I’ve never been more aware of the fact that I am partial to a glass of wine or two than when I was in Istanbul. Unlike Budapest or Dublin or other places I’ve lived, it’s not a given that every restaurant will serve alcohol. And having to ask before I sat down, while not quite making me feel awkward, certainly drove home the fact that for me, dining and wining are almost intricately interlinked. That’s not to say that I have wine with every meal or drink every time I’m out – I don’t. But I am quite partial to a glass of vino.
Walking underneath Galata Bridge was high on my list of things to do while I was in the city – it was a short list as I’d done very little to prepare myself other than to email a friend who had lived there and ask for advice on what not to miss. The view at night from the bridge is stunning. With construction on this edition ending in 1994 (the first version of this bridge having opened in 1845), it’s close to 500 metres in length, spans the Golden Horn, and has featured in tales of the city since the nineteenth century. Underneath, rows of fish restaurants and cafés compete for business as if their lives depend on it (and perhaps they do). Touts lure tourists in with all sorts of banter, not too dissimilar to what you’d get on the markets in London’s East End, except with an accent and the inevitable first question: Where are you from? There’s not much to choose from menu-wise and the prices are pretty standard so you’re left (as I was) to count how many locals are eating where and going for that one.
Up above, lines of fishermen fish for mackerel (or at least I think that’s what was coming out of the water, but I wouldn’t swear to it). Be it fact or fancy, it definitely gives the illusion that everything served in the restaurants below hasn’t been too long out of the water.
Reviewers on Trip Advisor seem to have missed the point of it all. They warn to stay away, using loaded terms like tourist trap, cons, rip-offs, etc. Of course it’s a tourist trap – and yes, you can eat for less elsewhere in the city, but if you’re eating elsewhere, you’re not eating under Galata Bridge. The mind boggles. As for the bantering … that’s all part and parcel of the experience. Just indulge them and enjoy. I challenge you to find better entertainment for the same price anywhere else in the city.
From the bridge there are great views of the Yeni Cami (New Mosque) which was finished in the 1600s. This gives some indication of Istanbul timescales. Way back in 1591, the residents (mainly Jewish) were relocated to make way for the mosque. (Resettling is not a recent thing, then.) I was reminded of an Irish priest friend of mine who lives in Brussels. He was moaning one day about the notion that because he’s a priest, everyone feels he’s fascinated by churches and so visits to new cities end up as an ABC tour – another bloody church. I’d been in the Blue Mosque already and was suitably impressed so when I went inside the Yeni Cami, I was expecting something different. But to the naked untrained eye, it’s pretty much the same, albeit it on a slightly smaller scale.
The tiled ceilings are impressive as are the carpets. The vast expanse of pew-less space takes a little getting used to for a Catholic girl used to seeing the congregation in straight rows alternately sitting, kneeling, and standing.
Rightly or wrongly, the urge to see any more mosques left me. Churches vary according to religion and style – some are more ornate than others, some are simple to the point of paucity. But each has its own character. Am open to correction; if there are mosques that differ, please tell me.
Islam is a religion I’d like to know more about. Its rituals are fascinating. I was particularly taken with the ablutions, where hands up to the wrists are washed three times; the mouth is rinsed three times; the nostrils are cleansed three times; the whole face is washed three times with both hands, from forehead to chin and ear to ear; both arms up to the elbows are washed three times; the whole head is wiped once with a wet hand; the inner ears are wiped with forefingers, the outer sides with thumbs; and finally both feet are washed three times up to the ankles, beginning with the right foot. And this is only a partial ablution. As I said, fascinating.