The day started early with a bus ride, along the 10-lane highway, from Ataturk airport to the Taksim area in the heart of Istanbul, whizzing past low-rise buildings with brown sloping roofs and snow cakes on their edges. I checked in at the hotel, ate a quick breakfast and set off in -10° C to explore the Turkish city.
Skipping the structured (and expensive) tours was a good idea. I walked to Istiklal Caddessi, down the steep slope to the main road near Galata Tower and took a tram ride,which costs 3 TL (Turkish Lira) to Sultanahmet.
After a hot drink of Hakiki Salep (a milk-based drink mixed with spices and a sprinkling of cinnamon, for 3 TL), I walked down the steps and across the courtyards to the Blue Mosque. A few photos later, I crossed the road for a view of the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya), before going down, under the city of Istanbul to the Basilica Cistern. The huge marvel and the inverted head of Medusa was impressive.
I continued walking along the busy tram road to the Grand Bazaar. If the stores on the main road were a riot of colours and a maze of displays, then the alleys of the Grand Bazaar were a blast on the senses–straight from the Arabian nights. Finding the fancy baklava shops expensive, I bought fridge magnets (four for 10 TL), before venturing into the Gulhane Park on the other side of which was the Golden Horn, an inlet of the Bosphorus.
The rush at the ferry, tourists and couples relaxing in the late-afternoon sun, seagulls flapping around the Galata Bridge which connects the new city and fishermen, who patiently wait with their rods–it was picture perfect.
I took the one-stop uphill tunnel (the oldest underground tramway)that goes straight back to the Istiklal street. After a pit-stop at LeBon where I sipped on dark, strong Turkish coffee (5 TL) and munched on blackened rice pudding (6 TL) as I enjoyed the sights at the lively Istiklal, I headed in the opposite direction–to the Asian side of Istanbul.
It was a fantastic moment when the Metro bus zoomed across the bridge over the Bosphorus, from the European to the Asian part of Istanbul. The last stop was Sogutlucesme from where I walked for 20 minutes to the port of Karakoy. Far from wearing a suburban look, the neighbourhood looked like a modern city in a first-world country. Karakoy buzzed with young people–in cafes, stores offering indirim (sales), queuing up outside doner shops selling kebabs in a bun and strolling along the street. The bus journey gave me an insight into the layout of the city, but the street leading to Karakoy provided an up-close feel of the density of the city’s population. As I made my way through the crowd, I caught sight of the beautiful Sea of Marmara off the Karakoy port.
I had an early dinner–cheese-potato kofte, chunks of melt-in-the-mouth mutton with half a serving of white rice sprinkled with pine nuts and half a serving of spicy broken rice–at a reasonably priced restaurant (10 TL for everything).
As luck would have it, there was a direct ferry for Kabatas near the Taksim hotel and within minutes I was enjoying a glass of turkisi cay (Turkish tea) on the ferry.
In just one day, I travelled around Istanbul using almost every mode of public transport: the vintage tram, the T1 tram line, the ferry... it’s amazing to see how Istanbul has gone underground to transport its people without disturbing the surface or affecting the harmony of the city’s historic character.