Gavin Stamp’s Orient Express

gavin stamp’s orient express(5/5)

Architectural historian Gavin Stamp continues his journey across Europe along the route of the old Orient Express. It is a trek of 2,000 miles across ten countries, from London to Istanbul. In this last episode in the series, Gavin reaches his journey’s end – the city of Istanbul at the end of Europe and the beginning of Asia, where the old Orient Express service terminated.

Istanbul is an ancient city, full of curious sights andremarkable architecture. During his whistle-stop tour, Gavin marvels at the Hagia Sofia, which he proclaims to be one of the greatest buildings in theworld. It was built as a church by the Roman emperor Justinian when the city was still called Constantinople. The Ottoman Turks turned it into a mosque when they conquered the city, and theyadmired its design so much that it became the inspiration for all subsequent Turkish mosques – something Gavin demonstrates with a quick visit to the Suleyman mosque designed by the great Turkish architect Sinan.

But Gavin’s visit is not all about architecture: he pays a visit to the city’s famous markets where he is tempted by free Turkish sweets and the offer of Turkish Viagra. Loaded up with sweets he takes apeak at the relics of the Ottoman Empire with a tour of the Topkapi Palace. He then examines the beautifully tiled harem where the Ottoman sultanskept themselves busy when not working on the management of the empire.

Next stop on the tour is a visit to the Whirling Dervishes –a religious Islamic order who spin on the spot to music in order to connect with Allah. On witnessing the spectacle, Gavin wonders if what was once a religious ceremony has now been reduced to just a tourist attraction.

Gavin later wangles an invite to a posh do at theBritish Embassy hosted by the Lord Mayor of London. After a few glasses of wine, he manages to be rude about the windows before falling asleep during the speeches.

Finally, Gavin crosses the Bosphorous river, which divides Turkey-in-Europe with Turkey-inAsia –the perfect setting to contemplate his long journey, as the sun sets over Istanbul.

gavin stamp’s orient express(4/5)

Architectural historian Gavin Stamp continues his journey across Europe along the route of the old Orient Express. It is a trek of 2,000 miles across ten countries, from London to Istanbul. This week, Gavin retraces Dracula’s steps in Transylvania, meets some Romanian gypsies, and samples the sights of Bucharest.

Leaving Bosnia and Serbia behind, Gavin crosses the border into Romania, where his first stop is the town of Sighisoara in the legendary region of Transylvania. The well-preserved medieval citadel at the heart of the town rests on a picturesque hillside. This charming site was the home of the bloodthirsty tyrant, Vlad the Impaler, upon whom the character of Dracula was based, but Gavin thinks the locals have gone overboard in turning the place into a Dracula theme park. He takes tea in Vlad’s house-turned-restaurant, which serves rare steaks with red wine, and ponders the dubious nature of a tourist industry that celebrates a man who liked to torture his victims by impaling them on stakes.

Escaping the Dracula tourist circus, Gavin explores a nearby village and sees the terrible poverty in which the gypsy community live. While there, he has his tarot cards read and a dark fate is revealed to him: they tell him about trouble with his tax return and offer some other equally worrying news. Keen to be on his way, Gavin boards a train and travels to Brasov, an old town founded by Teutonic Knights. There he takes a tour of the famous Black Church, decorated with Turkish rugs and boasting the largest organ in Romania. Gavin finds a moment to enjoy the locals giving their renditions of Bach.

After Brasov, Gavin stops off in Romania’s capital, Bucharest –a city devastated by the grand plans of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. In a whistle-stop tour he visits a church that was moved on wheels during the development of the city, and sees the neoclassical Palace of the People, which Gavin flatteringly labels the “worst building in the world”.

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