DAY FIFTEEN : Monday 4th April
It’s entirely possible to visit two continents in the same day – but Istanbul is one of the few cities in the world where you can do this The Bosphorus divides not only the two sides of the city, but also marks the boundary between Europe and Asia.
Since it’s been raining for much of the past two days, I decided that I’d get no wetter by seeing all of this from the water, so today I hopped on the ferry from Eminou to Uskudar on the Asian shore.
I’d love to see this place in the sunshine, but the views around us are pretty spectacular anyway. The city towers up the hilly terrain beyond the shore, and the waterfront contains a huge array of buildings in different styles – and almost everywhere you can see minarets from the various mosques. It’s also just 1.75TL – much cheaper than the organised tours which essentially take you to the same places.
I’d expected my arrival in Asia to mark a very different style to Istanbul. After all, this is where East meets West, where Christianity and Islam live side by side – and where the authentic taste of the Middle East really hits home…
This is Uskadar, a practical, working suburb if Istanbul. To be honest, it’s a bit grotty. But as ever, there are many alternatives to MacDonalds. Pop into any supermarket or bakery for tasty pastries and biscuits.
Despite the fact that Istanbul can seem intimidating at first, its people are incredibly trustworthy. Yeah, I know that makes me sound like some colonial toff – but there’s no better example of this than the Dolmus – a shared minibus. You see these all over Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries, offering cheap transport between towns and villages. Starting in Uskadar, the bus only leaves when full. Everybody pays a modest 2TL to the driver, and you just shout when you want to get out. It’s an incredibly efficient and eco friendly way of getting about. But can you imagine it working in the UK? I think not.
The Dolmus takes me to Kadikoy – a busy port town which has connections back to the European side of Istanbul. From there, it’s a steep walk up the hill to the Galata Tower.
Thankfully, there’s a lift to take you to the top of the tower. And what a view :
It’s stunning stuff – although the platform around the edge of the tower gets pretty crowded with tourists. And today I hit the worst kind : the Italians. Now don’t get me wrong, I love their beer and their ice cream. But when it comes to tourism, they’ll spend forever blocking the best views, stopping at the most inappropriate moment and generally being annoying.
OK, rant over. The streets around the tower, in Beyoglu, have plenty of lovely bars and cafes to relax in. But there are two sides to the district. Streets full of music and electrical shops look pretty enough – but one of the roads in the process of being refurbished. and it doesn’t all look great.
In the evening, I head back to the tower for a meal at Enginar cafe, on the edge of a picturesque square and a great place for watching the world go by. But after a while it all gets a bit chilly, so I go inside. And here, the rules of Turkish bars finally hit me.
1. You must have a sound system with huge bass speakers. Treble hasn;t been invented.
2. Your Itunes account must only play Turkish music. Or, if it’s western, nothing beyond 1985 – and preferably soft rock.
3. The music must clearly be audible in the street, so it appears your bar is heaving even if it’s empty.
4. The building must be old – or at least appear to be. Authentic touches include broken tiles, uneven floors and “interesting” interpretations of toilet facilities.
5. All bar snacks must contain cheese and/or pastry. Even the non dairy option.
6. Staff must at least give the impression of being bisexual.