Posted: 4/1/2014


      The last time I visited Istanbul was way back in 1977, then with a population of less than two million. On my recent visit in late March that had risen to over 14 million, and one of the great cities of the world, which straddles Europe and Asia.

    Two bridges have been built across the Bosphorus, and the small airport replaced by two huge ones, on either shore... with a third bridge and a third airport in the works. I flew on Turkish Airlines into the Asian one, Sabiha Gokcen, the fastest growing with a passenger increase of over 27% in each of the last three years. As well as Turkish Airlines, Pegasus -, a huge discount airline, has its base there. I flew out from Ataturk Airport, 40 minutes by tram and metro from downtown on the European shore.

      The ancient monuments, the markets, the ferry boats, the modern high rise offices are a great magnet for Turks from Anatolia and indeed tourists and business people from all over. This last week they had mayorial and local elections, yet the big guns were seen everywhere. The embattled prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been leader of 77 million Turks for 11 years and chairman of the AKP party whose members thrust flags and banners into my hand along with others in many party gatherings. 

      From 1969 to 1982 he was a semi pro footballer and elected mayor of Istanbul in 1994 but later imprisoned for four months for reciting a poem at a public meeting. He formed his new party and has increased his power and influence until last year when there were riots in the huge Taksim Square and elsewhere and in recent weeks he has tried and failed to ban Twitter and YouTube and other social media.

     While it is a leading regional power, and a long time member of NATO, his increasing authoritism seems that he will never achieve membership of the European Union any time soon. It's a pity, because it is my favourite big city world wide with a dynamism, creativity and friendliness that is very exciting. The transport system is superb with modern trams, subways, ferry boats and even the recently opened underground link between Europe and Asia.. The Marmary Line, which whisks you from one continent to another in FIVE MINUTES.

      I found an inexpensive hotel in the Sultanahmet area within 200 metres of the ancient Hippodrome which is where you will find The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia... an Eastern Orthodox cathedral for almost a thousand years from 537 AD , then an Imperial mosque from 1453 for almost 500 years, and since 1935 a museum. Nearby is the Topkapi Palace and also the Basilica Cistern from the 3rd Century AD with its huge water storage and lots of fish.

     My hotel roof breakfast cafe had a priceless view overlooking the old city and The Goldern Horn and the hundreds of ships on The Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara.

     All around are beautiful gardens full of tulips in all colours, and many other flowers, and the whole area is kept neat and tidy by an army of gardeners, and street cleaners in orange jump suits. You may be suprised to know, but a thousand years ago these wildflowers were brought from Persia and became very popular. TULIP is from the Turkish word for Turban.  In the 17th century a Viennese botanist, Carolus Clusius took some of the plants to Holland...and the rest is history.

     Since 2006 there has been an Istanbul Tulip Festival each April. The city planted 13 million bulbs in 2013 in every conceivable colour in parks, roundabouts, avenues and roadside verges. In the early 18th century under Sultan Ahmet lll, when diplomacy and cultural exchange took precedence over wars and expansionism, The Ottomans called in The Tulip Period.