Tag Archives: Urbanism

The edges of Istanbul

My sweat hanky is working over time. I’m dabbin’ my way uphill, getting nowhere. I’ve got the Bosphorus between my shoulder blades and the Marmara pooling in my waistband. My body of water is about to burst its banks.

We’ve eaten nothing all day but soup and dried apricots; add to this a 12 hour bus journey, traffic jam, two mis-directed metropolitan bus rides, and an hour-long ramble uphill in pursuit of a doss-house – we’re shattered. We hope we arrive at Serbia Travel House before the map dissolves in our hands, ashes to ashes, tree pulp to tree pulp.

Two distracted Russians pop up out of nowhere in the darkness to join in our search for the Serbia Travel House. A wholesome dinner and good night’s rest would do the job but there’s no room at the inn – we join 24 bodies on the floor. We’re too tired to feel alarmed by the conditions, or the snaking queue for the toilet. We brush teeth, store our bags and join the pyjama-party-refugee camp on the floor.

The following day when we’re feeling brighter and more responsive we’ll be able to learn about the lives of the other travellers here including the doe-eyed Syrian who is the only genuine refugee. There’s also a couple who have been on the road continuously since 2004 – living on 350Euros a month between them.

The next day over a tahini bun and Turkish coffee it becomes apparent that we’re in no fit state to enjoy this experience… we’re in Istanbul but we’re minus the stamina to enjoy it. We’re minus the will and the inclination too. What to do?

We blame the heat. We blame ourselves. We use the Lonely Planet to stimulate an appetite for exploration, hoping the centrefold photos and suggestive itinerary will be enough to arouse us into action. Maybe some of that Turkish viagra at the spice market would help our cause…

We take a freshly squeezed orange juice instead and find our way to an independent English-language book store. The shop-boy is enthused by the Turkish cookbook I’ve picked up. I have no intention of buying it. “We’re such bad tourists,” Richie whispers. It’s true.

Richie and I spend the next 2 days in Istanbul being really really bad tourists. All our leads come to nothing: the archaeology museum is closed; the boat excursions up the Golden Horn have come to a halt due to ‘renovation’ (of what? The boat? The river? The Golden Horn?) and the Grand Bazaar is closed too. It’s a relief. Except for a visit to Aya Sofia and the Basilica Cistern we eschew the ‘attractions’ and make for shady places where we watch people and scrape our scattered senses into little mounds of dirt that we push around with our toes and fingers. We chew corn, take photos, stop for tea. Dab dab, swipe swipe, the water keeps on coming.

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Volubilis

Unless you’re ancient Roman, or you’ve studied Latin, the word ‘Volubilis’ sounds strange in the mouth. Richie and I tried it on for size as we made our way on foot from Moulay Idriss to the ruins; spitting the word out, drawing it back in our mouth, gargling it with laughter and chewing it up with irreverence. No matter how we said it, it didn’t sound right. “It’s like a combination of ‘globule’ and ‘voluptuous’.

Our first glimpse of the ruins was from high on a ridge above the valley. From up there on the plateau the site looked extensive but not significant: a pile of toppled rocks (‘crumblies’ – as our friend Milton calls them). As we drew closer it became apparent that what had appeared at first as a diffuse and haphazard collection of buildings was in fact a large and concentrated area of dwellings, paved roads, temples and civic buildings. In its heyday, Volubilis occupied a space of 42 hectares and was home to some 20,000 residents. These days, however, the only beings who live there are a handful of storks and a family or two of house martins.

As there are no grande taxis from Meknes, the best way to reach Volubilis is to catch the bus to Moulay Idriss, a small town some 30km north of Meknes, and disembark at the junction where the road to Moulay Idriss leaves the N13 – which is what we did. From there, it’s a pleasant 3 kilometres walk. The approach is through olive groves and hedges of cacti.

In our stubbornness we refused to adopt a local guide, preferring instead to make our own baffled inspections of the stones and mosaics. Richie was fascinated by the remains of a vast system of drains, baths, aqueducts, fountains and cisterns, whereas I was drawn to other details: a faded mosaic of sea animals, a lone Corinthian column, and a highly polished stone phallus!

The foundation stones of several olive presses lay exposed among the ruins. Minus the perishable components of the apparatus the stones looked incomplete, dumb. Deep channels designed to draw away the precious fluid lay dry and inanimate. They hadn’t flowed in centuries. No balm. No grease. No oil. Continue reading

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