Saturday, May 10, 2008

Istanbul. The Galata Bridge and the Bosphorus.

or some extricable reason, Lei and I were drawn to the area on and around the Galata Bridge which spans the Bosphorus where it meets the Sea of Marmara. We were there on two separate occasions and we spent at least 3 hours on each visit!

The Galata Bridge is nothing special to look at and neither is the part of the Bosphorus that it spans. In fact, the area around the bridge is crowded, congested, noisy and smells of car exhaust....and the view of the water is nothing to rave about. Yet, there's an vibrancy to the waterside atmosphere that sucks you into relaxing and simply taking it all in. We both found it to be a great place to catch the cool breeze coming off the beautiful blue water of the Bosphorus, to watch locals enjoying themselves and to breath in the intoxicating smell of fish being grilled by street vendors.

On the afternoon of our first day in Istanbul, Lei and I decided we had to make our way down to the Bosphorus. After lunch in a restaurant in Sultanahmet, we hopped on the tram for a short, 3 stop ride to Eminönü. We got off the tram and descended into the underground walkway to cross the street. It was a Saturday and I think everyone in Istanbul was out enjoying the afternoon - to say the streets were crowded is an understatement! The underground walkway is broad enough to be bordered by small stores on both sides. Clothes, toys and sweets were among some of the items for sale. The walked as absolutely P-A-C-K-E-D with people!! As we walked through, I held on to Lei to make sure we stayed together.

Once above ground, the first sight were the ferry docks. Alongside were plenty of vendors selling grilled fish sandwiches. The Galata Bridge was just about a minute walk away and we headed in that direction.

The bridge is a double decker structure. The upper level is for cars and fisherman. The lower level is lined with restaurants - all selling overpriced food and drinks but what an interesting view they offer.... the beautiful Bosphorus and hills of Istanbul, interrupted by dangling fishing lines!

I love to go fishing so I'm always curious about what the fisherman are catching on their lines and what bait they're using. Yeah, I'm wierd. As we moseyed across the bridge, I couldn't help but peek into a few buckets. Catch of day - sardines (oh yum!) and bait of choice - teeny shrimp. Those fish who were lucky enough to make away with the bait are surely some of the luckiest swimming around in the Bosphorus!

From various points along the bridge, we could look back on the hills of Istanbul and see several of its famous landmarks:

Yeni Camii

Suleymaniye Mosque which we did not get to tour on this bridge.


Hagia Sophia

The domes of the buildings of the Topkapi Palace complex.

Once we made it to the other side of the bridge, we found ourselves in the Karaköy neighborhood. We wandered around and eventually found ourselves in relative upscale neighborhood. Thanks to Lei's nose, we also found a nice place to grab a quick snack (if you can call it that) of marinated octopus and stuffed mussels, washed down with Turkish tea. Happily sated, we headed back.

This time, we crossed on the lower level of the bridge and found a place to have a drink, watch the world go by and enjoy a nargileh (water pipe).

On our return trip to Istanbul, we decided we had to spend time cruising on the Bosphorus. We headed back to the ferry docks at Eminönü to see if we could get a ferry schedule. They were available but none that a tourist could make any sense of. So we asked around and at the same time, got accosted by ferry operators wanting to charge exorbitant prices - they can spot a tourist a mile away!! One operator wanted 20 YTL for an hour cruise. We weren't that desperate. Persistence eventually paid off and we found an operator who wanted 7.5 YTL - not cheap but in the affordable range. We got on board and found ourselves crammed in with a whole lot of local Turks.

Lei found herself a spot to enjoy the ride. I secured a spot on the other side of the boat.

Anchor up and we were soon on our way up the Bosphorus. I recognized Karaköy as we past its shoreline.

Past Karaköy and a couple of very large cruise ships, the the Dolmabahçe Palace came into view which served as the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1853 to 1922, apart from a twenty-year interval (1889-1909) in which the Yıldız Palace was used. Located a short distance up river from the Palace is the Dolmabahçe Mosque.

We didn't have a chance to tour the Palace but what I hear from those who have is that it have a very opulent interior - grand enough to rival Versailles. Both Palace and Mosque be on my itinerary if I ever get to go back to Istanbul.


Past the mosque and you could see buildings crammed into the hillsides.



The ferry continued to chug up the Bosphorus. By this time, I was crammed into my spot - couldn't move if I tried. Fortunately, the view was captivating and it was nice to breath in the fresh air. I was thoroughly enjoying the ride.

At the point that the Bosphorus begins to narrow sits Rumeli Castle which served as the Ottoman army's bridgehead when they captured Constantinople in 1453.

Just beyond Rumeli Castle is a suspension bridge that was built in the 1990's to connect the Asian and European sides of Istanbul. We soon reached the bridge and the ferry turned around to head back to dock. On the way, we past more houses - this time, much larger and not so crammed into the hillsides....more upscale neighborhoods than those on the other shore.



There wasn't much to see on the ride back - just more houses. I put my camera away and enjoyed the rest of ride. The crushing crowd that had surrounded me had dispersed and I was finally free to walk around. I walked over to the other side of the ferry and joined Lei. By now, it was late afternoon. The sun was low in the horizon casting a hazy, warm glow on the landscape and a harsh glare on the water. I wished I had brought my sunglasses so I could better enjoy the view without having to squint my eyes to see through the glare. Oh well, next time. Lei and I chatted to bide the time and before we knew it, we were back at the dock.

We disembarked and retraced our steps back to the tram, hopped on board and got off at the Sirkeci station. There was still time to enjoy the city before we had to call it a day.