Istanbul and Constantinople
When I checked into a new hostel room in Sultanahmet, the cheap tourist area of Istanbul, I never expected to be greeted by a groan of, "Oh no, Fargo!" But it happened; in that modern Istanbul hostel smelling vaguely like a hamster cage, at 8 a.m., I had once again run into Dennis, one of two Yanks who had been overseas for a year, biking around Europe. This was actually my third time intersecting with these two: I'd met them in Dubrovnik, and then wound up staying at the same hostel as them in Athens. And now here they were, in Istanbul.
But I suppose I should have expected this. By this point, I'd named Greece and Turkey the "Don't I know you from somewhere?" leg of my trip, and Istanbul was the culmination of it. It just goes to show how small a world the tourist circuit actually is. In the space of only a couple days, it seemed everyone I met I knew from somewhere else. On a tour of the Topaki Palace, I managed to avoid a guy I'd roomed with in Rome. I'd randomly taken a tour in Cappadocia with four Aussies I'd met in Athens. Upon returning to Goreme bus station from the tour, I met four Irish lads who I'd traveled with from Brindisi to Patras to Athens. Immediately after that, upon returning to my hostel in Goreme, there was a Canadian who been a semi-regular at my Quiz Night in Edinburgh.
And then there is Larry, a New Yorker who would, after his trip to Cyprus, have been in every country in Europe (including some places that could eventually become independent countries, such as Kosovo, Catalonia, and the Basque area of Spain). Larry and I had been at the same small independent hostels in about four different cities, never at the exact same time, but close enough so that we had about six people in common in as many different countries, from Vienna, to Budapest, to Cappadocia.
My first response to this amazing run of coincidental run-ins was that the world is a much smaller place than we give it credit for. But that's not necessarily true. The world is an enormous place--I think the real problem is the normal routes that tourists go are fairly small and inbred, so people from all over the place wind up taking the exact same trips, for the most part. I have yet to decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing.
The benefit for me in Istanbul is that it helped ease the shock of the amazing and alien city. The metropolitan area of Istanbul is estimated to be between twelve and nineteen million, depending on where you draw the line between suburban Istanbul and the city proper. It bears the meaningless distinction of being the only city to span two continents, straddling Europe and Asia.
Although the majority of Istanbul is technically on Europe, the city seems to be struggling to escape its Asian history. Istanbul--all of Turkey, in fact--is Europeanized Asia. It's only in the past century that Turkey has attempted to become Westernized, rather than Middle Eastern. The principle force in this Westernization was a man who came to be known as "Ataturk," which means "Father of Turkey." After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, following World War I, Ataturk instituted a massive modernization program intent on making it easier for Turkey to integrate with Western Europe. The program did everything from standardize the language to ban the wearing of the fez.
For his efforts, Ataturk is the national hero for Turkey, a Thomas Jefferson/Winston Churchill/George Washington character all wrapped up into one person. Ataturk is so respected in Turkey there is a law, known as Lese Majesty which makes it illegal to defame or insult Ataturk, the Turkish flag, and other symbols of Turkey. Which means comments that Ataturk looks like Bela Legosi in _Dracula_ probably should remain unvoiced.
THE BLUE MOSQUE
BACK TO EUROPE
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