I lived in Istanbul for four years until 2001. While I used to go back frequently, to visit friends and my fabulous hairdresser, I haven’t been back since I left Turkey over 7 years ago. So meeting my boys off the plane was my first chance to see the city again.
It was never a city I fell in love with, like so many people do. I always found it, like most cities, to be dirty, overcrowded, and far better for tourists than as a place to live. That said I did love my little district – Acibadem on the anatolian side of the city.
I did enough of the touristing with family and friends who visited over the years to not feel the need to go to all those places again this time. My boys have already been, two years ago when I had to stay behind for work again. So this time I wanted to take the opportunity to visit some of my old haunts and favourite places. The trouble with that though, is it is a reminder of why memory lane is a path I rarely walk down.
We stayed at the parliament (TBMM) guest house. A step up from the TEDAS place we stayed in last year in Ankara (no carpet in the lift here, this one has glass). Yet it’s still a tired place, which attempts to be modern but never quite gets there. Of course the boys, having the low standards I set them, think it’s the height of luxury and get very excited about it. The guest house is next to the building in the photo above. A symbol of the lesson of be careful what you wish for. For years I used to see this building sitting on top of the hill as you look up Barbaros Bulvari from Besiktas. In the bright Turkish sunlight, even if winter it appeared to gleam bright white. I always had the impression it was an old palace and part of Yildiz university. Just a tad wrong. Turns out it’s a concrete monstrosity, parading as fake castle thing that was once part of social facilities for the military. The photo is crap because the military are really antsy about you taking photos of their stuff. I think the biggest disappointment was that it wasn’t even white but pale pink and blue and most of that is peeling off.
Our first day in Istanbul together again, I decided that we could leave the car and walk down to Besiktas to get the vapur (Bosphorus ferries) across to Kadikoy. Istanbul, like most Turkish cities, is not really set up for pedestrians and usually in mid August you would melt walking anywhere. This year, though, it’s relatively cool and I knew that walking by the sea would have a breeze. It became an exercise in “I don’t know where anything is anymore” and ” Blimey, so much has changed”. I don’t mean big things. In a fast paced city like Istanbul and a President that adores mahoosive construction projects, none of that surprised me. Instead it was the little things:
The iskele had changed (where the boats leave from). We walked to where I expected to depart only to find the ticket offices had become a bookshop and the ferries had a different destination. To get to Kadikoy we now had to walk further down to the once dilapidated iskele to see it transformed. After a short battle to buy a jeton (token) – involving typically unhelpful staff, a machine that only took some notes but not all, and a confused M, we eventually got through the turnstiles. More surprises, gone are the rickety wooden boards shoved on to embark. Now they have a trendy metal system on the boat itself that folds out once the boat docks. Surprise number two, air con. Apparently this isn’t on all the boats was on the one we got there and back had it. The tea man appears to have gone but buskers are more common now.
We sat outside because, well you have to. While the kids ran around we enjoyed the view and the bright blue sea remembering how whenever I crossed it always seemed messy and black. It really is a great way to see the city even for the short ride to Kadikoy. And yet another change, not the iskele I remember again. Turns out it’s all change in Kadikoy with the old Besiktas iskele becoming partly shops and vapurs to other destinations and the old Eminonu iskele no longer there.
Once in Kadikoy it all started to feel familiar. We had plans to meet a friend up at Moda cay bahcesi and decided to get the heritage tram up there. It would be simple to think that we could find out where it went from, what time, and how to get tickets. After eventually discovering a bit of back and forth and purchasing a very useful Istanbul kart we made it on the tram. Wish the boys were impressed but Lai Lai was getting tired with the heat and the walking so the moaning started. Even so, getting off the tram it wasn’t long before we found our barings. Mood hasn’t changed much and finding the cay bahcesi was a relief as it had hardly changed. Even down to the old Kemalist matriarchs that are a feature of Moda.
After gabbing to my friend for ages it was time to wander back to Kadikoy. I was really surprised that it wasn’t meltingly hot for mid August and walking was comfortable. M took me and the boys to Ciya, but on finding it we also discovered that the street was crammed with even more restaurants than I remember. Ciya, well the one of the three on that street of the same name, is another thing that felt familiar as it still serves traditional anatolian home style dishes and marks it out from all the other places that burp out kebabs.
It wasn’t till the next day, when I dragged the boys back to Kadikoy that I saw how much had actually changed. We went in the car this time and had to battle all the road changes to find we had no idea how to get there anymore. After finding somewhere to park, in Moda again, we wandered bak to central Kadikoy past my friend’s old street. It had the nick name of bar street because of all the bars, obviously, but this time there seemed to be a tonne more along with loads of graffiti. Slightly saddened we plodded on to find another of my favourite eateries, having checked on the internet that it was still there. Still there yes, but totally transformed. Gone were women making gozleme in the window, now only one shoved at the back. Gone were all the Anatolian cushions and low tables. Replaced with normal tables and raki glasses. Similar menu but an addition, a extensive fish menu. Seems it is now a meyhane. At a certain time the woman making gozleme disappeared and a large screen pulled down to play whatever football match was on.
Ah well things can’t stay the same. But it all came crashing down when we had to return in the morning as M discovered he left his credit card behind. This time we decided to drive down my old street to avoid getting lost again. I knew it was transforming when i left in 2001 with many more restaurants opening and buildings being renovated. Nut two years ago M had taken the boys and photographed them outside my old apartment building and took them to my favourite icecream shop. In those two years both have gone. My old apartment is now shrouded as it prepares for demolition. It survived 1998 unscathed but not the modernisation of the road. Further down the old dilapidated imam hatip school is no more–except it is, it’s now huge and dominating the street in it’s glory while the girl’s school opposite stays the same.
My Istanbul has all but gone. There are glimpses but it’s no longer a city I can think of as one I was once part of. It is a completely different beast now. Memory lane is definitely a journey to taken with caution and no expectations.