A Street Cafe in Kuzguncuk with a real wood oven, Istanbul
This morning we got up early again, to go to the Bodrum airport and to fly back to Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen on the Anatolian peninsula. Counting the Pegasus Airbus 320, we changed a total of six vehicles with our two pieces of heavy luggage. As I was helping the taxi driver in Kadiköy taking out the luggage from the trunk, I felt the familiar sharp pain in my lower back. The same pain I had a week before our trip to Turkey and had gone to physical therapy for it. It had returned although not too heavy initially, but was going to increase gradually the next two days.
What can we do for the rest of the day in Istanbul.? We decided to stick close where we were on the Asian side and visit this really cute area called Kuzguncuk, one of the few places on the shores of Bosphorus, still looking like old Istanbul from the nineteen sixties. Kuzguncuk is a twenty minute walk from Üsküdar where we arrived using a shared taxi. We first visited the newly renovated Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, one of master Architect Sinan’s landmarks. Next to the mosque there was this huge old building, which I could tell was a part of the Külliye( mosque complex), but I did not know what it was. The old building was renovated inside with glass ceilings and lots of people, mostly women, were sitting around a fountain surrounded by magnolia trees in the middle of the foyer. Sitare went to the information desk and found out that this was a charity hospital built in the late 16th century, financed by Mihrimah Sultan, Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent's beloved daughter. A good deed can go a long way.
We walked on the walkway by the sea shore passing several old yalı houses, the skeleton of the old State Monopoly building with four walls, tens of window holes, but no roof or flats in the building, strip parks where people were sitting on the grass and enjoying the afternoon and the huge water fountain of Hüseyin Avni Paşa. The Kuzguncuk Wood with the tall chestnut trees on our right was extending almost for a mile, all the way from Üsküdar to Kuzguncuk.
Mihrimah Mosque, Uskudar
Mihrimah Sultan Hospital
Old Monopoly Building,Pasalimani
Kuzguncuk is this old neighborhood with a main street called Icadiye Caddesi going all the way up on a very steep angle to the hills overseeing Bosphorus. The cobblestone streets have oak trees and old wooden houses with colorful fronts on both sides. Some of the side streets end up as dead ends and continue as stairs, painted with the colors of the rainbow further up the hill. Icadiye Street is lined up with bakeries, organic vegetable stands, barbershops, cafes, old fashioned coffee houses, art galleries, arts and craft shops, kebab houses and restaurants. Most of the shops have tables on the sidewalks with people sitting outside, eating, drinking çay, playing backgammon or cards or chatting in a neighborhood type of atmosphere. Kuzguncuk has always been the neighborhood, where people from all three major religions or people with no religion at all, lived together with mutual respect to each other. The best proof of this is the Kuzguncuk Mosque and the Surp Krikor Lusoroviç Armenian Church next to each other, sharing the same garden separated only by a low fence. There is also a Greek church named Ayios Pantelemion and a smaller church both on the Icadiye Street. Kuzguncuk is also famous with it’s vegetable gardens, supplying Istanbul with organic green leaf lettuce, eggplant, cucumbers, tomatoes and strawberries.
I wanted to show my wife Kuzguncuk not only I like the atmosphere here, but also there is cafe on Icadiye Street called “Sitare” with the same name as her’s. After first taking her to what I call the Kodak Scenic Spot, a little park between houses by the sea shore and taking photos of the Bosphorus Bridge we crossed the street and started walking uphill checking the stores and restaurants. She was pleasantly surprised with Cafe Sitare, because not only for restaurants but also for girls names “ Sitare” is a very rare name. We went into the cafe and checked the store and the menu which looked more like a coffee and sweets place. Since we were getting hungry for dinner, we did not eat there, instead we picked a place across the street called METET,Kozde Döner. Döner is the gyro and közde means firewood (cooked by). There we had the best döner I had eaten since a long time, at a table not even on the sidewalk, but on cobblestones on the side of the building. Döner is usually cooked by the heat of a an electric open face oven next to the turning wheel of the meat. But Metet Restaurant had had an upright wood oven and the burning wood in it was cooking the meat naturally with the juices in it. It tasted like a like a mesquite grilled meat. I also drank şıra, a spicy non alcoholic Southern beverage, made from unfermented grape juice, and Sitare had ayran, the yogurt drink. The kitchen crew and the guests were watching the Germany- United States soccer game on the TV screen. While I was paying the bill, our waiter told me the good and bad news: United States was losing 2-1 , but if they kept the score they would still advance to the final sixteen.
Sitare in front of Sitare Cafe&Restaurant
Kuzguncuk Mosque and the Surp Krikor Lusavoriç church next to each other and in Peace
When we returned to Üsküdar by bus my back started really hurting . I wanted go home and rest for the rest of the evening, but Sitare had different idea.
“Lets take the vapur (ferry) to Istanbul and come right back to Kadıköy with the next one ! “
Sitare was referring to “Istanbul“ like a real Istanbulite in the old days would. When one was crossing the sea from the Asian side of Üsküdar or Kadiköy to the historic peninsula in Europe, they would say “we are going to Istanbul”. I thought it was a harmless thought since we were not going to walk and I said `lets do it`. And I am glad we did it . Istanbul looked beautiful in the night with everything illuminated from the blue lights of Bosphorus Bridge and Maiden Tower to the green lights of the Galata Tower. Yeni Mosque in Eminönü was getting ready for Ramadan only a day away, with a mahya ( lines with light bulbs hanging on them) being built between it’s two minarets.
When we got out of the ferry, to my surprise we learned that they had moved the Kadiköy Ferry Station to the other side of the Galata Bridge. So we had to cross the Golden Horn to the other side by walking on the bridge. The bridge has traffic in the middle and pedestrian walks on two sides and amateur fishermen with long rods trying to catch fish by the railings.There are numerous fish restaurants under the bridge full with tourists. We walked under the bridge in front of the restaurants trying to avoid the welcomers, then we went up and watched the fishermen and few women fishing. On the other side of the Galata bridge by the Kadiköy ferry station street vendors had laid down their goods on the sidewalks and were trying to make a sale to people rushing to the ferry. We bought a nice black and white drawing of the Galata bridge for 10TL. The sales lady was nicely dressed and looked like somebody who was trying to moonlight and make some money for her household.
On our back trip to Kadıköy we ordered two glasses of çay and enjoyed the wind blowing to our face, sitting on the seats in open air, on the sides of the ferry. At least for fifteen minutes I had forgotten about my back pain.