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Pole to Pole

Day 44: Istanbul

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleI buy a Panama hat for under £6 from an elderly French-speaking Turk at a shop by the tram stop. I'm not keen on hats, but with the weather getting hotter by the day I can see the advantages.

As a result of climate, history and geographical position, Istanbul is the quintessential trading city. Russia and the Mediterranean and Europe and Asia meet here, and though a walk through the endless arcades of the old covered market gives an overwhelming sense of richness and variety, there is no better place to see trade in its rawest, purest form than the square outside the gates of the Beyazit II mosque and the impressive Islamic-arched entrance of Istanbul University. Here an extraordinary dance of commerce goes on. Groups are constantly gathering, splitting and reforming. Eyes are always on the move. These are furtive people on the very edge of the law, buying and selling in the spirit, if not the currency, of this great commercial city. There are Azerbaijanis, Iranians, Poles, Romanians, Ukrainians and Afghans. Most of them sell out of black plastic bags. I see Marlboro cigarettes traded for dollars, and plastic train sets, cheap East European trainers, an anorak, some metal ornaments - all attracting the crowds.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 44
  • Country/sea: Turkey
  • Place: Istanbul
  • Book page no: 97

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