There are few other greater joys in Istanbul than riding the tram around town. I do this usually at least once a week, usually on a lazy saturday or sunday afternoon. For most people, the tram is just a means of getting around the city, but for some reason, I’m crazy about it. I think it’s because it’s so new and has big, shiny windows, and it goes through some of the oldest, prettiest parts of the city. I usually end up getting out and walking around, but following the tramline as it makes its way through the city.
I start my journey to the tram at Taksim square. After wading through the annoying crowds of slow-walking tourists on Istiklal street, I make it to the galata area. It’s a nice walk downhill through this artsy neighborhood, and I can look at all of the instruments and paintings for sale. I stop to buy a few sticks of pineapple– for some reason, pineapple vendors are popular in this area. I haven’t seen them anywhere else.
Then, at the bottom of the hill, I get to the tram. I can choose to stop at any number of exciting destinations. There’s Eminönü, one of the best places to take in the sea. There’s a bridge here crowded with fishermen trying to earn their bread and butter. Near there, vendors sell fish sandwiches, and the smell of the fresh fish and vegetables grilling makes me buy one every time. For those of us who have more disposable income, the underside of the bridge is home to a lot of nice, sit down fish restaurants. They even provide their customers with blankets to protect them from the draft of the sea.
The next stop may be my favorite– Sirkeci. This one wouldn’t be the first place on a tourist’s list, but I love it because of the dessert shops. There are a lot of baklava places, where you can actually see them making the baklava, and a lot of other pastry places right in a small area. But my favorite place to stop is Koska. They sell almond halva, a candy made of tahini and sugar. It is so delicious because it tastes like a cross between cookie dough and fudge. I get a whole block every time I go to Sirkeci, and I usually eat it until I start to feel nauseous.
After that, there’s Gülhane, home to a large park with lots of trees, benches, flowers, and even some sea views. Trees are sparse in Istanbul, so it’s nice to come here and be reminded that there are green things in the world. Strolling through the park leads to Sultanahmet, the touristy historical center with all the name brand landmarks like Hagia Sophia, and Topkapi palace. I try to avoid that area, because there are so many bad guys lurking here trying to scam tourists. I can’t stand to be treated that way. But, there is something to say for the architecture here– it’s all very well manicured– very cute restaurants and shops. It’s nice to sit and have a tea after walking a long way, and to watch all the people walking by.
A bit further down, you can get to the Grand Bazaar. It sells all sorts of rugs, jewelry, spices, perfumes, and other goods. Tourists eat this place right up. It really makes you feel like you’re in the middle east, or at least the Aladdin version of it. They’ve got the nice arabesque music going (could have been taken right off the Aladdin soundtrack), and people calling out things like “right this way!” and “miss, would you like a nice necklace?” I’m still wondering when someone’s going to offer me a magic carpet, though.
By the time I’ve done all this, I’m exhausted and grateful to sit back down on the tram, and look out the window at all of the cool things I saw today. I’m refreshed to be by the sea, and I can make it another week or so before I am dying to come back!