry into Istanbul harbor. And now, we could sit back no longer.
We all stood up and gathered against the rail to watch. There was a light breeze and our big ship moved majestically into the harbor. Tug boats shot streams of water high into the air and whistling harbor ferries skittered across our path. On the shore, ships already docked lined a pier miles long and, blanketing the rolling hills beyond these ships, lay the city - or I should say, half the city as it's spread out on both sides of the harbor.
The day was clear and sparkling and sunlight danced off white buildings and golden domes and tall minarets making them all seem almost surrealistically prominent and closer than they really were. In the distance, tall office buildings defined the business center of the city that connected its economy to the rest of the world. Even as we were still tying up to the dock words like busy, prosperous, exciting, and enticing were the ones we all used to describe what we’d seen so far of this modern yet ancient city that bridges the continents of Europe and Asia.
We spent two days in Istanbul. We toured palaces, museums, Masques, restaurants, and of course, the astounding (and intimidating) Grand Bazaar. We bargained for rugs. We ate foods and drank beverages rich in unfamiliar flavors. We marveled at archeological treasures, learned about the Ottoman Sultans, and learned about the area's more tragic history. We left having gotten only a small taste of Istanbul, its culture and its exotic beauty, but of our ports of call on that entire trip, this was the one that was for me the most memorable.
If you're wondering where to go on your next trip, you might ask yourself or your traveling companions: How about Istanbul? I recommend it!