Monday, January 28, 2013

Istanbul in words

I arrived in this city bleary-eyed after an overnight flight in which I got little sleep. We exited the plane on to the tarmac itself. I immediately felt the sting of the cold, wet pieces of snow and freezing rain hitting my skin. I rode a taxi to my hotel, dropped off my bags, and wandered around town. I looked at the Blue Mosque from its courtyard, visiting hours already over for the day, seagulls circling overhead. This city has a lot of seagulls, a lot of homeless cars wandering everywhere, and also numerous big dogs, also seemingly homeless, happily trotting along the streets, living their lives.

I walked around the streets of Istanbul yesterday, quite cold, not prepared for how cold this city actually was. I bought a hat on the street. I walked up to Galata Bridge and bought a fish sandwich prepared from the side of a boat. I eventually found my way back to my hotel after wandering around for hours in the cold. I took a long hot shower and wrapped myself in blankets. There was the goal to try to go out to a gay bar in Taksim, but the bed was so cozy and the weather too cold and wet outside. I finally got some much needed sleep.

This morning I woke up early and went inside Blue Mosque, which is a gorgeous and humbling place. I then wandered through the vendors of the Grand Bazaar early this morning as the vendors were still dusting their wares and drinking tea from tiny glass cups on metal saucers.

I took the tram to Galata Bridge where I boarded a ferry for Uskudar, a neighborhood across the Bosphorus Strait on the Asian side of this city. I walked around and this part of town was pretty much free of tourists. It felt more like a real neighborhood where people lived. Cats everywhere. Depressingly like every city, there were a great many Burger Kings and Pizza Huts to be found all over.

I took the ferry back across the Strait, this time to Kabatas. From there, I took the subway to Taksim. This city has a pretty decent public transportation network. I just wish it was more unified. You have to pay a new fare each time you switch from tram to metro to ferry, and that can be often in a single trip. The subway I took today was just between these two stations. There is another subway elsewhere in the city that also only connects two stations. Despite this, it is still an efficient and easy system.

I walked through Taksim down to the Galata Bridge again. I went to the fish market and bought a hamsi sandwich - I watched him fry up the little fresh anchovys and put them on a roll. I poured lemon juice and salt on it and watched as people purchased fish around me. I then walked over the Galata Bridge and watched fisherman seemingly easily catch tons of hamsi from the Golden Horn. I imagine that my meal was recently caught by one of these fisherman.

I wandered through the Spice Market, taking in the scents and the sounds of vendors calling out to passerby to try to convince them to stop. I went to the pet market and looked at a lot sad but beautiful varieties of birds for sale. Also at this market, there were several vendors selling leeches with signs touting their medical benefits.

I went to New Mosque and again was humbled by the beauty of these grand mosques that dot this city everywhere you look.

Jacob has an overnight layover in Istanbul and so in a few hours I am going to meet up with him and explore some bars. Early tomorrow morning, I head to Rome!

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