Monday, 18 April 2016


29th -30th Mar 2016

Ferries on the Bosphorus

A morning spent on the Bosphorus involved, unsurprisingly, a couple of ferry trips. There is a myriad of different sorts of ferries and cruise boats which ply the Strait and Golden Horn.
First a short trip over to the eastern (Asian) part of the city known collectively as Üsküdar. The main port area is called Kadiköy and nearby is the now defunct, but very grand, Haydarpasa railway station (left). 

This station was designed by Turkey's great ally, Germany, and built in 1909. It was Turkey's largest and busiest railway hub with much traffic out to Asia but was closed down 'indefinitely' in 2012. It is now a vast parking lot for unused rolling-stock. The building and platforms are 'out of bounds' but there is a little cafe open on the riverfront terrace.

Up the road from this is a large army headquarters (photography not permitted and knowing the reputation of the Turkish armed forces I wasn't going to risk it). In fact I only saw one uniformed soldier inside, who was sweeping the road. He must have been on 'jankers' while his comrades were out fighting Kurds or some such entertainment. Further on is the Marmara University university building and then the huge barrack like building in which Florence Nightingale and her staff attended up to 10,000 casualties at a time during the Crimean War. There is a small room in some far off part of this building (the size of at least 4 football pitches) which houses a little museum dedicated to Ms Nightingale but, as I discovered, it is indeed a military barracks and you need authorisation in advance to enter. Bollocks to that! Coincidently I had an old matron at school called Miss Nightingale, but I never asked if she was any relation. She might have been; she was very keen on disinfecting things which was one of Florence's strong points.

Anyway, onto another 'cruise' type boat for a short trip up the Bosphorus. It only went as far as the second, Fatih, bridge. I could have gone all the way up to the Black Sea but it would have taken most of the day and, on balance, there is not that much of interest that you can see from a boat and I had other things to do.
We passed several palaces such as this, the Dolmabahçe Palace on the western bank (left), which is famous for it's opulent interior, I'm told.

...and a few forts such as Rumali Hisari (right), built in a mere four months on the orders of  Mehmet the Conqueror in 1452 in preparation for his seige of Byzantine Constantinople. Apparently he appointed his three Grand Viziers to do this, each taking reponsibility for the construction of a tower area. If any of it wasn't completed in said four months the Vizier responsible would have his head cut off.  An effective incentive and one sadly under-used in UK nowadays. Needless to say it was completed on time (and within budget).

The afternoon was spent on a walk through the 'bazaar' area of the city (south bank). I decided to start off in the spice market and meander up to the Grand Bazaar which, according to my map, should have been quite straightforward. Needless to say, the place is a maze of small and badly marked streets and I got completely lost.

Left: Colourful spices on display, and there were many of these stalls. They must get through a lot of spices.

....some displaying mountains of Turkish Delight (right). Shops in all parts of the town displayed mountains of Turkish Delight, which may not come as a complete surprise I suppose.

 I eventually found my way to the Grand Bazaar. I had imagined it would be similar to the Medina Souk in Fez; you know, an inescapable maze of lots of little dusty alleyways with primitive canvas covered stalls flogging everything from carpets to camel dung manned by dodgy looking hook-nosed bandits and smelling faintly, and sometimes strongly, of often unpleasant substances. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Grand Bazaar is a series of flash and shiny clean arcades more reminiscent of Harrods than the Medina.

There were maps to guide you around, well signed arcades, a few smart cafés (thankfully I saw no MacDonalds) and even immaculately clean loos.

Some of the shops (and they are shops really, not stalls) sold very elaborate and expensive jewellery, gold and silver pieces, some smart clothes, carpets, handicrafts, anything you could think of and, of course, some cheaper tat. Sure, you haggled, but it often only brought a sky-high price down to just a very expensive price. I took a particular interest in a shop selling belly-dancer outfits complete with bells and tassels. I might have bought one as a Christmas present for someone if I could have afforded it, although I'm not sure there are too many opportunities to wear such garments on the British social scene nowadays. I ended up buying a Galataserai football scarf instead.
On my way out of the main archway exit/entrance two large black 4X4s with tinted windows and motorbike escorts pulled up. A fat moustachioed man and his fat wife got out of one, surrounded by burly bodyguards. Either this was 'Mr Big' come to collect his debts, or some Oligarch type come to do some shopping. The place obviously caters for the very wealthy.

The main post office (left) is an impressive building as are so many main post offices in far flung parts of the world. They are important places and they choose to look important. I remember admiring superb examples in Mexico City and Saigon. Other than the imposing architecture, this place has many well designated desk areas with, and this is seldom the case in Britain, plenty of staff to man them. No crowds and interminable queues. I had a few post-cards to buy stamps for and post. I was dealt with courteously and efficiently. On the down side, two weeks later, the cards have not arrived. Well, you can't expect everything.

Back over the other side of the Golden Horn on the hill in the Galata district is this imposing tower, the Galata Tower. Built in 1348 it has served a variety of purposes during the course of it's history and been damaged and repaired several times. Originally an observation post guarding the approaches to Constantinople, then in Ottoman days a fire station from which (when much of the city was built of wood) fires could be spotted and the fire engine accurately dispatched. It has also housed prisoners. It is now a tourist venue with a restaurant affording spectacular 360˚ views over the city (but no alcohol licence which rules it out of my list of eateries) plus an open air observation deck around the top. They charge 25 Lira (£7 equivalent) for entry which is a bit steep if you ask me.

Left: An example of a cat-loving local. So many damned cats! I've yet to discover why.

One thing I have yet to do is visit a Turkish Bath. Somewhat dubious about the prospect I was encouraged by my host to try it. I did, and will report the gory details in the next issue.

No comments:

Post a Comment