On our way to Bodrum, Turkey we had to pass through Istanbul and spent just a couple days exploring this metropolis. It was rainy and cool for our visit so we didn’t stray as far or long as we would have liked to, leaving many sights for our next visit. Without a good map or guide book and a total lack of Turkish, we wandered around, stumbling into a number of sights by happenstance.
We stayed on the Asian side of Istanbul in a neighborhood called Kadıköy. It was perfect for us. About two blocks away was a network of pedestrian streets that led to an active food market, a lively restaurant scene, and many shops. The first night we set out to explore and came across multiple buskers playing traditional music with groups of passers-by spontaneously stopping to dance for a song. The ferry terminal, less than a kilometer away, allowed us to travel easily to other parts of the city.
The first day we visited the Spice Bazaar by chance as it was right where the ferry dropped us. It has about a hundred booths with beautiful displays of spices, teas, and Turkish delight. We accepted samples and ended up talking with a young Syrian women who had been in Turkey and Istanbul only one month.
Another day we set out to find the Grand Bazaar and practically circumnavigated it before a man pointed us down the narrowest of passages between buildings. It broke into a courtyard with restaurants and shops tucked in with what looked like Roman or Greek ruins. From there, we descended stairs and dropped into the Grand Bazaar. Thankfully, finding our way out and back home turned out to be easier than finding our way in.
The last day we took a ferry tour from Istanbul up the Bosphorus to where it meets the Black Sea. En route, we passed palaces and mansions and summer homes of many rich and famous Turks. There were hundreds of other boats on the water: primarily ferries, freighters, and working fishing boats. We slid under two enormous bridges and saw a third being constructed. Large flocks of sea gulls swarmed the fishing boats. Rain showers obscured the far bank at times. The ferry wait staff kept the hot tea coming.
Despite the weather, we enjoyed our few quick days in Istanbul. Thousands of years of history have left beautiful monuments. The ferry system was frequent, easy to use, and inexpensive. A surprising number of streets were closed to automobile traffic making walking more pleasant. The call to prayer frequently reverberated across the city from multiple mosques all at once. Turks are very friendly. Even the aggressive sales people are friendly. One declared to Jim “I will help you spend your money!”
An example of the depth of history of Istanbul are the vast Roman underground cisterns. They were constructed around 500AD to bring clean drinking water to the city. After a few centuries, they were forgotten. A scholar rediscovered them in 1500AD when he was told by some local residents that they could drop a bucket through a hole in their cellar and pull it up with clean water and occasionally fish. A few cisterns are open today for visitors to walk through. They are beautiful spaces with forests of columns. The present-day water level is maintained at a fraction of what it was when used as a water supply for the city, allowing tourists and archaeologists to explore these enormous underground chambers.