Saturday Walks

Dikkat! Kopek var.

Holy Spring of St. Nicholas
In an attempt to discover different routes and get better acquainted with this temporary hometown of ours, Jeremy and I have decided hit the backstreets on foot, neighborhood by neighborhood. We started out in Ortakoy. It was a perfect excuse for a Saturday walk on a sunny day (a rarity these last few weeks). Istanbul is a perfect city for urban hiking, and once you get away from the main thoroughfares, you can work your way up small streets and stairways to some seriously stunning views.

The part of Ortakoy that is closest to the water seems to hold a secret of Istanbul's past. Embedded in its clustered bars, narghile cafes, and kumpir stands a mosque, synagogue, and church, all reside, within a block of each other. This triad is a mirror into Istanbul's history, where groups of various cultures and religious backgrounds co-habitated peacefully for centuries. Unfortunately, it is a testament to more recent violent times, that both the synagogue and the church are gated and one cannot visit them casually. I had tried to visit the synagogue on a previous occasion, but was told by the security guard at the front that I couldn't go in without an appointment. We didn't have any luck with the church either and decided to find out more about it.

Not giving up hope, we crossed the street to the corner of Dereboyu Caddesi, where a newly renovated structure,  once a hamam, happened to have its doors ajar. It wasn't yet open to the public, but with a little charm and politeness, the manager let us take a peak inside, and even gave us a brief tour of this hamam-turned-design-office-furniture store. It was beautiful inside with beehive brick domes and numerous nooks and it turns out that it was designed by the same architect, who designed Cafera─ča Medresesi- Mimar Sinan. The building, we learned, had been privately restored, with no funds from the city, though the new owners had to follow strict restoration codes.

A little further up Dereboyu Caddesi, is another church. This one is Armenian and is also gated. Jeremy and I stood at the front, trying to decide what to do. Should we ring the bell? It looked so intimidating. Finally, I called Jeremy a scaredy cat and he rang the bell. A startled voice answered- it doesn't seem like they get many unannounced visitors. "Ingilizce biliyor musunuz?" Jeremy asked. Turns out that no, they did not know English, so Jeremy somehow scraped enough Turkish together to ask them when they were open. A few seconds later, two friendly people came to the door and explained to us that we couldn't visit the church and that it was seldom open to the public, but would be this coming Saturday. We thanked them and made a mental note of this unusual event. We will have company this weekend, but perhaps we can take a small detour to visit the church.

Now that we'd attempted to visit the church, we needed to go up and make our way to Arnavutkoy. A block up from the church, we spotted a very steep stairway. We began our climb, noticing how much construction is going on in this neighborhood and even further on the skyline. It seems that everywhere you look, cranes are making their slow dinosaur-like movements across the sky, and that month by month new buildings gnaw away at more of the skyline. It is a constantly shifting landscape and I can imagine that it will be hardly recognizable in ten year's time.

We veered left towards the highway and surveyed the view. Across from us sat the Ortakoy Jewish Cemetery and a military building. Down below was the mosque on Dereboyu. We continued upwards and through a residential neighborhood, decorated with clotheslines and vegetable gardens. Some people keep chickens and one house even has goats. Along some streets, it felt as though we'd wandered far from the city to the country, until we turned around and saw the cars zooming past on the looming Asian bridge and the new condos a further down the road. Eventually, we linked back to Ulus Park and continued on towards Robert College.

Robert College is an American school for Turkish students and quite an imposing structure, surrounded on all sides by walls and barbed wire. One can only get a tiny peek at the inside and I could only imagine the gorgeous grounds hidden on the other side. It's a very prestigious school and students must test in. Jeremy will be working there next year and is excited at the opportunity.  Outside one of the campus' walls was what looked like a basement with a leak- a green door was slightly ajar and was halfway submerged in a pool of water. Although it didn't look like much, there was a plaque above the door, pointing to the contrary. It was the Holy Fountain of St. Nicholas. I'm not sure what powers the waters of this fount were supposed to hold, but from the looks of it, nothing too hygienic could be gained from it.

We continued our walk up the roads around the college. One can see large stretches of the Bosphorus from up there. Finally, we spotted a narrow stairway going down between houses and took it down. This community felt far removed from Istanbul- at least the Istanbul we usually see. Again, it was more residential and had a mix of country living mixed into the crowded houses. Someone on the opposing hill kept bees, and there were trees and clotheslines with freshly washed linens draped across small yards.

The last staircase we took dropped down to Arnavutkoy, which means "Albanian town." It is one of my favorite places in Istanbul and its wooden Ottoman style houses remind me of San Francisco's painted ladies. It's streets converge onto a small town square with the obligatory statue of Ataturk and lots of small fish restaurants, one of which- Adem Baba- has come to be one of our favorite eating spots in Istanbul. This time, however, we decided to try a new spot for a change and walked into a small luncheonette with a big Ataturk flag flying out front in honor of Children's Day. It was the kind of place with lots of ready dishes heating at the front and Jeremy and I went and pointed to what we wanted to eat. I had the musakka, which I thought was Greek, but turns out to be a Turkish dish as well (no big surprise there!). We ended our walk by strolling to the gelato parlor down the street from the luncheonette, grabbing a few cones to go and enjoying them above the restaurant in the adjacent mosque's patio overlooking the Bosphorus. You really couldn't beat the view and the gelato also held its own. Jeremy made a little feline friend, who couldn't get enough of the attention. After having had our fill, we made our way back home, eager to continue exploring on weekends to come.
Shoe stretcher in Arnavutkoy

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