Friday, 4 April 2008

A trip to Scutari

Most people with a few days to spend in Istanbul probably spend most of it in Sultanahmet, the central area. They visit Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, maybe Suleimaniye, and they take a cruise on the Bosphorus. They may go to Galata or Taksim, the modern side of the city. But I wonder how many go to Uskudar.

Uskudar is the old 'Scutari' - known to anyone who's ever had to study the Crimean War or learned about Florence Nightingale. Nowadays it's a bustling area with a fine fish market, and a real antidote to touristy Sultanahmet. Here you can wander along the street, buy yourself a fish sandwich (balik ekmek) for three lira (a bit more than a quid), and no one will try to sell you a carpet.

There's a fine mosque by Sinan, which I have to admit was my original reason for coming here. There's another lovely mosque by the side of the water, and a fine later baroque one with a lovely queen mother's tomb like a birdcage, open to the weather; and an old hamam by Sinan, now a rather aimless and down at heel shopping mall.

But it was the unassuming bustle of the place that really won me over. The fish market, one of the stalls bedecked with a hundred  economy lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling like a bead curtain gone mad; the narrow, thronged streets, full of spice shops and baklava sellers; the way every ferry from Eminonu spewed out a crowd on to the quay. This was real Turkey, not some show put on for tourists - and it was a lively place.

We didn't get as far as the greatest of the mosques, on the hill over Uskudar. Which is a pity - because apparently it's very good, and there's a great view across to the Golden Horn.

But instead, we took the ferry back, and drank black tea, in the same tulip shaped glasses on the same red-bordered saucers you will get everywhere in Istanbul; I wonder if there's a law that tea vendors must all use exactly the same crockery? A surprisingly comfortable way to travel, on the choppy currents between Europe and Asia.

A trip from Europe to Asia, in twenty minutes, for 1 lira 30. You can't do much better than that for an afternoon's travel.

1 comment:

  1. Ahh!!! Blue Mosque , HAgia Sophia , people and apple tea...

    It was like a miracle...

    I will return..