We had heard some good stories about the Asian side of Istanbul. So when we were picking a hostel in Istanbul a couple of months ago we decided to go for Kadiköy, a large district on the Northern shore of the Sea of Marmara. Together with Üsküdar it forms the historic core of this part of Istanbul. As a matter of fact Khalkedon, which is the ancient name for Kadiköy, was founded about 30 years earlier than Istanbul itself. This Asian side of Istanbul is the less touristy part and so it shows more of the ordinary, daily life here. It’s exactly what we are after.
It had been a bit of a sleepless night on the train from Sofia to Istanbul. Several ticket and/or passport controls, obtaining the Turkish visa, then getting all the luggage plus the bedding out of the railway carriage because we needed to switch to another carriage (no idea why), making the beds again, and some more passport and ticket control. All of this in the middle of the night. So when we get off the ferry in Kadiköy we were pretty much on our last legs. Still the all the fuss of the traffic and the bustling street markets feel good right away. It’s lively and laid back at the same time. We definitely have to explore this area later today. But first we need some sleep…
From a visitors viewpoint Istanbul can be divided into 3 main area’s. First there’s Sultanahmed (orange on the map) on the European side, which is where most of the tourists hang out since it boasts the most important sights like the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya and the Topkapi Palace. Second is Beyoglu (purple), the modern part of the city, north of Sultanahmed (also on the European continent). Beyoglu is also where the fancy nightclubs are as well as Taksim square, known for the recent protests. And then there’s Kadiköy (green), on the Asian side, where we currently stay.
After a good night sleep we get up early to visit the obligatory sights in Sultanahmed. Unfortunately both Aya Sofya and the Topkapi Palace are closed this morning because of the end of Ramadan last night. So only pictures from the outside but the Blue Mosque is open so we pay that one a visitkeep it to that one.
Enough sightseeing. It’s time to relax. As we try to blend in like locals we go practice Keyif, the Turkish art for relaxation. We head for a Çay Bahçesi (tea garden) and order a narghile and a cup of tea. Nice setting, good place to spend the afternoon. Still a bit goofy from smoking the narghile we try the Topkapi Palace again but we are so put off by the amount of people (it’s a Turkish holiday) that we decide to jump on the ferry back to Kadiköy.
Later that night we go for some beers in Pub Street and we feel like we’re the only tourists here. As we walk back to our hostel the streets are filled with people playing backgammon, smoking narghiles, having dinner or just chatting over a beer (or tea). The atmosphere is very relaxed but it’s the people who really make the difference. Like the family that winks us to their table earlier on the evening as we stand on the street doubting whether to eat at that place. A nice conversation follows and when they have to leave for their evening prayer they confide us to pray for us (I guess that’s good… or maybe we looked a bit depraved?). Or the man in the döner stall that saved me from ordering a “Sneijder” sandwich when I was looking all confused to the Turkish menu (though Wesley can be proud to have his own sandwich here in Fenerbahçe area 😉 ). The people are sincerely friendly and helpful. I love this place. I think I could live here!
On day three we get up early once again to return to Sultanahmed and beat the crowds for the Basilica Cistern, a beautiful underground structure of hundreds of marble pillars that was built in 532 as a water reservoir. It is capable to store 80.000 m3 of water which could be used in case of emergency. Nowadays it’s a major tourist attraction and the home of some schools of ghostly carp.
We also visited the Archaeology Museum but unfortunately that wasn’t as good as the Basilica Cistern. After developing a sarcophagus fatigue we were in desperate need to get out.
On the way back to our hostel we hop in a little shop for some baklava, the sweet pastry I’m longing for as soon as we arrived in Istanbul. The shop owner offers us some tea which we accept (say more yes). So we end up having an entertaining chat about Turkish eating habits (Raki has to be served cold, together with some meat, and always in company with good friends), while having our tea with baklava sitting on little stools in the tiny shop. Life’s good.
I’m writing this post on our last night in Istanbul. Geographically we’re on Asia’s doorstep but the last couple of days we’ve been constantly commuting between the Asian and European part. Like we couldn’t say goodbye to Europe yet. Tomorrow night we fly to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Then we will definitely be in Asia and it’s a bit of a strange feeling that we won’t be back in our home continent for two years. The traveling is getting serious now. But first I want to thank Kadiköy for our pleasant stay. I might come back one day. And stay a bit longer.