Istanbul has always been one of the world's great cities. It was once known as Byzantium, later as Constantinople. It's been the capital of empires and it straddles two continents. Istanbul has been - and remains - a center of Turkish culture and finance. We're going to spend some time in Istanbul every day this week..there's that much to experience there. The World's Alex Gallafent will be our guide.
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Getting around Istanbul means getting on a ferry. The city's divided by water. In various directions you cross water going from Europe to Asia and back. Or by going up and down the Bosphorus Strait.
Fishing on the Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul
Or by traversing an inlet called the Golden Horn. The ferries chug away all day. They creak with age. Passengers sit on weathered wooden benches sipping small glasses of tea. And to residents of Istanbul, the long-serving ferries have their own personalities.
"Just like some people like cats and name them and have so many of them, people are also attached to the boats that go up and down the Bosphorus."
That's Turkish novelist and Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk - an Istanbullite through and through.
"My father had encyclopedic information about them - I've learned some of it from him. But life is changing and the boats are changing. Now we have some of these Norwegian catamarans which I also see on the Hudson River in New York City. They are faster but they're not the same."
Pamuk knows Istanbul inside out. He was born here, and his family has lived in the city for generations.
"My window overlooks the entrance of Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara. And from my window I can also see what we call the old town - that's the architecture, the silhouette of old Istanbul where the capital of Byzantium was set and where the capital of the Ottoman Empire was set."
When evening arrives in Istanbul, warm floodlights illuminate the city's famous landmarks. To one side there's the Blue Mosque, a swirl of cupolas and minarets.
On the other, the Aya Sofia, an overwhelming basilica that morphed into a mosque when the Ottomans arrived in the 15th century. Flushed in pale yellow, the ancient buildings kind of look like old photographs - massive collective memories weighing down on modern Istanbul. The city's memory weighs heavy on Orhan Pamuk too.
He looks at these buildings and he sees the city Istanbul used to be. A city at the center of the Ottoman Empire - and the world.
Today, Istanbul is still one of the world's major cities. But it's no longer the center of global power it could once claim to be. Pamuk feels that loss. For him, it creates a mood of 'huzun', or melancholy. And huzun, he says, is a philosophy of life for many Turks.
"Don't run after success but embrace failure at the beginning of your life so you'll lead a more dignified and morally deep life. That's what Turkish melancholy is all about. And of course it's related to the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the state of living a provincial life at the margins of Europe."
"I don't have that feeling of loss. I was just born into this city."
Meet Erkan Saka. 31 years old. Writes a blog about Istanbul. And he doesn't care about the 'historical stuff', as he puts it. Erkan Saka doesn't live under a cloud of huzun. For him, the city isn't memory and loss. It's opportunity.
"The feeling of loss, I cannot have it, because it's always disappearing and emerging.. New things emerge all the time."
One new thing that's emerged in recent decades is the possibility of Turkey joining the European Union. Turks like Erkan Saka have mixed feelings about the idea.
On the one hand, recent public rejections of Turkey's bid for EU membership by the likes of French President Nicolas Sarkozy have soured Turks on the notion.
But Saka says that young Turks continues to dream of Europe - a world of opportunity just out of reach. Still, Erkan Saka can empathise with Europeans who fear Turkey's entry into the EU.
"Istanbul's cosmopolitanism comes close to chaos. I can understand why people in the EU - most of them - are uneasy when it comes to Turkey."
Istanbul from the ferry
Saka says Istanbul is Turkey in miniature. Most of the city's residents come from somewhere else in the country. And that means Istanbul's citizens reflect the divisions in the nation at large. Some are pleased to see the rise of Islamic political parties. Others are staunch defenders of Turkey's secular democracy.
That secular democracy was launched in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. It was he who dragged Turkey from its weighty history of empires into modernity. Uncertain modernity maybe, but modernity nonetheless.
The question is where Turkey goes next. No-one in Istanbul can know for sure how the future will pan out. But it didn't seem to matter one cold evening in the city recently. A group of joyful Istanbullites piled out of five cars in the shadow of the Aya Sofia.
Music blared from the open car doors as the group danced in celebration of a wedding. Whatever happens to Turkey, these young people were celebrating a new beginning.
For The World, I'm Alex Gallafent, Istanbul.