Hello from Istanbul.
We have been here for close to two weeks, living in a city that is wonderfully chaotic, colorful, and multicultural but also decidedly Islamic and with a very strong sense of its central place in the Turkish nationality and Ottoman history. This blog post is meant as a short introduction to it.
Istanbul is a huge city, one of the world’s most populous with 14.2 million residents. It is divided into three parts by the great inland waterways of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn.
To the west of the Bosphorus are the two sections of the European side of the city. In the south is the old city (where the major mosques, palaces and most historic and touristic sites are); in the north is the new city. New, of course is relative, since an icon of the new city is the 9 story Galata tower, built in 1438 to replace a tower built previously. To the east of the Bosphorus is the Asian side of the city, which extends for miles beyond the border of the above map and is home to a majority of Istanbul residents.
We live in the new city, in Beyoglu, the district just north of the Golden Horn. Specifically, our immediate stomping grounds include the hip neighborhoods of Cihangir and Cucurkuma, and are about ten minutes walk from both Taksim Square (site of massive protests the last few years) and Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul’s great shopping street and site of the recent march by 1,000s protesting the violence in Ankara. May change our minds if tear gas clouds start rolling in, but for now we are in love with our neighborhood. It is chock full of cafes, small restaurants, coffee and tea shops, bakeries, and an occasional place to get a beer or glass of wine
(this is, after all a Muslim country). As in Amsterdam and Berlin, social life, especially for the young, revolves around the cafe; but here the drink of choice is coffee or tea.
Like most neighborhoods in Istanbul, ours contains 100s of small shops, open from early morning to late at night, and selling everything one could possibly use or eat. Its like a giant open air market. We are especially fond of the produce markets which are everywhere and are both amazingly bountiful and inexpensive.Five dollars buys what would cost fifty dollars at Whole Foods We go daily to one about 40 yards from our door and have become friends with the guys who run it, despite the fact they speak no English and our Turkish is limited to hello and thank you.
And if we decided never to go out we wouldn’t starve because there are plenty of entrepreneurs who travel through the neighborhoods selling out of the backs of their trucks (both pictures taken from our window)
Our apartment building, like every other building in Istanbul, except those situated on the narrow floodplains flanking the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, is on a steep hill
That means that when we leave our apartment we walk either up or down. It also means that getting back to the neighborhood from the main thoroughfares along the water requires some climbing, either up steep winding roads or pedestrian stairs. The stairs are quicker but, as you can see in the accompanying photos, require some effort.
In case you are wondering, the first stairway has 318 steps (yes, I counted them) and several inclines; the second has slightly less than 400 steps. Gets the heart pumping.
Down below are the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn which meet at a point spanned by the Galata Bridge. The bridge is a major auto and tram thoroughfare between the new city and the old, but it is also a major pedestrian promenade and fishing pier.
At any given moment of the day or night, several hundred men stand along the bridge’s rails patiently (and it seems often futilely) waiting to hook 6 inch long fish. That MP and I don’t get it must have something to do with our being too goal oriented. Walking across the bridge (which we have done often) puts one at the confluence of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus, which serve as city thoroughfares as much as any of the roads and streets. At all times of the day and seemingly the night dozens of ferries of all sizes crisscross both waterways transporting thousands of people back and forth between the three sections of the city
That’s about it for this post. A couple more, on the beauty of old and new Istanbul, will soon follow