On our last full day in Turkey, we took a long hike to Taksim, which is the contemporary heart of Istanbul just as Fatih (the neighborhood we’ve been staying in) is the historic heart. First we walked across the Galata Bridge, pausing to admire the really cool tour boats that were somewhat like gondolas but designed to resemble dragons.
Then we trekked up a hill to get a closeup view of Galata Tower, which was completed in 1348 and was part of a walled Genoese colony. According to legend, it was from the top of this tower (a little over 200 feet high) that a Seventeenth Century experimenter jumped in a successful attempt to hang-glide across the Bosphorus Strait into Asia. There was a long line of tourists queuing up for the chance to pay to climb up inside the tower and get a panoramic glimpse of the city and its environs on this smoggy day. And at the base, attendants were setting up for some kind of shindig.
The main thoroughfare of the Taksim district is called Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue), and it’s popular with both tourists and locals. There is a quaint vintage red tram that runs the length of the avenue, with one end at a station of what is the second-oldest subway system in the world. We’d hoped to catch a ride on it, but realized we’d have to wait for it longer than we were willing to, so instead we relied on the good old shoe leather express.
The street is packed with shops, bars, cafes, restaurants, and other things that draw people with disposable income. There was a mall where we browsed in an outdoor-gear store along the lines of REI for some items we’d been needing. And we actually found some of them — including sunglasses and a pair of pants for Dennis to replace the cargo pants he began the tour with, but which deteriorated so much that by the time he got rid of them they were almost more off than on. And it’s a miracle to find pants that actually fit him — much less good cargo pants such as the ones thrown away, and the new ones found.
During our stroll down the pulsing avenue, we passed several groups of busking musicians, playing and singing Turkish folk tunes. And at one location there was a woman, apparently of Roma extraction, playing an accordion while her little girl, also attired in traditional clothing, sat patiently beside her in her stroller. There was also a little parade of some kind, which for some reason we can’t quite fathom, included a flock of waddling white geese who comically stole the show.
When we reached the other end of Independence Avenue, at Independence Monument (erected in 1928 for the 5th anniversary of the founding of The Republic Of Turkey), we sat on a bench in a little park and had our picnic lunch. Taksim Square in recent years had been the site of many political protests. But such events were recently banned in this location because so many of them turned out to be rather messy. There are plenty of “polis” patrolling the neighborhood just to make certain the order is kept — including a troop of female police in riot gear. Looks like they count on the ladies to handle the really tough situations.
But alas, they couldn’t prevent violence altogether. A few months after we were there, a terrorist bomb detonated on Independence Avenue, killing 6 and injuring 81. Since we walked down the entire length of the street in the tourist district, there is no doubt that we passed by the very point of the explosion. But what’s even more sobering than that is thinking about people like the mother playing accordion with her little girl smiling at all of the onlookers in the stroller.
After we’d glutted our senses in Taksim, we headed back home. But being too tired to walk, we caught a newfangled funicular that zipped us down the hills (underground) in record time, then we caught a bus and a ferry back to the neighborhood of our hostel, where we began preparing to depart the following day.
It was about that time that we learned that the next day (May 29) was the anniversary of the day in 1453 when the city was conquered by the Turks; and an ancient metropolis that had originally been called Byzantium, then New Rome, then Constantinople, was given its current appellation of Istanbul. In commemoration of the occasion, festivities were on tap, some involving historic reenactments; and having moved in cosplay circles now and again, we find this sort of thing quite intriguing. Had we been aware of it in advance, we might have scheduled our departure a day later. This occasion should be especially festive next year, the nation’s centennial.
The next morning, we said “görüşürüz” to our cozy hostel, caught a boat across the strait to a bus station, and headed back to the airport. We arrived more than plenty early, and couldn’t yet progress past the checkpoint into the main waiting area. Instead, we had to hang out in a cramped little waiting spot beside our airline’s check-in counter. But we did eat our lunch there, and managed to round up a cup of tea.
Finally we were through the checkpoint and after waiting a while longer, boarded our Air Arabia plane bound for Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. This flight, unlike nearly every other we’ve taken, provided a complimentary meal, of sorts. The vegetarian option was a “pizza roll” that was a kind of wrap that was surprisingly tasty enough, though not terribly filling. But, being always prepared with a stash of our own goodies, we were able to supplement these meager rations.
Thus equipped, we soared away from Istanbul and Turkey after entirely too short a time spent. We hope to return and explore this amazing country further.
Leaving Istanbul by Boat
and by Plane
Flightless Baby Seagulls on our Hostel Roof
May 28-29, 2022