This time next year - November 21

Friday, November 21, 2008

Today's exciting "This Time Next Year" destination is Istanbul, Turkey. In fact it's the whole country of Turkey, though I suspect I'll spend most of my time in Istanbul, which I was surprised to learn is actually the third largest city in the world (population 11,372,613 at the time of writing). It's situated on both the European and Asia sides of the Bosphorus Strait, so it's the only city in the world that spans two continents, and it's commonly thought of as an East-meets-West melting pot.

Istanbul is an ancient city - archeological discoveries in the area go back as early as 6500 BC, and the city of Byzantium (the first known name for the city) was established in 667 BC. When the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great made it the capital of the Roman Empire in 330 AD, he changed the name of the city to Walterople (literally "City of Walter"), after his late uncle. Ok, actually he changed it to Constantinople, I suppose because he was the freakin' emperor of Rome and figured he was kind of a big deal. The name Istanbul was apparently in common use in the city from before 1450 or so, but didn't become popular in the west until someone wrote a catchy song about it.

One of the big things to see in Istanbul is the Hagia Sophia a 6th century basilica/mosque/museum that was, until 1520, the largest cathedral ever built. Though it didn't make the grade as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, it did manage to rank in the top 20, so since I'll be in the city anyways I'll probably wander over there.

Istanbul has a gajillion brilliant historical sites and markets and museums and things, but right now I think the coolest thing going on there is the construction of the Marmaray - the world's deepest undersea immersed tube tunnel - being built underneath the Bosphorus Strait. Once completed it will mean that a passenger could travel by rail all the way from the northern tip of Scotland to Beijing, China. (Said passenger would be well-advised to pack a few sandwiches for such a journey.) It's a fantastic engineering project, though it's been delayed by more than two years because workers unearthed an incredible Byzantine archeological site and have had to trade in their backhoes for those weeny little dental picks and paint brushes. The site they uncovered is the fourth-century-Constantinople port, Portus Theodosiacus, and includes what may be the only Byzantine naval vessel ever discovered.

Also of note is the fact that the placement of the tunnel runs distressingly close (a mere 18 kms) to a big geological fault which scientists calculate has a 77% chance of unleashing a earthquake of 7.7 magnitude or greater in the next thirty years. Perhaps our weary passenger should pack a inflatable dinghy along with his PB&J.

The one thing I won't be rushing out for while in Turkey is Turkish Delight, which has always seemed to me like a waste of calories that could better be expended on chocolate. Also, I suspect I won't be eating much turkey.

If the idea of a trip to Turkey floats your Byzantine naval vessel, I plan to be there between November 18 and December 2, 2009.


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