In the second article dedicated to my trip to Istanbul I already wrote about all the tourist attractions. So what is the third article for? First, not even a hundred articles would be enough to describe how beautiful Istanbul is and to list all the things to see. Second, no, in the previous article I didn’t mention everything, I mentioned almost everything. The best is left for the final, right? What I want to talk about now is a part that is practically the opposite of everything that a tourist who was in Istanbul will tell you. Forget Hagia Sofia, it’s time to take that boat and go to Asia. Few tourists come there, at least at the time when I was there for the first time, and it’s a time when many tourists come. It’s the Asian part. I don’t know why before I came to Istanbul I thought that the European side looked more the way the Asian side actually looks. Another one of my mistakes based on prejudice. Because in my small Croatian head I thought that Asia means East, and we already know what the East is like. Yes, I am the umpteenth proof that someone with a university education (I even have a Master) can be more racist than someone who didn’t finish the elementary school.
The first one to take me to the Asian side was my dear host Engin. An amazing person. We went there by boat (although you can also go by metrobus) because I suppose it’s more attractive, I didn’t ask anything, I let my brain rest and let my host think for me cause I’m on vacation !!!!!!! The boat left us in the Kadiköy neighborhood, and my host began to explain to me that he likes that part of the city a lot because it’s more open minded, there are young people, students from all over Turkey who come to Istanbul and live there. In other words, it was not that “traditional” side that I expected to see in Istanbul. Exactly the opposite, it’s the modern and youthful face, and passing through it looks like any European capital, and it’s not the architecture (well, a little bit yes, but not so much) that made me think that, but the environment. When you get off that boat in Kadiköy and get a little bit away from the port you will find many hipster bars and cafés and a lot of young Turks who share a coffee, lunch or dessert there, relaxed. It’s also interesting to see that, even though it’s not a very touristy area, many people speak more or less fluent English (no need to be fussy, eh), while in the more touristy areas those who should speak a bit of other languages speak three words. I would also say that it’s the part of Istanbul where I felt safer (unlike the lively areas in other large European cities), although the whole city (I already talked about that in other articles) is quite safe. I walked through that part alone around 23:00 to take that famous metrobus that would take me to the European side and to my host’s house. But, it’s another story, I’ll tell it a bit later. For now just me and my host. He took me to see the statue of a bull, I don’t really know what he’s doing there. It remains to be found out. Of course, I realized that people were touching the horns of the bull, because apparently that brings good luck. The poor bull is bothered all the time.
The avenue that begins with that statue of the bull is, I would say at least, one of the busiest in that part of the city. There are many shops, several fancy and half fancy places, but not at all fulfilling the stereotype of “typical and traditional” Turkish. Maybe that is what I liked the most there. It has the atmosphere and spirit of a modern, even subversive neighborhood.
Fun and adapted to its inhabitants, young people who like to party, but also go to places that could be considered quite “fancy” and hipster, this neighborhood also has the market (with the exception that they leave you alone while you walk – as there are few tourists the vendors are not as crazy as in the tourist parts). In the end, that day we also went for a walk next to the Bosporus, while my host explained to me that during the summer the young people are sitting there on the grass, partying with that spectacular view they have. It seemed very nice to me, that they are there gathering together on summer days and nights, exchanging ideas, different worldviews, laughing, being free.
After spending almost half the day – I swear, the time flew by – we returned to the European part to have a drink with friends, a very nice Croatian – Turkish group. I told them that I had been to the Asian part, that it’s very beautiful and that I wanted to take them there. Well, not the Turks, those have already seen the Asian part, but my two Croatian friends (Kleme and Žac) with whom I traveled. And a few days later I went with Kleme (Žac went to visit the rest of the mosques, churches and other religious temples before joining us). We went by boat, I remember that it was the 01/01, the first day of the year. The tranquility that could be breathed in a city of 15 million inhabitants was incredible. We went for a walk around Asia (that actually sound so fancy) but this time around Üsküdar, a neighborhood near Kadiköy, but more traditional and less partying and hipster. I mean, there are still young people, but they all go to Kadiköy to party. Kleme wanted to see a tower there that she says is the highlight of all Turkish soap operas. That tower is actually a small island in the middle of the Bosporus with a tower, but you have to pay for the boat there so we left. It doesn’t matter. If you have to pay for it then we don’t want it. There is a walkway and strolling there it’s easy to see the tower. There is a legend related to that tower that says that a nobleman had locked his daughter there because they told him that a snake was going to bite his daughter and she was going to die. In the end, no one knows how the snake still got to her and killed her. As they would say, it was written, you cannot deceive your destiny. Anyway, since the blissful tower is very popular, many people do their photosessions there, so we did ours as well. Twice, once with my beautiful Kleme and once with these cute people. Žac, you missed the party.
The other nice thing about Üsküdar are the restaurants that offer good and cheap Turkish food, which is important because in the end the Turkish gastronomy is great if you don’t go to the tourist places, where sometimes they give you anything, it’s still cheap, but I prefer eat well and cheap, obviously. The neighborhood is quite nice and if you are not lazy you can walk to Kadiköy, there is not so much need to take public transport if there is time. Of course, in Üsküdar there are also some quite elegant cafes located next to the Bosporus. There is everything for all tastes. This in the photo is simply ayran (yogurt, they drink it with food), only a fancy way to serve it. And in the other photo I, who have no remedy with my lessons on “how to read the future.” This time the victim was Ana.
And now, the story that I didn’t tell before. Elif, a friend of Žac (that Žac, just women around him) invited us to eat at her apartment in Kadiköy and very near those lively areas. And after eating she prepared us a traditional coffee from her region, a coffe made of chicory, a plant which is used as a substitute for coffee. My friends thought they didn’t know the plant, but I reminded them that our grandmothers in Croatia made coffee from the same plant and that coffee was popularly called the divka. I guess they had that because coffee was very expensive at that time. But who would say that, many years after having seen my grandparents drinking that coffee, someone was going to prepare it for me in a hipster neighborhood of Istanbul. After dinner and coffee she took us to a bar called Karga, which sincerely reminded me of the bars in Zagreb where I used to go as a student (such as Valhala, Žirafa or Alcatraz), that is, a very lively atmosphere, people with orange hair or with a long beard but metal and punk style, “alternative”, as we would say in Croatia. And well, since we stayed there for a long time I decided to go home and the truth was that I was a bit scared the first 5 minutes walking like this alone at night in a city of 15 million inhabitants, but later I understood that it’s practically as safe as Zagreb. And from that moment walking alone through Istanbul more than scary, it seems nice to me, so I repeated it a couple of times because two months later I went again to Istanbul, that is, exactly a month ago I was there again, with my canım Ana. And it was that same Elif who invited us to have a drink in the cafeteria where she works for the moment. Another beauty of person, like practically all the Turks I met. We had about 1028944 drinks there, and they didn’t charge us anything just for the food.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Turkish hospitality. They feel the need to do something for you, to make you feel special. Sometimes I think what am I going to do if one day – and all of them are invited – come to visit me? Will I be at least 50% a good host like them? Maybe. They are people who make you think and rethink certain things. Something similar with what happened to me in South America, not so strong but that’s where it goes. I guess that’s why I liked everything so much, because I liked the people, their innocuous and unexpected way of being what they are even if they try to show only the best of them and their country. They are the best without having to show it. Special people, those Turks. If you go to Istanbul, go to Kadiköy and Üsküdar, even if you don’t have much time and although you already have everything scheduled and organized with the tourist sites. It’s better to spend an afternoon on the Asian side, than to spend three days in Sultan Ahmet and Taksim thinking about how exotic and chaotic that country so different from ours is.