Sunday, March 23, 2014

Guest Blogger: Maria Hudgins––"Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"

Every other Sunday is our day for Guest Author Postings by mystery writers who base their stories in non-US settings.  We think it a great way of introducing our readership to new experiences and places. We’re delighted to have with us today American novelist and former oceanography, earth science, and chemistry educator, Maria Hudgins.  Maria is the author of the Dotsy Lamb Travel Mysteries. The fifth book in that series, Death in An Ivory Tower, will be published in June and is set in her favorite town in the whole world, Oxford, UK—though she lives in Hampton, Virginia and writes today about Istanbul.  Maria also writes the Lacy Glass Archaeology Mystery series available as ebooks.

Welcome, Maria.  And thank you.

On January 1st, 1929 everyone in Turkey woke up illiterate. This was the date when their leader, Kemal Ataturk, decreed the country would switch from Arabic script to the Roman alphabet. Every newspaper, every official document, every street sign now used our twenty-six letters plus seven more a committee added to accommodate the unique sounds of the Turkish language.

Old City as seen from the Galata Bridge

Turkey looks to the West. Turkey looks to the East. A similar thing is happening now in the Ukraine. Which way lies prosperity? Which way lies happiness? Ataturk, still regarded as the father of modern Turkey, said, “West. Look to the west.”

But the vast majority of the country lies on the Asian plate. It used to be called Asia Minor. A major stop on the Silk Road with its caravanserais and seraglios, its Sultans and their harems, it’s not long past the day when a new Sultan’s male relatives were strangled with a silk cord lest they challenge his rule. The last sultan, who had spent most of his life in Kafes (the Cage) as an alternative to the silk cord, ruled until 1922.

Silk cocoons at carpet makers

I admit I’m charmed and enchanted by Istanbul. With plenty of places left on my bucket list, I’m going back to Istanbul.  On my last visit, I retraced the footsteps of Agatha Christie, visiting Sirkecki Station, the eastern terminus of the Orient Express, the Pera Palace Hotel, where she stayed in Room 411, and the Haydarpasa Station, the western end of the Taurus Express on the Asian side of town. Sadly, the top floor of this fine old building burned shortly after my last visit and I hear they are not planning to reopen it. I even took the ferry across. The one that gave Hercule Poirot his usual mal de mer.

Courtesy car at the Pera Palace Hotel
Sitting astride the European and Asian tectonic plates like a Colossus, Istanbul, like Gaul, is divided into three parts: the old city, the new city, and the Asian city. This fact is tremendously helpful when you are finding your way around. The old and new parts (both on the European side) are separated by the estuary they call the Golden Horn. European and Asian sections are separated by the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara. Bridges and ferries can take you from one to the other.  Trams and ferries are cheap. Tickets can be bought at on-site kiosks

Haydarpasa Station as seen from ferry

This time, I plan to hit the Topkapi Palace for at least one whole day, I want to see the Dolmabahce Palace, and the Basilica Cisterns beneath the city and traversed by James Bond in From Russia with Love. I may visit a hammam. This time, I won’t even try to use a Turkish keyboard. I will know my PEN in digits, not letters.

When I was in school, my teachers told us to learn the metric system because, in a year or so, our country would be switching to the system the rest of the world already used. That was fifty years ago and it still hasn’t happened. We buy Cokes in liters and milk in gallons. Our rulers have inches on one side, centimeters on the other. Mechanics need two sets of tools. Maybe Ataturk knew what he was doing.

Besides, a kilo of Turkish Delight lasts longer than a pound.

Guest Blogger Maria Hudgins—Sunday


  1. Thank you, Maria,for showing us such a good time in Istanbul (CONSTANTINOPLE)...and we shall leave discussion of your exploits at Left Coast Crime for another time. :)

  2. What fun to go there vicariously with you, Maria. I visited Istanbul only once, about twenty years ago (before the big earthquake) and absolutely loved it. My only gripe was that the coffee tasted as I would expect brown liquid shoe polish to taste, were I to venture to take a sip.

  3. I loved seeing both of you in Monterey, Jeffrey and Annamaria! I recommend skipping the coffee and leaving more room for the Turkish Delight.