Tuesday, 16 June 2009

My Favourite Bus Service in Istanbul – Route 25E - The European Shore of the Bosphorus

My ‘favourite bus service’ – this is a real contradiction as, of all the ways of getting around Istanbul, the bus would usually be my choice of last resort; the transport to use when there is simply no alternative. Generally speaking, Istanbul buses are incredibly overcrowded, hot, and uncomfortable. Passengers are jammed on like sardines in a can, and, just when you think you are going to suffocate from all the smelly bodies crushed around you, the bus stops and yet more people are shoe-horned on! So, when I talk about my ‘favourite bus service’, it is tempered with reservations.

Having said this, route 25E is a great ride, especially if you time it when it’s not too busy. Get on at the start, find a seat by an open window on the right-hand side of the bus (as you face forward), and enjoy the journey.

The 25E starts from Kabataş and follows the European shore of the Bosphorus right up to Sarıyer. It gives you a whole different perspective than the one you get from the water. It is a frequent service (every 15 minutes), so hop on and off and explore some of the pretty villages along this shore. Alternatively, stay on until the end, look around the attractive fishing town of Sarıyer, and then walk back. Apart from the most dedicated hikers, it is not really feasible to make the entire journey back on foot to Kabataş in one day, especially if you want to stop and enjoy the sights along the way. It is a distance of about 13 miles, so, if you’re in town for a while, do it over a couple of days.

So, let’s begin at Sarıyer and work our way back. As I said, Sarıyer is a fishing town with a long history. Even today, many of the local inhabitants make their living from fishing, either as crew on one of the many boats in the harbour, or by working in one of the fish restaurants for which the town is famous.

From Sarıyer, walk south along the pathway which borders the Bosphorus, and the next village you will come to is Büyükdere, where, if time permits, you should visit the Sadberk (unfortunate name in English!) Hanım Museum (open every day except Wednesday, 10.30am – 6pm). This museum is housed in two typical wooden yalıs, or summer houses, which belonged to the wealthy Koç family. The museum is named after Sadberk Hanım, the wife of the industrialist Vehbi Koç, and is home to an eclectic collection of items that she accumulated over the years. Some of these are displayed in a series of tableaux giving a fascinating insight into 19th century Ottoman society.

Continuing south from Büyükdere, you will pass several impressive buildings which were the summer residences of 19th century European ambassadors to Turkey. Some of these are still owned by foreign governments, as indicated by the array of non-Turkish flags fluttering in the breeze.

The next place you will come to is Tarabya, a pretty little fishing village set around an attractive cove, marred only by a huge concrete carbuncle at its entrance. For the whole time we have lived in Istanbul this has been a massive empty shell – a real blot on the landscape, but, at the time of writing, work has begun to finish it and turn it in to some sort of shopping and office complex. Hopefully, it will be less of an eyesore when it is completed.

Tarabya was originally settled by wealthy Greeks in the 18th century who called the place Therapeia because of its healthy climate. It is still an exclusive resort with up-market restaurants and expensive boats moored in the harbour.

South of Tarabya Bay, you continue your pleasant walk by the shores of the Bosphorus, stopping to marvel at the fishermen who, here, do not restrict themselves to rod and line, but instead use lead weights and large, four-pronged hooks attached to the end of lengths of thick twine which they throw into the fast-running waters to catch bass. They catch a glimpse of a fish and throw the line just ahead of it; the fish is attracted to the shiny lead weight as it looks for all the world like a minnow, which would make up its normal daily diet. The bass go to swallow the weight and are caught with the hook and hauled in. Other fishermen don wetsuits, masks and snorkels and lie very still in the fast-moving shallows. When they see a bass, they use a harpoon gun to catch their prey. Both methods appear to be very successful, if a little gory!

As you carry on, be careful not to miss the Huber Köşkü, a very ornate 19th century yalı, complete with towers, now owned by the government and used to entertain foreign dignitaries.

Throughout your walk, notice at different points along the route how the road has been constructed in front of houses and yalıs which once enjoyed a position fronting on to the Bosphorus, complete with jetty and mooring for a boat. These houses are now left with a small stretch of stagnant water and a busy road as their view, along with a consequential drop in the value of their property. As a result, many of these once-splendid summer houses have been left to wrack and ruin. One of the saddest sights is a hotel struggling to keep going, with its pool and restaurant, which would have overlooked the Bosphorus, now affording a vista of lorries, buses, and cars, accompanied by the associated noise and pollution.

Continuing southwards, you will come to Yeniköy, which is best viewed from the water as, here, thankfully, the road has been built behind the handsome 19th century villas which define the waterfront of the village.

Next, you will arrive at İstinye Bay, a huge natural cove and the largest inlet on the Bosphorus, home to a still thriving fishing fleet as well as countless pleasure craft. Having walked around the bay, you will come to Emirgan Park, well worth a stop, especially in the spring when it is full of stunningly beautiful tulips, as written about here:

If you are doing this walk over two days, now would be a good time to hop on a bus back to Kabataş and plan to resume at the same place another day.

From Emirgan, it is a pleasant walk along the banks of the Bosphorus to the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge. Just past the bridge is the entrance to the Fortress of Europe, which is a ‘must see’ (see separate posting). Having spent an hour or two here, continue on to the fashionable (and expensive!) village of Bebek, famous for its upmarket restaurants and waterfront cafés. Here, you will find a branch of Makro, one of the very few places to purchase bacon and ham in Istanbul, but you will need a second mortgage to do so!

Also in Bebek is the Egyptian consulate, a gorgeous Art Nouveau palace built by Abbas Hilmi II, the last khedive of Egypt. I have seen photographs of this building, but, unfortunately, for the time we have lived in Istanbul it has been shrouded in scaffolding and safety netting as it undergoes a major renovation, so I have been unable to see it for real!

The next place you will come to is Arnavutköy, a village boasting a number of ornate Ottoman-era wooden houses.

From Arnavutköy, continue southwards to the Bosphorus Bridge, the first bridge to be built across the straits which divide the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. Also known as Atatürk Bridge, it was finished, symbolically, on 29th October 1973, the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of the Turkish Republic.

Just beyond the bridge is the suburb of Ortaköy, which, as well as being home to the very attractive waterfront Mecidiye Mosque, is a trendy place, both during the day and at night. There are lots of craft shops, bars and cafés where locals like to gather to see and be seen. Ortaköy is also famous for its ‘kumpir’, jacket potatoes crammed full of assorted fillings – Russian salad, cheese, beetroot, red cabbage, coleslaw, diced turkey ‘ham’, olives, etc., etc.. They are widely available all over the city, but they are the speciality here in Ortaköy, and there are numerous sellers to choose from. For me, I would prefer the jacket potato without all of the messy stuff served with it, but whenever I have tried to order anything other than ‘full kumpir’ I tend to be looked at as if I’ve got two heads!! The same thing happens if I do manage to get a kumpir just with butter and cheese and then proceed to eat the whole thing including the skin (the best bit if you ask me!) – Turkish people never eat the skin!

From Ortaköy, you might be as well to catch a bus back to Kabataş as all of the attractions along the route now are best viewed from the water. If you do walk, you will be walking on a pavement next to a busy road with high walls to your left. You will catch the occasional glimpse of opulence as you pass the gateways to the Çırağnan Sarayı, formerly an imperial residence, and the Bosphorus Palace, both now 5-star waterfront hotels. You will also skirt the outer walls of Dolmabahçe Palace where you can pause to photograph the motionless soldiers whose duty is to guard the side entrance.

Returning to Kabataş, you can be satisfied that you have indeed explored the European shore of the Bosphorus.


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