The changing face of Istanbul


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Indeed, Istanbul's tourist industry is doing very well. The number of visitors this year is expected to exceed the 26 million who came in 2009 and most of them will end up in Eminonu at some time during their stay. I said goodbye to Baran as we slipped under the Bosphorus Bridge and turned toward the dock.

Located at the south end of the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn, Eminonu is a major transportation hub and upscale shopping district. Its dock is the main terminus for passenger ferries on the Bosphorus and Marmara Sea. Buses, trams and trains, both local and long distance, begin and end their journeys here, carrying commuters and tourists to destinations throughout the city and beyond.

Until 1961 it was the terminus of the Orient Express, a train steeped in the glamour and intrigue of Agatha Christie spy thrillers. The trip from Paris took three and a half days (provided the train wasn't held up by bandits or stalled in a snowdrift) and if there were delays the carpeted cabins with leather armchairs and gas-lit chandeliers provided all the comforts a gentleman could desire. But that was a different era. Despite its extravagant luxury the Orient Express could not compete with air travel and today the only trains using Eminonu's Sirkeci Station are on short-haul domestic routes. Istanbul has become an ultra-modern jet-age city.

From the dock we walked across the plaza, past the "New Mosque" to a high brick archway leading into the Egyptian Bazaar, known also as the Spice Market. The Mosque and Bazaar are part of the same complex. Both were built at the same time, around AD1660, but while the Mosque now stands empty for most of the week, the Bazaar teems with action as buyers and sellers, both tourists and locals, haggle over the price of everything from souvenirs to cinnamon. Merchants shoo pigeons away from colourful piles of ground spices, displayed in their kiosks just as they were in the 17 th century when the "Cairo caravan," a flotilla of ships from Egypt, began regular deliveries of spices and coffee to the market.

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