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From Europe to Asia, twice
Pros: nice place, wonderful views
Cons: none

Istanbul, Turkey

Saturday, Feb 28, 2004 09:51

... in which the author crosses Asia from west to east...


After a couple of hectic days of packing my belongings into boxes and moving them into storage, visiting family in the Netherlands and saying goodbye to friends both there and in Prague, my trip started properly at Prague airport, with my flight to Istanbul. The Turkish Airlines flight to Delhi does not connect, so they put travellers up in a hotel just to keep the business - and a day in Istanbul before heading off to the real Asia sounded just fine to me. The in-flight meal, of course, included turkey.

Hotel Color, just east of the city centre and appropriately decked out in various shades of brown, was my four star hotel of the night, and I decided on an early evening, taking some time to rearrange the ridiculous amount of medicines I am carrying, from maybe 15 boxes to a more reasonable 4 boxes. Apart from the injections I had against hepatitis (both kinds), typhoid and something very scary starting with an M, I am equipped to triumph over any attack of acute diarrhea, vomiting, headache and malaria. There are still plenty of other things that can do damage (including loneliness and Indian bus drivers), but that is well covered by my credit card and travel health insurance.

At breakfast in the Color's top-floor restaurant, I was welcomed by abundant sunshine and fabulous views over the city, and across the Bosphorus to the Asian chunk of Turkey. The ATM coughed up 20,000,000 lira (at about 1,6 million for a euro that's not as much as you'd like) and I hopped on the sleek tram to Sultanahmet. It was Monday, with all museums closed, a perfect sunny day for strolling around. The huge park beneath the former Sultan's Topkapi palace was something I somehow skipped on my two earlier visits to Istanbul, and I was surprised by the sight of herons building nests in the tops of the trees along the main path.

To symbolically start my trip, I took the ferry across the Bosphorus to the Asian suburb of Uskudar, where fishermen were roasting their catch on the quayside. After removing a mouthful of bones the fish sandwich tasted great. Back in Europe, I wandered around and shopped to pick up the last items I needed.

At 16:30, the transfer bus picked me and a few other Delhi-bound passengers up, and two hours later we were airborne and heading east. I was seated next to a friendly Tibetan doctor, specialised in Tibetan healing (which is more about balancing your soul than swallowing lots of chemicals). He was from Dharamsala in the mountains of northern India, where the exiled Tibetan government resides. He had also lived in Berlin and used the Turkish Airlines map to show me his favourite place on the planet (a mountain in Canada). He let me read last month's (German) Stern magazine that had an interview with the jovial Dalai Lama, who seems to be conquering the Western world with his Bhuddist message of peace, but who is not very good at getting back Tibet from the Chinese. Later on, I spotted the doctor correcting the map, by drawing in the borders of Tibet. Seeing the huge chunk it would take out of China, I can imagine the Chinese' hard stance.

Apart from some rowdy Turks that made the stewardess nervous, a man who shouted in his sleep, an Indian family with three intermittently wailing kids and some turbulence above the mountains of Afghanistan, nothing interesting happened until an hour before landing, when from cruising altitude we saw an endless line of lights far below. Indian roads are notoriously unlit, so it can only have been the Pakistan-Indian border, apparently well-lit along its entire length through the Thar desert. Cool... visible borders, us geographers love that! I passed from Europe to Asia for the second time that day, and set watches 4,5 hours forwards, and mentality quite a bit more backwards.