We’ve played it pretty safe so far in this city. No street meat, death-defying cab rides or straying too far off the beaten path. Today, our last in Turkey, was about pushing the envelope — albeit to a certain extent.
Fueled by another delicious breakfast at the hotel, we walked across the Galata Bridge to Beyoglu (old Pera), or the “new” European neighborhood of Istanbul. Once there, we boarded the Tunel, an underground railway built by the French in 1875. It’s said to be the oldest underground railway in Europe — thankfully, with only a 90-second, 1 stop ride, it’s also one of the shortest.
Having safely arrived at our destination, we hopped on an antique tram that runs from the Tunel station up to Taksim Square. It was like being in San Francisco, only we were in Istanbul.
Walking down fashionable Istiklal Cadessi, with its swanky shops, was our next major risk. After buying a super-trendy European jumper at Puma and a new hat at Nike, we ran into Lacoste. Luckily, this pink-shirt wearing employee chased me away while taking a picture outside — preventing any potential purchases.
We finally reached Galata Tower, one of the oldest towers in the world, built in 1348. It stands 66.9 meters tall and has been rebuilt several times, due to earthquakes. We gulped and boarded the elevator. The tower’s lookout offered some great views of many of the sights we’ve visited in the last 48 hours, including the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and Aya Sofya.
We crossed back over the Galata Bridge and were struck by the smell of grilled fish. Following our noses, we found three boats making what looked like delicious sandwiches. They were $3. We crossed our fingers and took the plunge.
After turning down a haircut in Croatia (can you blame me?), it was time for a much-needed trim. We passed this sign for a barber, and since today was all about risks, turned into Cicek Kuafor. My “hairdresser” was a young kid, probably around 18 or 19, and spoke about three words of English. With hand gestures, and repeating “not too short,” he nodded and got to work.
About 30 minutes later, he was done. And, he did a damn good job! Frankie at Central Barber Shop in Rye better watch out. He’s got some serious competition in Istanbul!
Tonight, I’ve convinced my Dad to join me at Cemberlitas, a historic Turkish bath built in 1584. It’s the oldest in Istanbul and was designed by the architect, Sinan, who was also responsible for the Suleymaniye Camii that we visited on our first day. After my experience in Morocco, I’m feeling particularly confident in knowing how this will all work — but considering the risky day, who knows how it’ll turn out.
We leave for Mykonos, our first destination in the Greek Isles, tomorrow morning.
UPDATE: We’re officially clean.