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Pole to Pole

Day 42: Odessa to Istanbul

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleThe Junost looks what it is, a poorly maintained, overmanned country cousin of a ship, a bit of an embarrassment in the midst of this burgeoning capitalist neophilia. The Junost is like the Soviet Union itself, inefficient and ill-equipped but full of character. Its shortcomings create an atmosphere of closeness and warmth in the face of shared adversity. I can't wait to get off and enjoy a few creature comforts but I know I shall miss Lyuba and Felix and the dripping chief electrical officer.

As we move slowly past the 540-year-old Ottoman fortress of Rumeli Hasari, entirely built in four months, all of us on the deck-rail are excited and uncertain. The girl from Ilkley will be hearing her A-level results today. Two Afghans who have come through Russia to set up business in the West will face commercial reality for the first time. The first officer will look longingly at the glitter of capitalism, before turning his ship back to a country that's falling apart. Only Felix seems unaffected, flicking his head round in a series of neck-wrenching turns, as if desperate to achieve a full 360-degree rotation.

The sweeping, graceful span of the first bridge ever to link two continents soars above us as the incomparable skyline of Istanbul comes into view. Set on headlands and curving around the inlet known as the Golden Horn, it is one of the great cityscapes of the world. Modern buildings are there, but the overall impression of grace and harmony is set by the mosques, with their clusters of domes and their attendant minarets pointing heavenwards like defending rockets, and the sprawling beauty of the Topkapi Palace, leading the eye downhill to the ramparts of the old city walls and the harbour, teeming with overloaded ferries.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 42
  • Country/sea: Turkey
  • Place: Istanbul
  • Book page no: 93

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