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A Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

The moment I step off the train from the airport all my senses are overwhelmed. Except touch. I keep my hands to myself.

The muzzein’s call to prayer sings out across Istanbul’s suburbs. Bright, striking spires rise above drab apartment blocks.

There is a fascinating clash of east and west. There’s a McDonald’s next to a mosque; women in burquas eating burgers.

The cool autumn wind carries the smell of exotic spices. I find myself transported to another time and place: Auburn in May.

To avoid negotiating a taxi fare and to take in the city I walk the five kilometers from the station to my hotel.

I am following the train lines when a teenager across the road breaks away from his friend, cuts me off, then blows cigarette smoke in my face. The two of them walk away laughing. I feel honoured to be given this traditional Turkish welcome.

It feels like a welcome home. Like a Hindu going to bathe in the Ganges, or a Muslim making it to Mecca, I have finally reached my spiritual homeland: The birthplace of the doner kebab.

I look forward to attacking this city with all the fervour of the crusading armies that tackled it long before me (without the attendant slaughter and plunder).

20111026-091100.jpgA bustling bazaar

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