Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Üsküdar: exploring the Asian side of Istanbul

No visit to Istanbul is complete without a ferry ride to the Asian side. For my first escape into Asia, I chose the neighbourhood of Üsküdar, just a short journey from Eminönü, the ferry dock near the Galata Bridge (3TL, €1,10). The ferryboat was a bit smelly and old, but it gave me an impression of how Turkey must have been until a few years ago. I must confess that this part of Istanbul, almost completely devoid of tourists, stole my heart.

flower vendor in Uskudar
Flower vendor near the ferry dock

First settled by Greek colonists a few centuries before Byzantium was founded, Üsküdar is now a residential and shopping district. It is a  relatively conservative neighbourhood, but it is also home to fancy restaurants, wealthy wooden houses with a beautiful view of the Bosphorous, historical mosques, and for sure many other things that I didn't discover. Unfortunately, I walked all around Iskele mosque, just opposite the ferry dock, but I couldn't find the entrance (or was it closed?). I'm not a big fan of how Istanbul mosques look from the outside, but the inside is worlds apart. Since Üsküdar was a multireligious neighbourhood (I wonder if it still is), there are also churches of different congregations, synagogues and even Dervish lodges. Blame guidebooks that have only cursory  information about the neighbourhoods on the Asian side for not being able to locate them!
Üsküdar, Istanbul
A street in Uskudar

It was a Saturday afternoon, and apparently the best time to visit. I discovered later that the promenade to the south is particularly nice, but instinctively I ventured to the north along the waterside, in an area called Paşalimani. Here there are some small parks looking at the Bosphorous, with families sitting on the grass or on the wooden benches, children playing and the occasional street vendor or old man showing his trade. Men take out their fishing rods and women chatter between themselves. Many of them are veiled, but there are also many students.

Üsküdar on a Saturday afternoon, Istanbul
The pleasant waterside

I think I had never seen a real shoeshine until then.

Shoesine, Üsküdar, Istanbul
Shoeshine near the ferry dock

This man sharpened knives for the women of the neighbourhood, not so much for the tourists, as there weren't many. He was cheeky enough to pose for me when I took out my camera, and then shouted at me in Turkish because I didn't give him a tip. Ouch!
Kinfe sharpener, Üsküdar, Istanbul
Man sharpening a knife
You may have noticed that Istanbul is full of cats. They are usually stray cats looked after by the people of the neighbourhood. They are beautiful, affectionate, and they like to pose for you. The picture here below was taken in the same waterside park where I took the shot of the knife sharpener. Here there is also a café that serves tea right in the park. I had just taken one, with a baklava for a treat, so I didn't indulge.

Istanbul cat, Üsküdar
This one is a real model!

Istanbul cat, Üsküdar
Red cats are my favourites
Üsküdar made me wonder about the real identity of Istanbul: was the food I had been eating so far traditional or even Turkish? What idea do you get of Istanbul if you only see Sultanahmet, like many tourists do?  And do the residents of Üsküdar ever go to Sultanahmet or to Beyoglu? How do Istanbullus cope with the divide between the conservative and the more progressive and Westernized things in the city?
Sunset in Istanbul
Sunset over the Bosphorous
Did you go to the Asian side of Istanbul? What did you think of it?


  1. I have family in Istanbul and would love to visit them sometime next year. This sounds like a wonderful day trip, perhaps? Thanks for sharing!

    Happy travels :)

    1. Yes, it's even a half-day trip. I left after lunch and I came back for dinner! How lovely to have family in Istanbul by the way, it's an excuse to keep coming back!

  2. Yes - we ventured over to the Asian side of Turkey and loved it. We actually took a bus in search of Bagdat Avenue and got kind of lost because we didn't get off at the right stop. On the bus, we were hugging the coast, and certain parts honestly reminded me of beach neighborhoods here in Southern California. It was very refreshing to see Istanbul's non-touristy side apart from all of the sites. When back in Istanbul, I'd definitely love to go back and explore more of the Asian side of the city.

    1. I got lost as well in Istanbul, but it was on the European side. I'd love to visit Kadikoy next time I'm in Istanbul (I'm already looking forward to it)...

  3. I've noticed Istanbul is full of cats. Can you adopted one? :)

    1. I'd love to live in Istanbul and choose a cat to look after. What an idea!

  4. nice! i'll be in istanbul in a week or so and will try to check out this part of the city


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