It’s always nice to write a blog post that makes me really think about travel. And being given the topic of ‘inspirational windows around Europe’ by Hillarys as part of a blogging competition has definitely got me casting my mind back over trips.
Would I choose to write about literal windows, such as the great cathedrals of Paris, Cologne, Rome, or the incredible views from places like the Eiffel Tower?
Would it be metaphorical windows, like the cafes where I’ve sat to watch the world go by, sometimes giving as much of a feel for the country’s culture as its top tourist attractions?
Would it be moving windows, like my Interrail trip around Europe when I was 20 or the car window which gave me my first glimpse of a foreign country, France (at 6am, the ports of northern France are not the most glamorous introduction but I still remember a little shiver of excitement at leaving the UK).
I pondered home-grown options, including the London Eye with the panorama of London spread out beneath the glass capsules, as well as the windows I’d love to look through, including those at the Alhambra in Granada, still high up my wish list.
But each time, my thoughts kept coming back to one of my favourite cities – Istanbul. Right on the edge of Europe, you can stare over to the Asian shore of the Bosphorus from the windows of the Topkapi Palace, as well as experiencing the sense of claustrophobia in the harem where none of the windows looked out, only onto other parts of the women’s gilded prison.
Through the glass of the breakfast room in our hotel’s rooftop terrace, I could see out to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, both with their own stunning windows and reminders of the conflicts which have shaped not just this city but the whole of Europe.
And several of my mental snapshots of Istanbul were captured through glass – the high panes of the Grand Bazaar casting a few rays of light down onto craftsmen continuing ancient traditions and salesman pushing pashminas and replica watches, or the plate glass views from 360 restaurant, looking onto the lights of Beyoglu and modern Turkey over a cocktail.
The piles of Turkish delight stacked enticingly high at Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir, the original shop to sell the sweets, or the sun glinting on the water from the ferries which cross from Europe to Asia in less than half an hour.
Because it all reminds me that Europe isn’t one homogenous mix. Even on my doorstep there’s everything from the quiet sunbaked Alentejo in Portugal to the snowy glamour of Moscow, the culture and elegance of Paris and the passion and energy of Rome, the nightlife of Berlin and days wandering around Prague. And that’s barely the tip of what there is to discover.
And at the far edge, Istanbul, a city whose fortunes have shaped the whole of Europe, and the gateway to Asia. The beginning of a whole new world to discover.