Postcard from Kadikoy

Ryan Wolf encounters leftist newspaper hawkers, fried sea bass, street mutts, and a Black Sea wind on Istanbul's Asian side

By / June 2015

The tink tink tink of an Ataturk emblazoned lira coin tapping on a glass box pierces through the ferry horn belch and revving bus engines. I find a dark mustache hiding the bored wrinkled face of a peddler of simit—picture a pretzel covered in sesame seeds. This is Kadikoy. In the ancient world, when it played host to the 5th century church council that defined the deity of Christ, it was called Chalcedon. Now it’s a throbbing center of trade and transport on Istanbul’s Asian side.

Just across the harbor from the ferry docks the 19th century Haydarpasa train station stands sentinel, a reminder of the strategic importance of this piece of land, whether it be the entry to Europe on the Silk Road or the terminus of the Oriental Express. Trains to Syria, Iraq, and even Saudi Arabia used to originate at the terminal. There are fewer trains now, but you can still step on the train here and step off in Tehran if you can stomach the three-day journey.

Running up to the edge of the water, the grey gleaming paving stones of the open square play host to communist protests, Children’s Day concerts, and dark-headed couples walking arm in arm, heads thrown back daring the Turkish sun to try and penetrate their dark Wayfarers. Their matching Chuck Taylors and open flapping flannels confirm what we think we know about globalization in this traditionally Muslim country.

A larger than life-size Ataturk broods over the square, the glare from his dark bronze forehead flashing at the distracted bench-sitters. Some of whom look like they combed their mustache and donned their grey suit just to come down one more time and make sure the Bosphorus is still here.

Photograph by Ryan Wolf

Half a mile across the Bosphorus what appears as a jagged horizon line separating cool turquoise sea water and a blue-grey sun sky is actually the Old City of Istanbul, complete with soaring Byzantine cathedrals, stone solid Ottoman mosques, and the sprawling Sultan’s Palace, Topkapi. The smell of diesel fumes mixed with the crackling sea bass frying at the sandwich stand confuses my nose. The Black Sea wind blows in from the northeast, pulling at the triple decker ferry attempting to dock at the public port building. Commuters completing the boring and beautiful transcontinental journey one more time squeeze one body-width closer to the boat exit and watch the dockworker on the pier slip successive loops of thick green line over the iron bollard.

In the 100 meters between disembarking and finding their bus or metro line, the experienced commuter will deftly dodge the Greenpeace donation gatherer, the leftist newspaper hawker and the gang of sleeping street mutts of indeterminate breed. The four shoeshines and their gold metal stool boxes are not to be confused with the shoelace salesman at the end of the line. His fluorescent orange and pink laces pop out from the pile of brown, black, and brown-black laces.

Under the sparse trees broken pieces of stale bread litter the ground. Because bread represents life, many consider it a sin to throw it away. Better to leave it out for the birds or street mutts. A large TV screen begs pedestrians and Syrian refugee-beggars to heed its commercials. The avenue begins somewhere inland and terminates there on the TV. Call it an Anatolian Times Square, replete with gypsy flower sellers instead of superheroes.

The development of Kadikoy began in earnest in 1973 with the completion of the first Bosphorus Bridge. Before that it was little more than musty Greek churches, summer homes and open fields, where my taxi driver used to hunt rabbits with his brother.

Across the straight, the sun pushes pinks and oranges up from the horizon and sinks behind the four pointy minarets of the Hagia Sofia, which were added to the 6th-century structure shortly after the Ottomans took Constantinople, in 1453. Of all the transportation options and destinations at my disposal, I’ll opt for the twenty-minute crowded bus back to my neighborhood as opposed the three-day overlander to Tehran.


Ryan Wolf writes about ex-pat life from Istanbul.