The Istanbul version of Camden and Shoreditch

So on 10th June we set off just with our rucksacks to explore Istanbul for a couple of days. Having said our good byes to Jack where we were dropped off in Yalova, we hopped on the ferry to Yenikapi harbour.

From there we walked through the small streets past some of Istanbul’s traditional wooden houses in varying stages of repair to find the Blue Mosque. I always imagined it to be blue on the outside, but apparently the “blue” comes from the tiles inside. So we completely missed it, mistaking it for just another tourist overrun mosque. (We found out later its best to visit in November, when no one is there, so just an excuse to come back 🙂 ) The Aya Sofia opposite was red as expected and looked like an awesome place to bumble about in at night with a candle when no one is there. But since a thick stream of tourists went in one side and came out the other just as thick, we decided to just walk past.

Aya Sofia - once an orthodox church, now a mosque

Aya Sofia – once an orthodox church, now a mosque

Arriving in Sirkeci quite late in the afternoon, we took a boat to Kadikoy.

We found our hostel on the main market and bar street quite quickly and checked in. Our bags made lighter by leaving some stuff in the ten bed dorm,we headed out to explore the area with a refreshing beer in hand.

We had dinner at a restaurant serving fish, glasswort and painlessy kebabs closely watched by a giant cat, that was the king of the street and moved for no one. It stared at our fish till long after the waiter cleared the plates and then moved down the street to park itself demonstratively on a soft seat opposite a guy having a beer and some snacks.

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A bumble up the street revealed an area much like the canal side in Camden with people sitting on the pavement and in doorways, having a drink and chatting away late into the night. There were many promising bars. The most promising one was dead inside, but another was decorated all metal like and had a DJ playing the kind of Rock I used to listen to in my teens (that’s not necessarily a bad thing!). We holed up for a while and got the cards out.

Icebear passed out. So we decided to wake him up with another bumble admiring the various bikes that had parked up around the area. Until Metallica was blasting in our ears. We were stood next to another metal bar. It had only opened recently and so was unknown and refreshingly empty. The barman and his friends occupied the other table and soon we got chatting to Elif.

She lives in Istanbul, free to go out and drink and to work, all in a rather modern, European way, but true to her heritage, family means everything to her. So she dreams of travelling south with her brother, who’s a sailor, either by boat or by bicycle; but she has no idea if this will ever be agreeable with her traditions. When she left, we ended up chatting with her friends late into the night.

The next day we wandered up the Bospherous and found the train station by the waterside. It was refreshingly free of tourists.

Waiting for the ticket office to open

Waiting for the ticket office to open…

Then the waterfront was taken up by a giant military compound, then a bus terminal and a ferry port before changing into a boatyard and a rocky beach.

We took a ferry back over the Bospherous.

And then the cable car up the hill into Taksim, where we checked into our hostel for the night. Then we went out to explore the area. Its a bit like Shoreditch only more shopsy and touristy in parts. My shoes were too small and with all the walking about my feet hurt so badly, I didn’t want to take another step.


Food in a restaurant provided a welcome yummie break and then we found a table outside a bar to have a glass of wine and to play the traditional tavla. We didn’t remember how to set it up, so I asked the guys on the next table,who came over to teach us. Alexander was Iranian and his friend Armenian. Both had lived in Germany and were working in Turkey.

The Armenian had to go soon, but Alexander stayed and we launched into a long conversation about the conflict in Syria (apparently the protesters we saw all that time ago in the Sirkeci part of Istanbul were pro Syrian), the alliance versus the extremists and various political leaders, as well as the nature reserve organisation Alexander is organizing in Bodrum, how he is fed up with the Turks not getting it,and his club a few streets over. It was an interesting half English, half German conversation interrupted only by the odd tavla move. Alexander then insisted on paying for our wine too. He is the kind of awesome nutter I love meting!

When he left we went to another bar outside our hostel for some shisha, apple tea and more tavla.

The next day we walked down to the Galata bridge, lined with guys fishing and had a super yummie breakfast at the Jazz Cafe we’d spotted weeks ago on the way. It was the best  Turkish coffee I’ve had in a long time, creamy cheeses, peppers, tomatoes, green and black olives, cucumbers, perpper-sausage and really fresh bread 🙂

In the subway under the main road past the spice market, one of the many cheap-crap-shops sold me some new shoes and then a quick whizz around the market to buy prezzies for when we see the others in France. Then we went for a long walk along the Golden Horn to the Cast Iron Bulgarian church that had been made in Bulgaria, shipped to Istanbul and erected there. Sort of like early days flat-pack houses! Of course it was covered in scaffolding, but it still looked awesome!

On the way to the airport we walked through a really cool almost shanty town like poor area with colorful houses and kids running after us shouting “Money! Money!” A guy insisted on polishing our converse and then asked for payment. 

And then it was time to fly out of Istanbul.

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