My Stray Cat Expedition in Istanbul, Turkey – Part 4

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.   

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.

Okay, we’re done with the historical sites.  Now the shopping begins.  It’s time to plunge ahead into the insanity that the call the Egyptian Spice Market.   Built in the mid-17th century, this hall was gradually taken over by merchants peddling spices, herbs medicinal plants and pharmaceuticals.  Most of the stalls still sell the same products, although admittedly the place has gotten pretty touristy.  It’s called the Egyptian Spice Market because it was once funded by taxes collected from Egypt.  It has the ambience of a true Oriental market.   

The air is thick with the aroma of exotic spices.    Indeed, it is stall after stall of spices, teas, and my pastries, dried fruits, and my favorite, Turkish delight.  

I snagged a couple of spices, four or five teas, and a ton of Turkish delight.  It was now onward and upward to the mother of all insane shopping experiences… The Grand Bazaar!

When the phrase “shop ‘til you drop” was invented, it must’ve been by someone visiting the Grand Bazaar.

This market is a maze of 60 rows with more than 4000 (!) colorful shops, fragrant eateries, and persistent shopkeepers. The experience is overwhelming.   

As you can see, the place is total insanity.  

Notice the kitty in the lower left hand corner.  He was checking out bargains, too.  Other cats were in the Bazaar as well, but they were content to just window shop.

After the sensory overload of the Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar, we decided to chill out in beautiful, pastoral Guilhane Park.  This was originally Topkapi Palace’s imperial garden.  Now it’s Istanbul’s oldest park, and it’s a nice chunk of greenery within a bustling city, similar to Central Park in my beloved New York City.  This park is a favorite weekend spot for locals, as they picnic with their families or just lay on the grass with friends.  And when I tell you that the park was crawling with cats, I’m not exaggerating.  They were everywhere!  The pictures of kitties that I took in this park could fill a travelogue by itself.

After relaxing in the park for an hour or two (I don’t know if you call chasing after cats “relaxing”; I know I do), we chose to meander up a very interesting looking street by the main exit to the park.  It’s was called Sogukcesme street, and it is lined with cool shops and restored 19th-century townhouses.   I saw some pretty cool sights on this street, for example, a car hood onto which someone had dumped a few piles of dry cat food.  And in this town, where there is cat food, there are cats.  

Further up the street, along the sidewalk, there were several seating areas belonging to a few local teahouses.  These comfy seating areas were occupied by young people drinking tea, eating snacks, and smoking water pipes.  I looked at one group and saw the cutest, most charming sight of the day.  Joining one of the groups was a tiny little kitten.  The kitten was standing on its hind legs, while a big, burly Turkish guy was gently feeding it yogurt from a spoon.  I wish the photo I took had more of the Turkish guy in the picture, but alas, the moment was fleeting, and I was lucky enough to get a photo at all.  

We reached the top of the street and found ourselves in the midst of a bunch of souvenir sellers.  Alongside of their stalls, at the base of the building behind them, was a group of well-fed looking cats nibbling on kibble.  Quite a nice looking bunch of kitties.

Ready to call it a day, we headed toward the Sultanahmet tram station.

We caught the tram back to Taksim Square, walked back to our hotel, and chilled out for a bit.  Then we hit the street (Istiklal, of course), found a nice restaurant, had a late dinner, and then went dancing at a disco called Tekyon.  Where do I get the stamina?

CONTINUE TO The Istanbul, Turkey Stray Cat Adventure – PART 5


  • janiejaner
    Posted October 21, 2011 8:24 pm 0Likes

    Was afraid there wouldn't be enough cats for a while, but that love bug in the train station made up for it! Love how he didn't even change position when you sat down with him…clearly a confident kitty.

  • Fotodor
    Posted April 15, 2020 9:07 pm 0Likes

    After relaxing in the park for an hour or two (I don t know if you call chasing after cats relaxing ; I know I do), we chose to meander up a very interesting looking street by the main exit to the park. It s was called Sogukcesme street, and it is lined with cool shops and restored 19

  • APKun
    Posted April 22, 2020 7:14 pm 0Likes

    My husband and I were just scratched by one of the stray cats in Istanbul. Did not know if we should be concerned about rabies from these cats.

    • Arnold Plotnick
      Posted April 23, 2020 4:23 pm 0Likes

      Rabies is usually transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal and is most commonly spread through bites. It is still possible to get rabies from a cat scratch or a scratch from any infected animal, but it is not common. Most likely the stray cats of Istanbul do not have rabies. If you are concerned however you should visit a clinic and have a medical professional check out the wound.

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