Thursday, February 13, 2014

91. Landed in Istanbul

Brushing the Moroccan dust off my boots I board Royal Maroc Airlines and head across the length of the Mediterranean towards my next destination - Istanbul, Turkey.

With a population of some 15 million, Istanbul is the 3rd largest city in the world - after Shanghai and Lagos !!! - and divided by the Bosphorus - a narrow waterway connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara ( and eventually the Mediterranean ). 

The flight from Casablanca is just 4 hours to Ataturk Airport - where I get my first taste of this crowded city - thankfully I have arranged for a car to pick me up and take me to my apartment 90 minutes away in Pangalti - an inner suburb of the northern part of the city. There my landlord Fatih meets me, and after showing me the workings of the apartment, leaves me to settle into my Turkish mindset. 

My apartment for the next 4 weeks is down this laneway ...

 .... and at the top of the lane is busy Cumhuriyet Caddessi ...

... a smart shopping precinct - four lanes of traffic - and thousands of people ...

After a day discovering my immediate surrounds and finding supermarket etc, it's now time to start exploring this great city.

A short walk from my apartment is Taksim Square - probably best known by us outsiders as a venue for political protests more than anything else - but it is also a hub of modern Istanbul with streets crowded with shops, cafes, hotels etc running off in all directions.

The Square is also a transport hub for tourist and public busses, the Metro serving most suburbs of the city and the subway Funicular that takes you down to the foreshore at Kabatas - connecting with the ferries, cruise boats, buses and a wonderful fast tram service that takes commuters out into the suburbs.   

A short walk down to Taksim Square ...

But today I do the tourist thing and hop on one of the antique trams that heads off down Istiklal Avenue. 

... hop on board the antique tram - with the other tourists ...

This is one of the most famous avenues in Istanbul - visited by nearly 3 million people in a single day over the course of weekends. It is an elegant pedestrian mall, 1.4 kilometers long, which houses exquisite boutiques, music stores, book shops, art galleries, cinemas, cafes, pubs, patisseries and chocolateries … it also has a fascinating history - which I may explore in a future blog ...

... and head down incredibly busy Istiklal Avenue ...

Today the tram drops me off at the Galata Tower where I know I can get a good look at the city and surrounds from 70 meters up. An elevator takes you almost to the top - then a couple of steep flights of stairs and out onto the narrowest observation deck for a breath-taking 360 degree panorama. The deck is just wide enough for two people to pass, so we all shuffle around madly clicking away and ohing and ahing at the sights below us. 

... to the Galata Tower ...

The Galata Tower is a medieval stone tower in the Galata quarter if the city. It is one of the city's most striking landmarks and it's high cone-capped cylinder can be seen dominating the skyline from many parts of the city and harbour.

The Tower was built as Christea Turris ( Tower of Christ ) in 1348 during an expansion of the Genoese colony of Constaninople. It was built to replace the original Byzantine tower which was used to control the northern end of the massive sea chain that closed the entrance of the Golden Horn ( another story ...). 

Starting in the early 1700s the Ottomans used the Tower for spotting fires in the city. In 1794 - during the reign of Selim III - the roof of the Tower - made of timber and lead - and the stairs inside the Tower - were severely damaged by fire. Another great fire damaged the building in 1831 - after which a new restoration work commenced.

In 1875, during a storm, the new conic roof on the top was destroyed and the Tower remained without its conic roof for the remainder of the Ottoman period. Many decades later - during the 1960s - during the Turkish Republic - the original conical cap was restored. Also during this final restoration, the wooden interior was replaced by a concrete structure and it was commercialized and opened to the public. 

... looking up the Bosphorus ...

... and up the Golden Horn ... 

Today thankfully, there are no fires or storms or earthquakes - just a beautiful crisp winter's morning that gives us a perfect glimpse of this exciting city laid out at our feet ...

... and across the Ataturk Bridge ...

... then across the Sea of Marmara ...

... and below the Tower is the Galata Bridge looking up towards Hagia Sophia ...

Climbing down out of the Tower, I head down more narrow laneways through the music district - with shop after shop selling musical instruments and equipment - to the Galata Bridge.  

... trams, cars, buses and lots of people - crossing the bridge with the Suleymaniye Mosque on top of the hill ...


The Galata Bridge spans the Golden Horn linking Asia with Europe - and probably best known for the dozens of fishermen ( and women ) that line each side of the walkways ... don't know what they catch - didn't see any evidence of anything bigger than a baby sardine !!! .... but they have been fishing here every day of the year for as long as anyone can remember.


The first recorded bridge over the Golden Horn was built during the reign of Justinian the Great in the 6th century - the current bridge is the fifth construction since then ... and this one was built in 1994. 


The Bridge opens in the centre to allow taller merchant craft through, but on either side of that opening, the bridge is two storied, with traffic ( and fishermen ) on the upper level, and dozens of restaurants on the lower level - both sides ... 


The Bridge is a symbolic link between the traditional city of Istanbul proper - site of the imperial palace and principal religious and secular institutions of the empire - and the districts of Galata, Beyoglu, Sisli ( where I am living ) and Harbiye where a large proportion of the inhabitants were non-Muslims and where foreign merchants and diplomats lived and worked.
  

On the southern side of the bridge are even more restaurants - these one selling the famous 'fish sandwich' ....  grilled filet of fish ( probably caught off the bridge ), lettuce and onion in a large baguette. Not the most wonderful culinary treat I've experienced - but the locals love them and it's big business for the three outlets that sell them. 

... fish sandwich restaurants on the Southern side ... 

... the sandwich is made on the floating kitchens and then handed across to the customers on the shore ...

I had been challenged by Oz mate Kevin to try one !!! ....... so here is proof that I did try the famous 'fish sandwich' ...


After that experience it was time for a cruise on a local commuter ferry across the bay to Kadikoy and back ...

... ferry ride across the Sea of Marara to Kadikoy ...

... the New Mosque - at the entrance to the Galata Bridge ...



... the Tower yet again ...

Then it was back over the Galata Bridge ...


... and up Istiklal Avenue - this time on foot ...


... with a brief stopover to get my supply of Turkish Delight ...

... some of the many Turkish Delights on offer !!! ...

... dozens of interesting laneways running off the Avenue ...

... it's the same world-wide ...


... lots of beautiful neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings ...

... pay my respects to the bride n groom - didn't catch the bouquet though ...

... ending up back at Taksim Square and a short walk home  ...

I'm finding Istanbul city a true delight to explore - with its mosques, art galleries, museums, palaces and bazaars - so stay tuned for lots more to come ...