More Istanbul: bridge, fish, people, bazaar

Istanbul could keep you busy for weeks or months but, alas, we only had a few days in this incredible city. Our first expedition after Hagia Sofia was a 15 minute tram ride from Sultanahmet at the foot of the Hippodrome to Eminönü on the Golden Horn. We took the T1 route and it passed through some very narrow and crowded streets. Unlike where I live, the people of Istanbul (and other places) seem to have a strong sense of self preservation and get themselves out of the way quite successfully. It all seems to work.

Our first stop was at Istanbul’s floating fish restaurants — Tarihi Eminönü Balık Ekmek — which had been an institution since the 1800s. They sold just one thing, fried fish sandwiches, and had many happy customers. You placed your order on shore and the food was passed over from the boat. Add sour pickles and a drink, find place to sit and enjoy. Sadly, the boats have been forced to close. No doubt you can still get corn and chestnuts.

The Eminönü fish restaurants were in the shadow of the Galata Bridge which spans the Golden Horn, a long, narrow inlet on the European side of the city. The bridge was lined with hundreds of fishermen casting lines from long surf rods into the waters of the Bosporus. It’s quite a scene complete with a whole industry of associated vendors. This is an extraordinarily busy waterway and when a ship approaches, hundreds of lines are reeled in and quickly lowered in its wake.

Our next destination was the the fabled Grand Bazaar and to get there we first walked under Ragip Gumuspala Road using a large and remarkably busy pedestrian tunnel lined with small shops. We inserted ourselves into the crowd and slowly shuffled along until we emerged up the stairs on the other side.

The square on the other side of the tunnel is home to the New Mosque, tourists, flag vendors and the entrance to the Egyptian Bazaar, aka Spice Bazaar, a large and venerable institution, dating from a time when Istanbul was at the end of the Silk Road. It sells spices, nuts, sweets and other foodstuffs but we had no time…

It was about a 15 minute walk to the Örücüler Kapısı entrance (Gate 14) of the Grand Bazaar, an enormous covered complex of 60 streets and 3600 shops dating from 1460. You could spend several days exploring the bazaar but we had only three hours. Not your average mall. Be prepared to bargain hard.

Shopping continued on the streets outside. Other districts and malls have plenty of department stores, luxury brands and conventional shops. Istanbul is a big, safe, busy city.

Dinner was at the Eleos fish restaurant, across the Golden Horn in the Beyoğlu district. The restaurant overlooks the Bosporus from a very modern glass box grafted onto the upper floors of an old building.

Next day we were taking a ferry across the Bosporus to Asia.

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