Exploring the Backstreets of Istanbul

by jonnywhitlam

One of my favourite things about travelling is learning new things from other people. After chatting to a girl in my hostel in Istanbul I was whisked away on an alternative photo-walk she’d found in a magazine. The walk focused on the lesser-visited parts of the city, where the magazine told us that we’d find the locals a bit more accommodating than the pushy street-sellers found in the town centre. The suburb the magazine had told us to visit was Balat. We first set out for the Spice Bazaar to get our bearings.

The Spice Bazaar.

Traffic in the bazaar.

After much confusion trying to find the right bus we’d set off away from the bustle surrounding the Spice Bazaar and the Galata Bridge, heading West with the Bosphorus separating Europe and Asia behind us. After getting off the bus we’d found we were in the wrong place anyway. Wanting to get away from the busy road the bus had come down from we headed down the nearest street, which prompted me to say “well it’s got barbed wire and a WC sign, why wouldn’t we want to go down it?”.

Barbed wire, toilet sign. Let’s go.

The market stretched on for so long.

Our curiosity – not to mention dubious reasoning – was well rewarded. At the end of the street we found a great market that felt like it went on for miles. There was fresh food of every kind, and the sellers were genuinely happy to see us and interested to talk to us. It wasn’t the incessant “You want cocktails? You want drink? Come here, sit here I have a nice place just for you” that had lost its charm fairly quickly downtown. It was just friendly patter, they weren’t bothered about pushing stuff we didn’t want down our throats and it made the experience far more relaxed, whilst maintaining an air of being new and exciting.

We wandered down the market until we came across the ‘Culture House’. It seemed to have a nice café, but unfortunately we’d arrived about an hour before service started. The owner was happy to let us explore the fairly impressive art gallery upstairs, which lead out to a terrace.

Looking down from the terrace.

From the terrace this kid started waving up at us. After a couple of minutes my friend went down and all these other kids came round. They were so interested in our cameras and really excited to see pictures of themselves. Soon they took over and started taking pictures of us! It was all a bit mad but they really enjoyed themselves so it was a good laugh all in all. A couple of older kids then started asking us for money which soured it a bit, but we settled a deal on ice cream for the 5 of them, which really made their day – and only cost us about 50p, well worth it!

From subject…

…to photographer

We were getting pretty hungry by now, and being British I wasn’t taking to the heat so well, so we jumped into the nearest air conditioned café, which turned out to be heaving. The lovely owner cleared a table for us, and then told us “we don’t really have a menu”. She recommended us some food, I can’t really say I understood, but she pointed to what the girl at the next table was eating, and it looked great so we dived in.

Overall it was a day that really epitomises what I love about travel: I’d stepped well outside my comfort zone, out of the normal tourist experience, met someone new, and got completely lost in an enchanting place that was so different to the rest of the city I’d seen already.