Sunday, 11 January 2009

In which I get lost in Istanbul once again

I find the idea of Istanbul being a city spread across 2 continents fascinating, and I was determined to make time to visit Asia, if only briefly. The idea that you can catch a local ferry, still be in the same city, but be on an entirely new continent is just amazing!

Maybe a little less exciting in practice – I walked down to Eminonu, which is where the dock for the ferries are. Fortunately, it is on the tram line (There is, I think, only one, which makes it an excellent method of navigation) so I was able to follow the tramlines down from Sultanhamet, without getting lost. Then walked across the Galata Bridge, which links ‘old’ and ‘new’ Istanbul.

The bridge is very popular with fishermen – the top layer of the bridge is lined on both sides with people wielding rods and lines. There are two levels – the road and tramlines go over the top, and from the pavements the fishers fish (with remarkable success) – below, there are restaurants and another pavement. The lower level does not go all the way over the river – about 1/3 in it stops, so that the centre of the bridge is higher, to allow big ships to pass under it, and as a pedestrian you must either turn back, or go upstairs to the road.

All of the restaurants under the bridge specialise in fish, and although there are a range of prices, one of the simplest sells fish sandwiches – literally half a (small) loaf of very fresh white bread, with a freshly caught and fried fish and a few lettuce leaves. The fish is amazing – it’s so simple, but so fresh it really needs nothing but bread - I think the fish I had there on my second evening had been swimming around about 5 minutes before I ate it.!

The 'New' part (Beyoglu) is not, in fact, any newer than the rest of Istanbul – I mean, one of it’s landmarks is the Galata Tower, which was rebuilt in 1348, having started life as a lighthouse in the 6th Century. In the 1600’s someone tried to be Icarus, and successfully glided down on home-made wings from the tower to the far side of the Bosphorus. (About 4 miles, as far as I can tell). The Sultan at the time wanted to reward him but, on the advice of his viziers changed his mind and exiled him to Algeria as a possible threat, instead, which seems sad.

Having arrived at Eminonu I then walked over the bridge - I had originally planned to get a ferry, but I couldn't find one going from Eminonu to Kabatas, which was what I wanted. I think this was just me, and my navigational skills - They had drawn ones going from Eminonu to Kabatas, on the transport map I had, and as later on I found one going from Kabatas to Eminonu I think it's likely they were going in the opposite direction also!

So, having crossed to Beyoglo (which is still europe) I decided to go up to the tower. Again, you might imagine that a tower, on top of the hill, might be easy to find.

It's very sneaky. You cross the bridge, and see it looking all obvious and think - 'Ah, all I need to do is walk up this street and clearly I will get to the Tower'. It doesn't seem to work that way.

As soon as you start up the hill, it dodges away*, and then the road bends, and (if you're me) you spend the next 20 minutes wondering how it is possible to wander around such a small area and not bump into it, if only by accident. After finding several fascinating dead-ends, I ended up by the bridge once again. I felt this was quite an achievement, as I have been working on the basis that if I went uphill I should eventually get to where I wanted to be, so to find myself back down at sea level (or river level, at least) without having consciously gone down hill was, I felt, quite impressive, even for me.

I then found that there is a furnicular railway, so I caught that, and then (after much studying of the map) decided that I was now probably above the tower. So I started working my way down

On the way, I found a 'nostalgic tram' (No explanation was offered as to what it might be nostalgic for) I also found lots of very steep, narrow streets, many with the proprioter and his neighbours sitting outside palying backgammon and drinking tea.

By this point, I was motivated less by a desire to go up the tower (It was pretty hazy, so I wasn't especting great views from the top) than by a grim determination not to be defeated by mere geography and my own navigational dysfuntion.
And eventually, I was sucessful!

See, perseverence does pay off.

Having found the tower, it seemed churlish after all that time not to climb it. As it turns out, very little climbing is involved. There is a lift. (I'm assuming that wasn't part of the 14th Century building.)

At the top, you can go out onto a balcony and walk all the way around, and there are views over Istanbul in all directions, although it was a bit hazy.

You can see across to the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace in one direction, and out over the water toward Uskader and the Asian side of Istanbul on the other.
And of course, you can also look down at the streets in the immediate area.
It was pretty quiet, so I was able to spend as long as I liked wandering around and trying to make out what it was I was looking at. watching the river really brought home ot be that this is a real and very busy shipping lane - there is a constant stream of container ships and tankers, as well as the ferry boats and a few pleasure boats. Having seen my fill, I decided against buying an overpriced cup of coffee in the restaurant at the top of the tower, althoug on a clear day it might be fun to eat up there.
Then, undeterred by previous experience, I set off to explore Beyoglu....
*There's no other explanation.


spacedlaw said...

This brings me right back!

Marjorie said...

Very happy to be of service. Did you get lost, too?