Monday, 25 March 2019

Istanbul – not Constantinople



Turkey is a long way from Singapore. And despite 97 percent of the country's land mass and approximately 90 percent of Turkey's population being in Asia – it's a stretch to consider Turkey an Asian nation. At least not the Asia represented by Singapore.

A view across the Golden Horn on the European side of Istanbul. The Galata Tower can be seen towering over the city skyline (photo: Imran Ahmed)
Though Singapore and Turkish Airlines offer direct flights covering the almost 9,000 kilometers between Singapore and Istanbul, Gulf carriers like Emirates and Qatar Airways offer cheaper fares though with the discomfort of a transit in Dubai and Doha respectively. On this journey I chose Qatar Airways and had a two hour layover in Doha.

Qatar Airways was a good decision. The airline did not disappoint. New planes with good in-flight entertainment options; staff was attentive and available for that cup of tea or glass of water even in the middle of the night (both flights were night flights).

Doha airport? It's a contrast from Dubai airport. Dubai airport is crowded (bustling!) and has started to look tired. Dubai shows its age - it has been a popular air travel hub for several decades. On the contrary, Doha Hamad Airport is (relatively) new. Passengers have some breathing space. Perhaps it's not fair to compare an airport (Doha) which serves 35 million passengers with the third busiest airport (Dubai) in the world serving almost 90 million passengers in 2018?

There's no reaching a destination without a journey … but this post is about my arrival in Istanbul and not my experiences getting to Istanbul.

Crowds of people throng the streets of Kadikoy in the Asian side of Istanbul (photo: Imran Ahmed)
Istanbul, not Constantinople!

More than many cities, Istanbul is a living collection of the multiple civilizations which have owned the city streets over the centuries. Dating from the pre-Christian Roman period to today's Turkish Republic. Physical traces of each civilization are visible around the nation, from Roman ruins to Byzantine churches to Ottoman mosques and everything in between.

However, Istanbul's 'je ne sais quoi' comes from its cultural uniqueness.

By any yardstick, Istanbul is an European city. It has an European feel about it. Yet, the uninitiated may be surprised to hear the Azan or Muslim call to prayer ringing crisply through the air five times daily. Moreover, a glass of wine or beer are easily available at restaurants and cafes around the city. Again, the uninitiated will soon realize it's virtually impossible to find a ham and cheese sandwich in Istanbul. Alcoholic beverages are alright but pig meat is not!

Just as there is more to Istanbul than the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque there is more to Turkey than Istanbul. Stay tuned for more from Turkey. The mystery and adventures in the proverbial Orient are just beginning.


Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

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