Colin has been doing the talking until now, so let me give you my view on the chaotic and huge (5th largest city in the world) city of Istanbul. First: our neighborhood of Cihangir (Jee-han-yeer), Beyoğlu district. It’s on a hill overlooking the Bosphorus, about 30 minutes walk north of the start of the old city, and 10 minutes southeast of a major shopping district. Filled with artists and expats, winding roads, quaint cafes, and LOTS of stray cats. Let’s take a walk! :D
Up the quiet winding cobblestone street, past the Cihangir mosque is the local SOK! convenience store and a little fruit and veggie stand that may be overcharging us (but the strawberries are SO good). Turn left and you’ll reach the cafe where we had our first breakfast; a delicious array of bread, cream, honey, jam, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, feta, and other cheeses. I hope we go back soon. Continue past it for a few blocks and you’ll get to Sıraselviler street with banks and major grocery stores and such. Wind your way north to İstiklal Avenue, an absolutely mad busy shopping area (3 million people a day!). It’s pedestrian only except for a historic trolley car, so watching taxis try to cross this street in the evening is hilarious. At night it’s still decorated with snowmen and snowflake lights, very festive. Vendors sell rice-stuffed muscles and roasted chestnuts, and every alley is lined with bars and restaurants serving meze (tappas) and an anise flavored liqueur called raki. At the northeast end of İstiklal is Taksim square and the metro, which we took today for the first time.
Today we were on a quest to find modern Istanbul, since we’ve seen so much of ancient old city already. We found it in Şişli at the largest mall in Europe… which didn’t really seem that big to us, although it did have a roller coaster and bowling alley. There was a definite lack of headscarves, and except for the security guys xraying bags and checking for bombs under cars, it was pretty much the same as any mall. Colin bought some “Colin’s” brand pants, and I finally found sunscreen for less than 30 bucks. Next we explored the Şişli area and checked out the construction on the Trump Towers Istanbul. There are very few skyscrapers in Istanbul so these stuck out to us when we saw them from the Galata tower yesterday. Not far north was the start of a decidedly different neighborhood, ramshackle and poor and foreign (Roma). Last night after days of trying I finally got my phone’s data plan working, so we weren’t afraid of getting lost – which you really could if you ended up down in a valley of these tiny twisty streets where everything looks the same. We wandered around, had lunch after a certain amount of translation difficulty, took some surreptitious photos (this was one of the better maintained streets) then skedaddled back home.
Now I’m staring out at our amazing view, watching the ships go past. I’m eating unripe plums and drinking fragrant orange tea we bought from the spice market. The bitter taste of the plums was surprising and took some getting used to; they usually dip them in salt but I think that just makes them worse. Our local mosques just started the 5pm call to prayer. 4:52 today.. it always seems to be give-or-take ten minutes. The stormy winds from last night have subsided and the sun has broken out over the Asian side. We’ll probably stay in again and have homemade meze and çiğ köfte (spiced raw meat). The garbage guy should be ringing our doorbell soon, then Pete and Leah get back from Cappadocia late tonight. Hopefully there will be enough water pressure for a shower before bed (my only complaint about this beautiful apartment and ideal location).
Then tomorrow, who knows!