Sleepwalking through Turkey: Was I even there? Part 3 of a series

Part three of a series of 10, a very long letter sent to my friend in California about my impressions of Turkey this time around.  Part one is here, Part two here.

Istanbul has grown tremendously. A whole slew of high-rise buildings has been thrown up in a new business district in the north of the city, thoroughly changing the skyline in that direction.

turkey-istanbul-bosphorus-bridge1The grand bridge over the Bosphorus – did you know it’s the 4th-longest suspension bridge in the world? – still looks austere and functional by day, but at night it’s now ablaze with colour, ever-changing hues of pink, purple, red and orange, switching colour in rhythmic timing like a huge neon sign swishing in a concave sweep literally from one continent to the other.turkey-istanbul-bosphorus-bridge-with-boat

Those with money definitely have it to burn. One Saturday night we were watching the bridge’s light show from the window of our friends’ place in Cihangar when there began a succession of fireworks displays, each lasting a good 10 minutes. Birthday parties, stuff to impress friends with.

There were times, though, where I thought I must have been sleepwalking the whole turkey-istanbul-sultanahmet-blue-mosque-minaretmonth so long ago, because I seemed to be experiencing for the very first time so much of daily life that hits you full in the face.

How could I have forgotten so much of it? Was that call to prayer really so loud? Was the first blast of the day really that early, and, in their cacophonous wailings, did they all seem to be trying to outdo one another?

I realise there are now 70 million in the country instead of 40, 16 million now crowding Istanbul, but do you remember seeing turkey-istanbul-blue-mosque-from-window-of-hagia-sophiagreat throngs of people around the mosques for Friday prayers? The mosques were overflowing on Friday, the faithful spilling out into the courtyards and onto sidewalks, each with his own rug and facing Mecca, the passersby walking respectfully around them.


Were there really that many cats walking around the city? There are cats EVERYWHERE in Istanbul, some gathered in groups of 30 or 40, and dogs too – usually lying around sleeping. You sometimes see little piles of fresh meat or kibbles-n-bits left out for them, though strangely, there’s very little in the way of scat on the sidewalks. Don’t recall dogs or cats at all back then, nor did I mention them in my journal.

I don’t recall seeing the aqueducts at all.


The trams in Istanbul are now as new and modern as anything you’re likely to find in Zurich or Amsterdam, and they’re pretty crammed in the downtown area at any time of the day. I don’t even remember seeing trams back then, though there must have been, because they’ve preserved two lines from the olden days. turkey-istanbul-tram

turkey-istanbul-tram-tunel-taksim-istiklal-caddesiOne sweet and charming old rattletrap that reminded me of San Francisco streetcars runs the entire length of Istiklal Avenue from Tünel to Taksim Square, squeezed full, often with kids hanging on the side. The other line has new equipment but runs – believe it or not – on the oldest underground stretch of rail in the world after that of London – an inclined railway built in the 1860s. It costs 40 cents and takes you from near the foot of the north end of the Galata bridge up to the south end of the old tram’s line.

I wish back then we’d explored a little more beyond the realm of the Sultanahmet side, but unfortunately we didn’t get over to Beyoglu at all except – if my journal is anything to go by – one night when we went out with a couple of Istanbullus to a bar for some dancing and singing. The traditional stuff, not karaoke, and put on by and for locals, not tourists. I remember having a lot of fun that evening.


Third in a series.

6 Responses to “Sleepwalking through Turkey: Was I even there? Part 3 of a series”

  1. November 14, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    What stunning pictures! Do you take them yourself?

  2. November 14, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Thank-you, honeypiehorse.🙂 They’re all mine!

  3. November 19, 2008 at 9:21 am

    Nice piece, you’re a very good travel writer, and the photos went a long way to illustrating your time there.
    From the way you have written it it seems you were very much awake over there!
    Again, nice one.
    Kind regards,

  4. November 19, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Hi Bluesphinx, thanks for dropping by and leaving such warm regards! 🙂

  5. October 7, 2009 at 10:50 am

    The Sultanahmet area is by far Istanbul’s most important place for tourists. All the biggest attractions are here: Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Hippodrome, Cistern Palace, Topkapi Palace, and more. Plus it’s a short walk to the Grand Bazaar and the Archaeological Museum. While of course I love the main attractions (and they shouldn’t be missed), I also really enjoy walking around and exploring the seemingly minor nooks and crannies. Some incredible finds can be had in doing so. One of my favorite discoveries is the Cefer Aga Medresesi which I write more about in another tip. Additionally, on the other side of the Blue Mosque a little down the hill, there is a wonderful collection of shops in an old bazaar. While not nearly as famous as the Grand Bazaar, this are is a great place to really shop as it is much less crowded and I usually seem to find better bargains as well.

    • October 7, 2009 at 10:57 am

      The problem I have with Sultanahmet is it has become way too touristy. Every gorb on all those cruise ships docked down the hill is crawling all over the place, lining up for the Blue Mosque in droves and crowding through Hagia Sophia like it were a shopping mall. It’s lost nearly all its charm of 30 years ago because of that.
      Visitors would get a better feel of the place if they left Sultanahmet and explored other neighbourhoods. There’s plenty in Istanbul to offer.

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