Published: April 29th 2012April 29th 2012
A half day walk around the old city
Once again, this city is delightful, interesting, diverse and familiar all at the same time. Delightful with the smell of fish cooking at a number of shops on wheels by the boat-busy Bosphorus. Interesting with the opportunity to shoot airgun pellets from the promenade at balloons, cans and bottles set up on the rocks by the Marmara Sea. Diverse with the collection of building styles from mosques and a French architectural style school to Roman remains and rotten wooden houses; from tall blocks of flats to low-rise apartments and the lovely winding streets with dozens of shopfronts, markets, street vendors, small cemeteries and the Topkapi palace public gardens. Familiar, partly because I have been here before, but more so because it's a dispersed city you can navigate by landmarks. From the Sultanahmet mosques to the Galata Tower on the north side of the Golden Horn, from the docks at Eminonu to the Bosphorus Bridge, from the Topkapi Palace on the Marmara Sea to the Dolmabache Palace on the Europe side of the Bosphorus, you can map out where you are and see places you want to reach.
My walk took me from Sultanahmet precinct, behind Aya Sophia, down the hill through shops and houses, deliberately wiggling through the backest streets, past small cemeteries in walled compounds, past small mosques with short visiting times, past the broken down overhanging wooden houses and local parks with kids playing dominoes and down to the Sea of Marmara where the fishermen were out with their long, whippy (collapsible) rods catching small stripy fish, scuba divers were finding shellfish, and the sea held dozens of big boats - waiting for the port to open again, I guess.
The horse chestnut (conker) trees are in bloom. Some pink blossoms of plum or peach trees are still around and spring seemed to belong to summer today. The call to prayers echoed out across the hillside all at once at 1.10 and 5pm. I swung round the seafront into the Bosphorus, imagining myself on a map entering the Asia-Europe diving line. Across the water was Asia Haydapasar and Kadikoy) but I was staying (today anyway) in Europe.
Everyone was out walking the streets and lanes. There were snaking queues for the Blue Mosque and the Cistern so I'll visit those later this week. The Grand Bazaar was closed (Sunday), the Topkapi Palace public gardens were overflowing with families out looking for one of the few large areas of green around town. Lovers were all around - scarved old ladies sold them single roses; street vendors were doing a roaring trade in roasted or boiled cobs of corn, round bread and soft drinks; 'sharks' were circling telling you about the attractions, about Turkish culture and about a small family handicraft shop a short walk away that deals with three families in eastern Turkey and sells you the original style of carpets (not copies or Chinese variations) and that they deal with DHL so shipping to your country doesn't cost you anything and "really, truly, it will give me great pleasure to show you my little enterprise my brother..."
Thanks but no thanks. I got exactly the same story two years ago. I wish they'd think of a new version :-)
So, foot weary and full of the sights and sounds of a weekend in a vibrant city, I return to the hostel (Mavi Guest House) with all its faults and freedoms, to rest my body and replenish it with some drinks. I'll be out again later to look around the town at dusk and capture some twilight images of street scenes.