Ortaköy—gem of the Bosphorus

Last weekend my quiet (NOT!) world on the Bosphorus was sparked by two delightful young women: my Australian niece Laura and her friend Anna, university exchange students in Vilnius, Lithuania. When I arrived home Friday they were happily ensconced in my apartment, thrilled to be in Istanbul. Needless to say, their visit was a whirlwind. Friday afternoon we caught a bus and tram to Sultanahmet. The bus was PACKED—sardines-ville. And HOT. (They don’t believe in opening windows here, but that’s another story.) What with an evening of restauranteurs, shopkeepers, and carpet sellers, the girls got a good dose of Turkish hospitality, making Anna a new convert to Turkey. Laura and I already love it.


Anna and Laura Marie

After a huge dinner and a trek to see the Blue Mosque in its night-lit glory, we hopped back on the tram to head home, collapsing exhausted into our beds after the steep hike up the infamous Robert College hill, a fair trade-off for a great location.

Saturday the girls slept in, and after a late breakfast we headed off on foot (with Libby) to Ortaköy, one of the the Bosphorus’ glittering treasures. Just a half hour walk from my lojman, it offers an artisan’s market, tantalizing street foods, a striking many-windowed, water-side mosque, and a Bosphorus ferry. What else could we ask?


One of many jewelry displays

After an hour browsing displays of jewelry, linens, clothing, and trinkets along the cobbled walkways, we relaxed with a cup of tea, watching children feed and chase pigeons on the cobbled square. The sun brightened every cranny of this quaint waterside village. Actually, Ortaköy feels much smaller than it is—with about 200,000 people stretching up the hill from the Bosphorus, it’s one of the most popular spots in Istanbul.


Pigeon chasing can’t be beat!

After tea, we ambled over to where a Bosphorus ferry departs every 20 minutes. Ours was a smaller ferry, a quaint, friendly vessel for our one-hour water tour to the Rumeli Castle and back. Libby loved it (of course), and we all reveled in the stunning early-spring sunshine, in spite of the occasional chilly breeze. Thank goodness for clear plastic zip-down windows. Homes on the Asian side were significantly larger, newer, and better kept than those on the European side; it’s cheaper to live in Asia. Of course, homes anywhere near the Bosphorus are at a premium. I shudder to think what I’d pay for my little campus apartment.


Hamsi (anchovy) fisherman with the Ortaköy Mosque in the background

We disembarked famished from the ferry—eager to try the kumpir (stuffed baked potatoes), gözleme (Turkish-style flat stuffed crepes), and waffles (filled with fruits and sweets of every kind). Yum. Again—YUM! I hadn’t been all that excited about the kumpir, but take a baked potato, mash it together with butter and cheese, then add pickles, olives, tomatoes, cream cheese, and whatever else you love, and it’s sheer ambrosia. I’d walk to Ortaköy just for kumpir. The spinach gözleme was nice, and the fruit-and-chocolate-filled waffle was nothing to scoff at. Another YUM!


The delicious, inimitable KUMPIR!

Finally we visited the mosque. Lovely from the outside, I’d never been inside. Big mistake. Laura took Libby so I could go in to take a few pictures, and I was entranced with mosque’s natural light. Though its exterior is striking, its interior is beyond description. A number of men were at prayer while a small group chatted in a window near the pulpit. I peeked into the women’s area, a totally separate room with windows overlooking the Bosphorus. Far less than what male worshippers enjoyed, but sweet in its own way. I have a hard time with that, though; it strikes me as unfair.


Ortaköy Mosque, interior


The women’s room—Ortaköy Mosque

A little girl named Selin walked Libby around the shopping area on her leash, totally enamored with her. Such fun for both! Finally we headed home—on the bus, then succumbed to a well-deserved nap.

That was just the START of our day. We dined and danced in Taksim, catching the last bus home at 2 A.M. It was packed (of course), so we stood all the way home, then climbed the long Robert College hill yet again.

But you know what? It was a great day.

Istanbul ROCKS!

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