The Inside Out City- Exploring Istanbul

by Polly Witker

This Savvi blog post is featured from Polly's blog Polly Goes. As a New Yorker, Polly has a very awesome, unique take on the world and the beauty of travel beyond the guidebooks. Thinking outside of the box is definitely savvi, keep doing you Polly! 


I studied a map of Istanbul before I arrived. I studied it pretty hard. I kept trying to figure out how an area of over 700 square miles and an estimated 16 million inhabitants that's separated into three distinct geographic parts by two bodies of water can be classified as one city. The Bosphorus, the bigger of those two bodies, not only separates the city but is the divide between two continents, Europe and Asia. Sure, other European cities like Paris, London and Amsterdam have canals or rivers in their middle, but people cross them on foot bridges, not ferries.

Like a typical New York snob, I compare everything to the "greatest city on earth" and tend to turn my nose up at the differences, and what I see as inadequacies, of other places.  In both Manhattan and Brooklyn the largest park, the highest rents, and the fanciest shopping and restaurants are mostly situated in the center, while the waterfront edges tend to be grittier, with only relatively recent gentrification in places like DUMBO, Williamsburg and Hell's Kitchen.  How could I come to terms with a place that looked like it'd been flipped inside out?

What I found was that I gravitated toward the Bogazici more than any other part of the city. The Ortakoy mosque, the ruins of Rumeli Hisari, the beer gardens of Besiktas, the balik restaurants and pastel gingerbread houses of Arnavutkoy are all some of my favorite places in Istanbul, and all found along the great Bogaz shores.  But I don't only go to the Bosphorus for my own experiences and pleasures...I also go to observe those of others.  People go there to sit, to think, to talk, to pray. They go to swim, to walk, to ride bikes.
They tie up their boats on its ports, whether they're bazillion dollar yachts, rusty fishing boats, or lonely house boats home to the semi-homeless. They bring romantic partners to break up and to propose, to see the sunset for first dates or anniversaries; they look out at the water as they eat their lunch brought from home in a brown bag, or as they enjoy dinner from a four star fish restaurant. They catch fish and sell them right there in the same spot. Elderly couples, dirty fishermen, mischievous teens, ladies who lunch, and even alien teachers like me - together we share the shore.

The guide books all describe how the Bosphorus divides the city, but that's not the whole story. They never explain how it brings the city together. An inside out version of New York, or right side in, depending on how you see it.