The Istanbul I Love
I was pretty excited to visit Istanbul after looking at a million photos of everything there (my way of doing research about a place), but I wasn’t sure how I’d feel after actually arriving there, having spent the previous night at the Athens airport because my cheap ass didn’t wanna spend money on a hotel room I’d be in for maybe 6 hours. I get so cranky without sleep.
I needn’t have worried, because Istanbul was everything I expected, and more.
I gave AirBnB a whirl while searching for accommodation in Istanbul, because I thought it’d be cool to “live like the locals” for once, and well… because a decent, private hotel/hostel room in Istanbul ain’t cheap (cheap enough for me anyway). So I ended up staying with two German guys, Jannik & Efe in their apartment near Taksim, and was thrilled to have this view of Istanbul’s rooftops from the balcony as one of the first things I saw in Istanbul 🙂
So after settling in and crashing for a bit, I headed out to explore, and almost immediately found my favourite place in Istanbul – the Galata Bridge and its surroundings!
Istanbul is a city with incredible character; unlike “typical” European cities which start to blend together when you’ve seen too many of them, there’s no mistaking a city like Istanbul for anything else. Walking along the bridge and taking in the sights on both ends, I felt like the city was one with centuries upon centuries worth of stories to tell, if you just had the time to sit down and listen.
It’s only natural to feel so, because of Istanbul’s exceedingly colourful history. Even the Galata Bridge itself has been through so much – the double-storey bridge with restaurants at the bottom you see now was just built in 1992 when the previous one burned down, but check out this picture of the bridge completed back in 1875. Although the bridge itself is made of a totally different material, everything else looks uncannily similar to what it is now – bustling with people, set against the beautiful background of Istanbul’s most famed mosques, and with boats anchored by the bridge. Just move the boats to the opposite shore, add a road and tram tracks, and you have Galata Bridge today!
At pretty much any given time of the day when the sun is out, both sides of the Galata Bridge will be lined with people fishing.
At one end of the bridge, in the neighbourhood of Karakoy, you can find fishing gear if you wanna try catching your own dinner.
Or, you can just buy some fish from the numerous stalls along the Karakoy riverbank, like normal people 😉
Take your time walking across the bridge, because you gotta stop and savour views like this at sunset!
If you’re not keen on crossing the bridge on foot (don’t be lazy, it’s only about 500m), you can also take one of the ferries like in the picture from Karakoy across to Eminonu for about 3 lira.
The view approaching Eminonu is one of a gorgeous mess of layers and colours – there’s the Suleymaniye mosque at the back, and tethered by the riverbanks are several ornate restaurant boats, which serve fried fish sandwiches!
Swing by on a Saturday evening like I did, and you’ll experience the frenzy of Istanbul’s 16-million strong population at its finest, with the hordes of weekend crowds out in full force, and the unmistakeable aroma of fried fish in the air. You can’t escape the smell and you WILL get hungry, so you might as well try it 😉
A fried fish sandwich costs only about 5 lira (about RM 8.50), and you can sit down and chomp al fresco style, or just take it to-go. You’re also supposed to eat the sandwich with some pickle juice (about 2-3 lira), which you can get from these awesomely intricate stalls just nearby!
My breakfast on one of the days.
Yup, pickle juice is dark pink apparently. If you’re wondering how it tastes like – it’s sour. Really sour. Well it’s pickles, so you can’t really expect any less but it’s sour enough that even I, queen of everything sour like lemonade and extreme asams, couldn’t finish the whole cup. But I quite liked it anyway, because it offsets the tang of the raw onions in your fried fish sandwich strangely well (if you take small sips :P).
Don’t forget to look back at Karakoy when you’re at Eminonu, because you can’t miss one of the most iconic sights of Istanbul – the Galata Tower dominating the skyline.
It’s one of my favourite things to see in Istanbul, and is best enjoyed with sunsets 🙂
The Galata Tower itself is a major tourist attraction in Istanbul, and I definitely recommend going up the tower if you’re keen on getting views of the whole city. Like the Galata Bridge, the tower has been through a lot too. It started out as a lighthouse, then used as a dungeon (?!) by the Ottomans, then became a fire tower, and after a serious fire (heh), was rebuilt in stone and took on the shape we see today. Fun fact: there was a guy who used artificial wings to fly from the top of the tower all the way across the Bosphorus and landed 6km away on the Asian side of Istanbul!
I find it funny that Galata Tower was ever used as a dungeon, because whoever got imprisoned up there lucked out with views like this.
I had planned to visit the Galata Tower at sunset, but thanks to my geniusity in not accounting for the queue I’d have to be in, I only reached the top when the sun had already set and light was failing 😦 Still managed to get a few halfway decent shots, but a tip for photographers – tripods are not allowed! And for the better anyway, the “balcony” that circles the outside of the tower can literally only fit a “layer” of one person at a time, so there’s really no space to spare.
Instead of a dungeon, the top of the Galata Tower now houses a restaurant, but I didn’t stay for dinner as the prices were rather high. Knock yourself out though if you feel like splurging!
So there you have it, a walkthrough of my favourite parts of one of my favourite cities in the world 🙂 Up next, more of the top sights in Istanbul!