The final day of a 3 day exploration of Istanbul
The Case of the Missing Jeton
Having spent the first two days of our short stay in Istanbul in and around Fatih and Sultanahmet, it was time to cross the Golden Horn at Eminönü and leave the old city to explore another area (the district of Beyoğlu), but first Colin and I had unfinished business at Galata Bridge, a place we had attempted to visit on the evening of day one but had aborted due to heavy rain. The fantastic tram service of Istanbul makes it easy to get around, as long as you have means of entry onto the tram platforms. The two most convenient payment methods are the Istanbulkart (think London’s Oyster Card) and jetons; these are small round plastic buttons that you purchase at kiosks. We kept it simple and ad-hoc by using jetons. To access a platform you simply slip your jeton into a slot at the barrier and move through the turnstyle.
I eased onto the platform at Beyazıt-Kapalıçarşı and waited for Colin. I turned around to see him on the other side of the barrier seeking out his sole remaining jeton. He was like the man approaching a bar in a pub who suddenly realises he’s left his wallet at home. He fell short of a self-inflicted strip search, but thoroughly interrogated every polite orifice and pocket in his trousers, shirt, jacket and bag as trams came and went. Finally, it turned up. I’m not sure if he was amused by the whole thing, but I certainly was. I think it will be the Istanbulkart next time.
Take it to the Bridge
Galata Bridge is a stone’s throw from the Eminönü tram stop, so minutes after alighting we were taking shelter on the lower walkway of the bridge because, yes, you guessed, it was raining again. The sky was gunmetal grey. Mist hung over the Golden Horn. The odd waiter beckoned us to enter restaurants lining the lower pedestrian deck of the bridge. It was too early for lunch. Interrupting our view along the water were hundreds of fishing lines dangling down from the upper deck. We walked the entire span of the bridge to Karaköy, by which time it had at least stopped raining, and so took the steps to the top deck to see the business end of the dangling fishing lines. There were already a lot of fishermen on the bridge, and more were arriving by the minute. It was quite a sight to see this long array of rods and lines covering both upstream and downstream sides of the bridge, and it was apparent that this was just as much a social event or pastime as and attempt at catching a few fish to sell on. They were a good natured bunch too, as fisherman so often are, and were accustomed to being photographed.
We had a lot of ground to cover, so after a while hanging out on the bridge, we eschewed the Tünel (a funicular railway that connects Karaköy with Beyoğlu and saves the traveller a steep street climb) in favour of an exploration of the narrow and stepped streets rising up from Karaköy. This quiet area, which must once have been a pleasant residential area, was well coated in graffiti of contrasting quality, and seemed to have become a dead zone; somewhere you now pass through on your way to somewhere else. The rather lovely buildings were due renovation or redevelopment, and the whole place had that ‘waiting for something to happen’ atmosphere. Perfect. For me, this was a more interesting area to explore. I began to sense we might just be in for a great day of photographic exploration.
I found a doorway that interested me; dilapidated and graffiti riddled, and I began to frame it through the viewfinder leisurely. Then suddenly I heard footsteps on the other side. The door opened and out strolled a resident nonchalantly and made his way down the hill. Silence returned. I walked further up the hill and encountered a paint spattered cold drinks vending machine. Then I noticed a full length mirror chained to the wall. Bizarre. Was I walking through some kind of open air venue? Through the mirror I noticed the reflection of a barber shop opposite. It was open but had no clientele. Sat in a chair in the shop was the cliche of a Turkish man, all bushy moustache, on the phone. “Click”. The lyric to an Oasis song came to my mind there and then, “All your dreams are made, when you’re chained to the mirror and the razor blade”.
As we made our way up the hill, life began to return. I heard the sounds of kitchens and conversations. As the street snaked left, some kitchen workers were taking a break outside. I looked up and there looming above was the Galata Tower.
All Along the Watchtower
We’d never intended to go up the tower, but we found ourselves in the queue for ticketing and lift access. We reckoned with a break in the weather we might get a stupendous view of Istanbul. The tower was originally called Christea Turris, the Tower of Christ, and was built in 1348 by the Genoese colony in Constantinople. It stands just short of 70 metres tall and has 9 levels. The uppermost level for normal public access contains a cafe around which skirts a pathway hugging the outside wall providing the visitor with a 360 degree vista. Arrows clearly mark which way around the narrow and restricted path visitors should walk, but of course, there were those among us who were common sense averse, and who on this occasion preferred to battle against the oncoming surge of humanity trying to race back indoors as a sudden and heavy storm hit. Fortunately I was near the door as the rain came, and nipped back into the dry cafe. There was much excited giggling and shaking of umbrellas as people stumbled back into the cafe, dripping pools of water onto the floor. It was about then I took one of my favourite photos of the whole trip (Galata Tower), a street image 70 meters high. The rain looked set for a while. It was time to sit down and refuel.
Less Travel, More Street
After some impossibly sweet baklava and hot chocolate we took the alternative and almost totally deserted labyrinthine staircase down the tower and continued our journey uphill. We walked up Galip Dede Caddesi, a winding street of small gift shops, boutiques and cafe bars with an alternative feel before suddenly finding ourselves in the flow that is Istiklal Caddesi, Turkey’s Oxford Street. This is what I had been anticipating; an upturn in street energy. Here was a place to indulge in classic street photography. Less travel, more street. The X-Pro1 was put away. Out came the X100 to stay cradled in the palms of my hands for the remaining duration of the walk. I felt excited. I set the camera to shutter priority (1/250th second), auto ISO and manual focus. I felt a surge of adrenalin as we immersed ourselves into the flow, moving slowly along the gradually ascending thoroughfare. The challenge of plucking an image from the busy street; anticipating, seeing, composing and acquiring is so absorbing. Some you win, most you lose, all you enjoy.
Half way along we stopped for a beer and a breather. Colin was enjoying the day just as much. We fully realised that 3 days in Istanbul is barely scratching the surface. What a fascinating city. So much more to see and experience. 3 weeks would have been better. 3 months more so. Back onto the street and further up we walked, passed a strategically parked riot van complete with water cannon, a Catholic cathedral, down and out street drinkers, musicians, beautiful women and trams. Time passed as only time can when you are in ‘the flow’.
We had reached the top of Istiklal Caddesi and found ourselves in the vast Taksim Square, a huge disappointment of a place. I felt somewhat deflated. Like a mighty torrent of a river that comes to an end at a vast delta where it’s hard to tell where the river ends and the ocean starts, Taksim Square takes the flow of humanity from Istiklal Caddesi and absorbs it comfortably. It doesn’t have that sense of place in the way that Trafalgar Square has, or Place de la Concorde. However, there is resonance here. Taksim Square has been the gathering place of protest over the years, and continues to be so. Many have died here. Protests against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made international headlines in 2013.
There is enough going though to occupy a street photographer due to the volume of people passing through, and so we spent some time wandering around the large space seeing what could be done. Eventually, it was time to head back all the way back down to Eminönü, and a date with a freshly cooked fish sandwich from one of the fish sandwich boats moored there. It’s a simple snack of a baguette style bread sliced lengthways into which is placed fish, green salad and onion, all dressed with lemon juice. Simple, delicious and very reasonably priced. Colin and I scoffed heartily as the sun set over Fatih Mosque, high on a great day of photography in an exhilarating city.