İstanbul : By the Waters Edge

Istanbul Travel Blog

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A good number of the moments I draw the most pleasure from in  my first week in Istanbul populate themselves on or around the two waterways that divide the central area of the city in three.  The North to South passage of the Bosphorus (or Bogaziçi) running to the sea of Marmara and its North Westerly offshoot Haliç or ’The Golden Horn’, so named for its apparent resemblance in shape to a ram’s horn.   

Yes at the end of a week in Istanbul I find myself, a little lost in aimless wandering, returning as if by impulse to the waters edge time and again to dazedly gaze at the life that throbs up and down along it with as much irregular bobbing, undulating and splashing together of peoples as the waves on the surface of the often wind-whipped body of the Bosphorus.

  Their currents of daily activity flow around each other here like no other place in Istanbul I have yet seen with a dizzying force it’s often fun to get caught up in.  The pull of people to the lone traveller.  The strange gravity of water calling me, having grown up beside the sea.

Eminönü, is the centre of all this activity.  The public transport hub that seems to me to keep the three chambered heart of this city beating and fed with a constant supply of its lifeblood.  People.  A constant dispersal of them by boat, bridge, tram, train and car to all points of the city.   Modest ferry boats transport people up and down The Golden Horn with larger vessels carrying people over the Bosphorus ( across the geographical divide between Europe and Asia) to Üsküdar or Salacak docks and the ‘Asian District’ of the city.

The Eminonu fısh sandwıch 'Torreador' crew :)
  For a little more than the usual 1.50TL (£0.60) ‘Jeton’ ticket price a pleasant ride up North and back down a good stretch of the river can be had and The Princes Islands (which I have not yet visited) can also be gained by heading South towards the Sea of Marmara.

On day 6 in Istanbul I head for a little half day journey along The Golden Horn.  Ferry boats zig-zag along most of its length for a good portion of the day and however far you travel in one leg, stepping on and off will only cost you 1.50TL (£0.60p) each time (or less if they neglect to take your ‘Jeton’).  So take your time.  Take it easy.  Whether after a week you’re interested in seeing other districts of the city or not, it is a perfectly pleasant experience to just lean against the metal ferry side railings and into the sun and take in the views of wider Istanbul and its pin-cushion profusion of mosque minarets that perforate the city skyline whilst the wind tussles your soul.

The three rocking and bobbing fish sandwıch boats of Eminonu

I make a couple of junior errors in getting my boats and ferry docks correct.  Somehow missing the main Haliç Iskelesi ( Golden Horn Ferry Dock) and the next after that, my first stretch of the Horn was inadvertently traversed by foot.  This is no bad thing though.  As you progress along the river bank some of the madness of Eminönü thins out, replaced by half-abandoned little boat docking areas, pleasant stretches of grass; riverside parks where families sit at rest or run at play as their generations dictate.  A mild vagrant laziness scatters drowsy bodies of the unshaven unconscious all about.  Awaiting their next call to prayer?  Their next call to life? Who knows. 

Many benches run the river bank course and sat here, water watching and reading in the wind and sun whilst a tornado gust of seagulls screech and whorl overhead provides one of the more gently rewarding moments of my time in the city.

'Bosphorus Cuddle'
  This calm only momentarily threatened by the gauntlet of death that is trying, as a pedestrian, to cross the thoroughfare of traffic that courses without pause on and off of the ugly metal hulk of the Atatürk Bridge.  One for the patient, the fleet of foot and not faint of heart!

I finally start my Golden Horn ’cruise’ by stepping aboard at the Fener dock, now some 2 kilometres along from Eminönü and disembark five stops later at the terminus Eyüp.  A very interesting place to spend a couple of hours.  A good example of how widely a society can vary in attitude even from one small district to the next.  An arch trait of Istanbul. 

Eyüp presents one of the city’s more conservative, religiously orthodox faces.

'Bosphorus Kitty'
  Whereas 21st Century Istanbul, for the time being at least, adheres quite strongly to the secular, modernising  vision of Atatürk ( ‘Father Turk’ or Mustafa Kemal the war general turned head of state who forged many a foundation of the modern secular Republic of Turkey and is still near deified therein) Eyüp still prides itself in a calm adherence to Islamic orthodoxy.  As throughout Turkey, one of the only crude barometers available to passive visitors for assessing such things is the prevalence (or not) of  head scarves being worn by the country’s womenfolk.  Whereas the presence of the traditional silk headdress is sporadic and generally low in most central areas of Istanbul (almost non-existent in the modernity and social throb of Beyoglu and Taksim) the opposite is true in Eyüp.
Bridge over the Bosphorus
  An uncovered head most likely to be that of a visiting tourist.  

This hub of conservatism probably has much to do with the presence here the Eyüp Sultan Camii and Türbe (Mosque and Tomb), Sultan Eyüp having supposedly been a close friend of The Prophet Mohammed and a figurehead of fledgling Islam.  It is one of the most important religious sites in Turkey consequently.  It’s quite fascinating to observe the river of beautiful, brightly coloured and patterned headscarves that washes around the mosque grounds and in a particularly vibrant crush as everyone stops to lift their hands in reverence to the tomb and to silently mouth prayer from books or the pages of their hearts.

[ Unfortunately I seem to have managed to lose all my photos from my time on The Golden Horn and in Eyüp.

Just some of the fisher boys (and gals) on the Galata Bridge.
  I don’t know how.  Apologies ]

Another 1.5TL sees me back on a boat in an hour or so and washing, bank to bank, back down the Golden Horn to the Eminönü dock area as the city starts to retreat to temporary silhouette chased there by the blinding light of the low sun that rebounds into my eyes from the waters below.  Connecting the Sultanahmet and Beyoglu districts of the city here the Galata Bridge spans the Horn just as it breaks away from the Bosphorus.  Strolling either side of its length and taking in life on the bridge again is one of my favourite things to do to kill a half hour or more in Istanbul.  Our tour guide ’Caesar’ on the one time I join any kind of tour in the city (reunited with my beautifully smiling TravBuddy Netherlands pal Devika and her pal Danique) explains in an affected English accent only describable as Count Dracula struggling with over-enthusiasm through elocution lessons that ’We have a saying in Istanbul that if the Galata Bridge is busy, is full of people, then it is a sign of a bad economy.

'Rods & Mınarets'
  Because there are too many people with too much leisure time’.

Well the bridge is certainly busy right now.  The leisure activity of choice is fishing but one gets the feel that this is a time old tradition and necessity rather than any bleak portent of times more troubled than those already passed or to come.  The entire length of both sides of the bridge (excepting the small gap that ferries must pass through) is strung with hopeful fishermen and boys and their lines.  Literally hundreds of them all hooking the tiny shreds of shrimp sold by seated bait entrepreneurs and casting their little nylon ropes and hopes into the waters below.  Viewed from below, on the river bank, or walking along the lower concourse of the bridge a thousand fibre glimmers seem to stretch a fish-snaring spiders web from bridge to river and back again.

Galata Tower up close.

I love the scatter of fishing paraphernalia along the Galata Bridges paths.  The wash and smell of upended buckets of salt water mixing with the tobacco pall of the fishermen, the fumes of cars clattering past and any wondering aromas cast up by the itinerant food sellers who service fishers and onlookers with equal zeal.  Those buckets and plastic jars still standing, crammed full of small White Bait or Mackeral-like fish ready for the family supper that night.  The ingenious devices, concocted out of wooden bolsters and stretch luggage cord and hooks that hold the rods in place upon the bridge railings.  The brightly coloured rods, lifted and pointing to the skies in compositional harmony with the minarets of the Yeni Mosque.

Boats upon the Golden Horn.
  By the river bank a man hopeful of catching something a little larger periodically spools up a thick rope and casts a large four pronged hook into the sides of the Bosphorus, nearly tripping in over his rod in the process.

A good number of points of interest sit in the proximity of Eminönü too.  My favourite mosque (so far) in Istanbul the humorously titled Yeni Camii ( ‘New Mosque’ ) possessing roughly 400 years on the clock and counting.  I have come here a couple of times to take refuge from the chaos and overburden of choices and decision making that Istanbul both tempts and afflicts the tired visitor with.  Nothing better sometimes than to seek out solace in silence and stare at its patterned dome or do some writing whilst the faithful course in for their midday prayer and children roll, run and squeal about on the never ending carpet much to their mothers’ dismay.

Yeni Camii ( 'New Mosque') and the sky.
  The Spice Bazaar or ’Egyptian Market’ faces directly on to the Galata Bridge and set back from the scene a little to the East the old graceful pink plaster and redbrick façade of the Sirkeci railway station, the original start point and terminus of the Orient Express.

On at least four occasions Stevie is to be found grabbing one of the yummy 4TL (£1.60) fish sandwiches dished out by the hundred per minute from one of the three crazy bobbing Eminönü Balik Ekmek ( fish sandwich) boats.  Shouting and hollering and families and friends perching themselves in incredibly cramped huddles on the tiny stalls whilst the waiters and cooks perform their tasks in the gaudy gold-embroidered Toreador style outfits that seem traditional to the trade.

The Lady of the Binoculars besides the Bosphorus.
  The fish fillets destined for the sandwiches lie cleaved and ranged by the hundred on top of huge hotplates upon the boats that roll from side to side sometimes with such violence that I can’t countenance how the fillet-flipping cooks continue to remain standing or that the fillets don’t spot their chance at 45 degrees to the sea and jump back in the water!

A scenic stroll back to Sultanhamet along Kennedy Cadesi as it curves to follow the bank of the Bosphorus.  Here young couples sit and stare across the waves.  Middle aged friends bare decades bronzed bodies and cast their slackening physiques into the waters to float down stream.  Many a stray kitty sits sunning themselves upon the craggy black rock pile that separates land from water and houses human sun suckers too.

'Music Sheet at Sunset'
  Possibly my favourite street entrepreneur to date is to be found here too.  An elderly lady wearing a thick glasses, a purple, white and blue headscarf, a long brown check-patterned skirt drawn high above her waste and white pumps walks towards me against the wind.  The latter pressing her clothes against the frail angularity of her form.  Her trade.  Visions.  For, I dunno what? a Lira or so, she will hand out one of a couple of pairs of binoculars contained in her backpack, allowing you to look for a few minutes out over the Bosphorus to the Istanbul Over There.  An ingenious way to take in just one tiny further slice of this overwhelming city.

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The Eminonu fısh sandwıch Torre…
The Eminonu fısh sandwıch 'Torr…
The three rocking and bobbing fish…
The three rocking and bobbing fis…
Bosphorus Cuddle
'Bosphorus Cuddle'
Bosphorus Kitty
'Bosphorus Kitty'
Bridge over the Bosphorus
Bridge over the Bosphorus
Just some of the fisher boys (and …
Just some of the fisher boys (and…
Rods & Mınarets
'Rods & Mınarets'
Galata Tower up close.
Galata Tower up close.
Boats upon the Golden Horn.
Boats upon the Golden Horn.
Yeni Camii ( New Mosque) and the…
Yeni Camii ( 'New Mosque') and th…
The Lady of the Binoculars besides…
The Lady of the Binoculars beside…
Music Sheet at Sunset
'Music Sheet at Sunset'
Old Boy & Kitty besides the Bospho…
Old Boy & Kitty besides the Bosph…
You what not believe some of the a…
You what not believe some of the …
Old Maritime, New Maritime
'Old Maritime, New Maritime'
Bosphorus Churn
'Bosphorus Churn'
Galata Tower in the distance
Galata Tower in the distance
Self Portrait with Star and Thread…
Self Portrait with Star and Threa…
Sirkeci Railway Station : the old …
Sirkeci Railway Station : the old…
The two-tiered Galata Bridge - one…
The two-tiered Galata Bridge - on…
The Little Fisher Gal :)
The Little Fisher Gal :)
photo by: Memo