February 26, 2000
Do you have a favorite place? After several weeks in any city I always begin to discover favorite places or areas of a town: little nooks and crannies or hidden shops with friendly shopkeepers. This is my third time visiting Turkey, and for the last two weeks Kavitha and I have been hanging out in Istanbul. We have traveled all over this sprawling city visiting mosques, museums, making new friends in tea shops and visiting old ones in their homes. And one area in particular keeps calling me back; a place that always feels just right when we visit. So I thought we could all visit there together and take a short jaunt through the neighborhood. This area is called Sultanahmet.
But that may not be as easy as it seems. In Istanbul it can take up to two hours to get from one place to another, and a one way trip to Sultanahmet is quite an adventure. There are buses to ride, tickets to buy, ferries to catch, trams to hop and food to eat.....Whew! We want to go there today, so hop on board and we'll head out and brave the cold winter streets of this fascinating city! As you will see, the trip takes on a life of its own."But wait," you might ask, "what makes Sultanahmet such a special area?" Well, it was so cool that the Ottoman sultans lived here for over three hundred years in the magnificent Topkapi Palace. Mehmet the Conqueror began building the Palace following the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, and it continued to expand over the years as successive sultans added their own personal touches to the grounds. The sultan and his family resided in the harem (see Kavi's Harem dispatch coming up soon). The rooms of the Palace are now open as a public museum and filled with relics from the years of Ottoman rule. Just outside the walls of the Palace are the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque(stay tuned-look for Kavi's dispatch next time). And don't forget the Hippodrome, where chariot races were held in Byzantine times. It seems that this area has been cool for a long time. So let's get started......
We are staying on the Asian side of the Bosphorus River in a neighborhood called Anadolu Hisari. This marks the narrowest point on the Bosphorus, and a castle standing on the banks is a reminder of an unusual adventure several centuries ago (see sidebar). Sultanahmet lies on the other side of the river, so in the morning chill we must begin our journey, sliding along icy streets to a bus station at the bottom of the hill.
A bus sighs to a stop and opens its doors. The bus driver smiles and nods in greeting. Just to the left is a man taking money for the ride. We bought tickets in advance for this bus to Uskudar, but for some reason this bus doesn't accept the tickets- only cash. He looks at my tickets with a forlorn shake of his head as if to console me for my mistake and waves us through for a free ride. It doesn't take long to experience Turkish hospitality!
The bus winds its way south and drops us off at Uskudar, where we catch a ferry to the other side of the Bosphorus. The ferry runs every twenty minutes, and we seem to have a special talent for arriving just as it chugs away from the dock. So each morning we usually spend twenty minutes warming our cold hands and waiting for the next one. The ride itself takes about fifteen minutes; two separate boats transport passengers throughout the day. As we push off into the water, gulls careen through the air outside and we make our way to the heated rooms where the passengers can gaze out at the frigid waves. Men walk through the cabin selling tea and coffee as mosques slide by outside the window, their minarets thrust proudly into the sky. Sunlight breaks off the waves and before I know it we have reached the other side.
All of this tourist stuff can really make you hungry, so we make sure to nibble along the way. Lamb and chicken cook on rotating skewers in many street side shops, and restaurant owners beckon to us from their doorways. Trays of fresh food crowd the windows and wafting smells tickle our noses. Freshly squeezed carrot-orange drinks are very popular here, and they are the perfect tonic for the weary traveler. We duck into Doy Doy (our favorite restaurant) for a quick bowl of lentil soup and get ready for our next adventure-going BACK home! There are tickets to buy, trams to hop, ferries to catch, buses to ride, people to meet .........
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew - Innocents Abroad: Following Mark Twain's Footsteps Through Istanbul
Jasmine - Kutahya: A City That Has Triumphed Through It All
Jasmine - Dare to Dream
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