My Stray Cat Expedition in Istanbul, Turkey – Day 4, part 1 (continued from Day 3, part 2)
Dr. Arnold Plotnick
(click pictures to enlarge)
To fully appreciate the urban Istanbul of today, you must leave the Old Town and plunge headfirst into the hip, happenin’, lively, upbeat, European-feeling New District, and that’s what we did. After spending the first two full days exploring the classic sites of the Old Town, we indulged in the part of the city where our hotel was located. We started with the old standbys, Taksim Square and Istiklal Street.
Taksim Square is the New Districts transportation hub, where you can connect to other parts of Istanbul by bus, metro, funicular, and tram. The square is marked by the Republic Monument. This monument, unveiled in 1928, commemorates the fifth anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic.
From there, we started our stroll down Istiklal Street once again. This is the most happenin’ street in Istanbul. Istiklal Street is modern Istanbul’s main artery. A wide pedestrian boulevard, it is where shoppers, football fans, political demonstrators, and thousands of people gather, day and night. This 3 kilometer long street starts at Taksim Square. From there, you pass restaurants, churches, cinemas, mosques, and lots of fine architecture. We had strolled down this street about three times already, but always as shoppers or hungry diners, and not as sightseeing historians. This time, I grabbed my guidebooks (Rick Steve’s Istanbul and Frommer’s Istanbul Day by Day), and strolled down the street with a new set of eyes, passing the historic water fountain, taking a detour to the Greek Orthodox Church, stopping to admire the Rumeli Han (an old shopping market), gazing at the Alkazar Theater (one of the oldest movie theaters in Istanbul, where the aristocracy used to gather), finally stopping at the Flower Passage (Cicek Pasaji).
The Flower Passage was originally built in the Neo-Baroque style in the 1870s. Originally, it housed only flower shops, until the 1940s. Over time, lively pubs and taverns began to sprout inside and it became a gathering place for writers, journalists, students and coffee-house intellectuals. In 1978, however, due to lack of maintenance, the Flower Passage fell into disrepair. It remained in ruins for a decade, until the city decided to rebuild it. What’s there now is a nostalgic reproduction of a place that really is long gone. Still, it has its charm, as you can see:
The walk continued, past the fish market, the Galatasaray High School, the Dutch Consulate, finally reaching Tunel, the official end of Istiklal Street. From here, we decided to stroll downhill on Galip Dede Sokak, a street marked by shops selling musical instruments. This was a lively colorful street, and of course, there were lots of cats, like this very well-fed looking orange tabby
And this cat, outside the music shop, trying to climb onto a motorcycle (and using the acoustic guitar boxes as a ladder):
We finally hit our destination, the Galata Tower. This tower is the most prominent feature of the New District skyline. It is a 205 foot tall stone tower, built by the Genoese in the mid-14th century. It has served, over the centuries, as a fire tower, a barracks, and a dungeon. Today, the tower is a major tourist attraction, offering visitors what has to be the best view of Istanbul anywhere.
We climbed the tower and checked out the great views for ourselves.
We took many photos from the tower, which afforded us a 360 degree panoramic view of the city. I chose this one to include in the blog because it shows the point where the Golden Horn merges with the Bosphorus Strait. Just beyond the tiny Turkish flag across the water is where the Bosphorus opens to the Sea of Marmara. To the left of it is Asia. The little blip of a tower directly below the helicopter is Topkapi Palace. The large building to the right of that, with the two prominent minarets is Hagia Sophia. To the right of it is one minaret of the Blue Mosque.
Sigh…I just couldn’t get enough of this view.
After making two complete circles on the observation deck of the tower and gazing for well over an hour, we finally descended the tower and made our way toward the southern tip of the New District, to the Galata Bridge. In 1994, this modern bridge replaced what had been the first and (for many years) only bridge spanning the Golden Horn. This new bridge is now an Istanbul fixture, lined with hundreds of fishermen (and fisherwomen) dipping their hooks into the water below. Strolling across the bridge gives a great view of the Old Town. Built into the bridges lower level are many restaurants serving the catch of the day.
At the base of the bridge on the opposite side are all the ferry departure points. I checked them out carefully because I wanted to see where the ferry to Uskudar was located, since that’s where we were going on Sunday, and the ferry that cruises the Bosphorus, because that was on the agenda on Monday. Found them both. This is really a pretty easy city to navigate.
A short walk from the ferry stations takes you to the Sirkeci train station. This station was once the terminal for the famous Orient Express. The Orient Express train line began in the 1880s. You could board a train in Paris and three days later, you would arrive at this very station, after passing through Munich, Vienna, Budapest, and Bucharest. Train service was rerouted to avoid Germany during the Nazi years, and was temporarily disrupted during both World Wars, but otherwise, it ran until 1977. Although the route I just described was the most famous route, any eastbound train from Western Europe could be called an “Orient Express”.
The inside of the train station is lovely, and it takes you back to a more genteel, earlier age. There’s also a little Railway Museum that is free and open to the public, with relics relating to the famous train line. Also inside the train station, on one of the seats, was one of the cutest cats I saw on the trip. You have to admit, this cat is irresistible. Any cat lover would have to go over and pat this kitty.
And of course, I did.
After patting this kitty, I checked out the little Railway Museum in the station, and passing back through the big waiting room, I noticed the kitty was no longer sleeping on his little bench. He had gone over to a different waiting area, where he was charming some of the other patrons.
Turks like their street cats. It’s a really nice thing to see.