Asia is derived from the ancient Greek word Anatolia, which means sunrise. Europe is thought to have been derived from the word meaning sunset or land of darkness. -Istanbul The Imperial City
I am stranded in the fabulous city at crossroads of Europe and Asia. A few days ago my rear wheel literally fell apart during some routine maintenance. Bicycle shops in the city are plentiful but finding a reliable rims and spokes, that aren’t cheap knock offs is impossible. After leaving Istanbul I may not encounter another bicycle shop till China, and wheel troubles in the remote Central Asian deserts could be dire. I made a few long distance phone calls and after a bit of negotiation I found a wheel sponsor, VelocityUSA. These guys are awesome! After telling them about my trip and my problems with finding a reliable wheels they agreed to send me a “Zombie proof” wheel set! A custom build, in a few days I will have two a sealed bearing, 36 spoke hubs laced with stainless steel DT Swiss double butted spokes to robust NoBS touring rims! What a gift!! I am going to be the official test pilot for their new rims, NoBS, and will be submitting testimonials along the journey. Velocity has a long history of standing by their products and helping cyclists in remote locations. I look forward to giving their wheels some extensive abuse and will keep you all posted!
In the last few weeks I have thoroughly explored Istanbul, and I must admit that the city continues to fascinates me. I have visited almost every historic Camii’, (pronounced Jami, Mosque) in and around the city, and each morning I wake up with the desire to see them again. The in-depth history of Constantinople and the Ottoman empire has inspired me to seek out obscure buildings built on ruins of the past.
I have become quite close with my hosts, Richard, Semra and Ayse, and have begun to feel like they are family.Richard has been in the city more than 12 years and is as enthusiastic as I am in retracing the footsteps of the past. We have shared many great ideas and have had interesting conversations during our walks around the city. Last Sunday, we both (somehow )convinced each other to go to an Armenian Coptic Church service. Inside a large smoky dim-lit Chapel was 6 monks dressed in cloaks chanting. The smoke continued to grow, as one monk diligently swung an ancient looking censer. Almost as if the service were Choreographed the monks changed locations throughout the Chapel, and set up props while the priest changed outfits 3 times (white robe, black cloak and finally to a white robe adorned with gold writing and a huge crown). After 30 minutes the curtain in front of the Alter was drawn, and the priest vanished behind while the chanting continued. Soon a sacred book and scepter icon, (The icon contained an eye in the center of a triangle a lot like the pyramid on the US dollar) were carried over head, around the Church by the priest while the monks began to circumambulate the Altar. In the hour and a half service I did not understand a single word but was on the edge of my seat in awe at the strange performance.
I can really feel the mix between Europe and Asia here. Many of the districts near the Mosques have neighborhoods inhabited by fundamental Muslims; and it is not uncommon to see most the women in full burka, and the men in Shellvars (traditional Islamic loose pants)and white Taqiyahs (skull caps). Outside of these religious areas the city becomes is very European with women and men dressed in high fashion name brand clothing, talking on I-phones drinking coffee at Starbucks. These two extremes, the eastern and western culture collide on Bagdat street (the high fashion neighborhood) where one can see women in burka buying Victoria’s secret lingerie and sampling Chanel perfume. On the outskirts of the city, and in many of the poor neighborhoods you can find large Gypsy communities. The Gypsies travel throughout the city, mostly bare foot, playing music for pocket-change. Everyday while riding the ferry from the Asia side of the city to the European I listen to young gypsies playing the accordion and singing traditional songs. There is also a small Kurdish population, that is subject to a lot of political controversy. The Kurds, who look a lot like the Bedouin of Arabia, were originally from the south-east region of Turkey, and work many of the labor intensive jobs in the city. Between these extremes you find the majority of Turks, women wearing colorful headscarves, in western clothing, and Turkish men dressed like any other westerner.
The historic section of the city is located on the peninsula west of the Bosphorus (European side) in the districts of Eminonu and Sultan Ahmet. This is where the Byzantium and Ottoman palaces were built along with many of the more decorated churches and mosques. After the fall of Constantinople, the Muslim Ottoman empire renamed the city Istanbul and converted all the Orthodox churches to Mosques. Many of the Christian mosaics and frescoes were left undisturbed and can still be viewed in many of the mosques today. Strangely enough most of the damage to these religious works of art was incurred by the Roman Catholic Crusaders in the early part of the 13th century, during the great schism between Orthodox and Catholic Christianity. This schism eventually led to the decline of Christianity in the east and to the fall of Constantinople in 1453.
I will be on the road again soon, but until then I am thoroughly enjoying my time in the city. With a population over 10 million this is by far the largest city I have visited since departing California over a year ago. Summer is here! It is already over 30 degrees here and from what I hear close to 50 degrees in Central Asia. This next leg of the journey is going to be the biggest adventure of my life!