The Bosporus Metropolis
What city better than ancient Byzantium and former Constantinople could have been a better starting point of an Arabia journey than the metropolis between Occident and Orient? Already approaching Atatürk airport was amazing when flying over Old Town, Golden Horn, Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque at sunset. Germans may immediately report to the immigration officer as they get their passport stamped without having to buy a visa before. The metro takes you from airport to Zeytinburnu station, where the trams to Sultanahmet start. The ride from airport to city centre leads through less attractive suburbs and which remind of another agglomeration: Sao Paulo.
Generally speaking Istanbul is said to be the home of 12 million people. A count that is gladly doubled by the locals when they are Loveparade-like speaking about Istanbul’s “20 million people!” population figure. Well, you won’t recognise the marginal difference of 8 million when travelling by public transportation ;-) Seats are only available on the first few meters or at night time.
Both, metro as well as tram, were rammed with people from side to side. The ride from airport to Sultanahmet lasts about 45 minutes and soon it stopped at my final station Cemberlitas. While walking down to Kumkapi square I smelled little log fires which serve as heating for mobile tea bars or roasted nuts.
The first night in Orient can abruptly stop when sun is about to climb over horizon. To Central Europeans the matutinal prayer call means a sudden end of the night or at least a prompt awakening as often that prayer call is coming “live” from tape while being spread by croaking speakers. Comparing to Amman, where prayer calls are coming from grinding audio tapes, accompanied by yowling dogs to boot, Istanbul’s soundscape appears much more civilised. For me it wasn’t difficult to acclimate myself and after spending a certain time in the Orient you’ll miss something when coming back to mosque-less regions.
Glass and steel buildings can be seen everywhere nowadays. Doesn’t matter if a glass building’s ground is called Berlin Potsdamer Platz, Frankfurt or New York, the atmosphere and meaning of such glass/steel skeletons is never ambivalent and everywhere the same. That’s why I am consciously focussing on unique things, which can only be found in a city’s history, in Old Town.
Located between Golden Horn and Marmara Sea you can find another attraction, Istanbul’s Grand Bazar. This throughout roofed maze begins just a few steps away from Cemberlitas station. Orient fans could surely spend hours among spices, leather goods, bath utensils and handmade candleholders. Not getting lost between those countless shops as orientation and shopping frenzy resistance is definitely needed ;-) Who likes the Istanbul bazar will truly love the souqs of Middle East as those are even a bit more original.
Same as Divan Yolu street Türkeli Caddeli road cleaves through old Constantinople. Later in the night the restaurants at Kumkapi square offer live folklore music and traditional Turkish food. People preferring cheaper meals are in good hands when visiting one of the countless public kitchens as there you can have a meal of absolutely equal quality. Usually you can choose from 10-12 different mediterranean dishes like lamb, chicken or diverse vegetarian meals. To boot you’ll get plenty of really good freshly baked bread, either baguette or traditional flat bread. Having an Ayran in addition rounds up everything.
Also Galata and Ortaköy have their hot spots. The more you go up north, the city is becoming more and more modern; an architectural development finally resulting in the high tech skyscrapers of Levent district. On the Galata Bridge, which spans the Golden Horn, you can often watch fishermen trying to give fish a hard time; either it’s just for fun or to make some additional earnings. Usually there’s a mobile grill around providing an opportunity to fry the freshly caught fish on site. On Fridays as well as on weekend days those fishermen have to wake up early as quite soon there is no more space left on the bridge’s railing. While from the top of bridge thousands meters chord make its way into the water, downstairs in the basement you can have a more upper class meal. Of course mainly fish is on the menu. Above all that not inexpensive pleasure stands for a further attraction: having a great sea food meal while looking over Bosporus.
Picturesque Ortaköy is well-known for one thing: a baroque Camii (Turkish for mosque) in front of giant Bosporus bridge. You can let yourself go when having a seat next to the mosque while enjoying an enormous baked potato. Locals like to enjoy that semi-football with several different sauces and toppings such as: mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup and Tsatsiki.
Misjudging Istanbul distances might end up in a longsome walkaway, long and worth enough to make it in the urban chronicle. Though walking is the best way to discover a foreign place. You can see the development of the city very closely, as e.g. the slopes become statelier while exclusive dwellings with Bosporus view get the upper hand. Close to Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridge southern Campus of Bogazici University can be found. There you can enjoy a fantastic panorama over the strait, beginning with the second Bosporus Bridge to the left while ending at the pillars of first bridge to the right. The atmosphere there is just great as the students give this place a unique relaxed and intelligent vibe.
Though travellers have to be a bit careful as quite quick you can meet “new” friends just by saying “No!” to simple questions such as “Hey, didn’t we meet each other two days ago in the disco?” They seem to be glued to your feet while speaking about the city and how they love to live here. Soon the idea of having a drink together ends up in your “friend” expects you to invite him… Well, I am unshakeable and the walk took me to another interesting area of Istanbul: Taksim and Istiklal street.
In fact there’s no difference between Istiklal and Berlin’s Ku’damm or New York’s 5th avenue, all of them are shopping streets. Spending the evening hours in a bar of Istiklal’s side roads is different tough. It reminds me of the atmosphere of Berlin districts like Prenzlauer Berg or Friedrichshain.
I am leaving Istanbul with a feeling of wanderlust, happiness, but also I was a little sad as I left an extraordinary woman behind. Without you Kumru, I wouldn’t have seen Istanbul the way I saw it. There’s so much left to discover: Dolmabahce and Ciragan palace, Rumelihisari fortress and of course Topkapi Saray to name just a few. That’s enough potential to visit the metropolis between Black and Maramara Sea again.