It’s a short ferry crossing from Europe to Asia across the Bosphorus in Istanbul. The city’s ferries predate the first bridge by more than a century and remain a vital transport link.
Some 300,000 commuters cross this channel every working day and the berthing is a well-practiced routine. A crewman lassoes a bollard and the boat shudders, refusing briefly then surrendering to the pull of the land. Gangplanks bang down and we are ashore.
I walk across the docks into Haydarpaşa Station, built in a severely Teutonic German style in 1908 and the terminal for all trains from Asia. While Sirkeci Station on the European side, famously the terminal for the Orient Express, conjures up the exotic east with its design, this station on the Asian side is an image of Western efficiency. Rail travel may not have the romance it once did but I cannot resist a moment to daydream about boarding a train here bound for Baghdad or Damascus. A dream it must remain for now, as the track is closed while being upgraded for high-speed rail.
What remains, though, is Bağdat (Baghdad) Avenue, a reminder that Turkey is bordered by Iraq, as well as Syria, Iran, Georgia, Nakhchivan (Azerbaijan) and Armenia on this side. Greece and Bulgaria are its European neighbors. It’s a wide boulevard lined with familiar international fashion brands and local designer labels, shopping malls, department stores and chic cafes and restaurants.
Thronged with men and women wearing the latest fashions and sporting the latest accessories from cell phones to fast cars, it has been ranked the world’s third-best shopping street. The energy, wealth and wide range of people and faces remind me of Napoleon’s saying: “If the Earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.”
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