The day before, Christmas Eve was like our first day, a day given to walking long distances around areas of Istanbul we had not discovered before. We started following the tracks of the old Roman Road which crosses from the Golden Horn down to the Sea of Marmara. It used to be 6 meters wide and be lined with columns. Now it is almost all given over to markets and narrow shopping streets, starting off with the famous herb and spice market and then, surprisngly changing theme, into an area where you could buy Christmas trees, Christmas decorations and Father Christmas figures, all probably made in China. It felt like I was back in Hanoi, where we saw many similar shops selling the same products. It is an interesting thing to remember that Father Christmas came to us through the Saint Nicolas figure exported to America by the Dutch and that this Saint Nicolas was originally a bishop in Myra, which is now a town on the south coast of Turkey. And here are the modern Turks, almost all Muslims, or nominally Muslims, importing the American Father Christmas figure through garish plastic creations made in China!
Anyway, this Roman Road took us past the famous Bazaar (which somehow we almost always seem to manage to avoid on our visits to Istanbul) and down to an area near the Marmara Coast which had obviously been colonized by Armenians as there were a number of churches down there, all rather empty, most of them surrounded by walls (to keep out the Muslims hordes) and all rather sad. No Christmas cheer at all. In fact the whole neighbourhood looked very down at heel, in need to money for renovations, as had happened a little further east in the Sultanahmet area (which is now a tourist and backpacker haunt, where we normally stay).
It was a long way to our next destination, the old wall of Istanbul, a wall built by the Byzantines to keep out the invaders and which only fell in 1453, due to some serious negligence and bad strategic thinking on behalf of the rulers, and the invention by the Ottomans of a ‘super gun’ – a massive cast iron cannon. It was actually invented by a Hungarian who was working for the Byzantines, but those Byzantines did not and could not pay what he wanted, so he sold the technology to the Ottomans. We know this because Fred is reading ‘Constantinople, The Last Great Siege 1453’ by Robert Crowley, which was a Christmas present given to him by Diana and the boys. Good one!