Ok, savvy travellers. If you are coming to experience the rich and dynamic cultural offerings of Istanbul you absolutely must experience the following:
Situated along the Bosporus, the breakfast at Cafe Kale thrills and delights absolutely everyone. Within a few minutes of placing your order, your table will be covered by numerous small plates: hot and cold, sweet and savory, there is absolutely something for everyone. It is the perfect way to spend a morning and experience the city.
In recent years, Istanbul’s modern art scene has exploded. The Istanbul Modern is the heart and soul of the art world and has initiated the transformation of the surrounding area. New shops and cafes are popping up around it and interesting exhibits ensure I keep coming back. Situated in an old warehouse along the Bosporus the space alone is worth seeing. It has a fabulous view of the old city and the buzz of activity on the water. The museum’s permanent collection offers a uniquely Turkish palate, landscape and overview of modern Turkish art history. It is the perfect lens to gain additional understanding of modern Turkey. There is a lovely cafe and a great gift shop (perfect for those of you searching for souvenirs).
The city comes alive at night and its treasures are hidden above the chaotic streets. As you wander through Beyoglu, look up and find a terrace to watch the sunset. Many old apartment buildings along the backstreets of Istiklal Caddessi host hidden cafes and restaurants with extraordinary views of the city. My favorite is Balkon, near Tunel. For dancing, try the wonderful top floor bar Araf for Balkan beats and a fabulous view of the city…
The perfect escape from the chaos of city life. In 80 minutes you are transferred to a summertime paradise complete with beach clubs, ice cream stands, bicycle rentals and horse-drawn carriages. The Princes Islands were once where the city’s Greek, Armenian and Jewish intellectual elite spent their summers. The beautiful homes around the city center are a perfect testament to the Ottoman charms that once defined Istanbul as the center of the Ottoman Empire. If you only have one day, go to Buyukada. Be sure to have some ice cream, hike the steep hill to the monastery and drink a beer at the top to enjoy the fantastic view.
I am here to demystify the glamour and intrigue of expat life. Yes, it is awesome. Yes, every day is different. However, nothing in life is perfect. Here are some of the setbacks:
1.) We experience water cuts 2-3 times a month
2.) A trip to the grocery store is an adventure that often results in longing for recognizable ingredients, bottled sauces and familiar products from home. I once spent an hour in the grocery store in search of bleach.
3.) You cannot talk in shared or public spaces without stares, warnings and disapproval.
4.) There are no clear rules or procedures for any activity. Consistency is a foreign concept. It always depends on who you talk to and what they are feeling at the time.
I could not resist. Please excuse my horrible rhyme. However, my heart still beats when I think about Istanbul Eats and the wonderful day we spent in Beyoglu tasting the hidden delicacies and street food of this neighborhood’s backroads and alleyways. I have lived in Istanbul for three years, and the day was still full of surprises and firsts for me.
We started at the Turkish equivalent of an old school greasy spoon restaurant in Cihangir where we sampled eggs, sucuk (Turkish sausage), kaymak (clotted cream) and honey. Next we strolled over to Datli Maya, where we toured this innovative chef’s latest creation: a small bakery and cafe in the neighborhood’s old Simit shop.
We past several preserve and pickled shops. We tasted Turkish delight and baklava. We sampled some Black Sea delicacies. We indulged in the city’s infamous profiterol shop. We nibbled on several different types of durum (the Turkish equivalent of a burrito with kebab). We sipped Turkish coffee at a traditional coffee shop. We wandered through the old passage ways, courtyards and churches hidden in the backstreets of Beyoglu. We sampled an eclectic mix of street food, including the kokorec sandwich and fried sardines.
Overall, it was a fun day and a perfect way to share Istanbul with your curious and adventurous guests. I would recommend this tour to Istanbul natives as well as visitors. For people looking to get outside of Beyoglu, they also offer food tours for the Old City, Kadikoy and beyond.
They also have a fantastic blog called Istanbul Eats which reports about all of Istanbul’s best restaurants and most authentic meals. This is my guide and inspires every dining choice or recommendation I make. They also started a network of underground foodies in cities around the world (including Mexico City, Shanghai and Barcelona) called Culinary Backstreets. For natives and tourists, these websites will not disappoint.
Where to begin?! Well, as October 4th approached I knew there would be complications. My Residency visa would expire and required some updates. Not only did I have to update my marital status, I also had to update my address, while also renewing my Residency visa. Turkish bureaucracy is a wild and unique beast. It is far from the 9 pages of directions provided by the US government for each document you must complete for any US visa. Instead, the policies change rapidly and there is not one source for consistent and up-to-date information. On top of that, everyone is an expert and you will be told three different answers from three different experts. Additionally, the bureau is underfunded and overworked. So, imagine the fun. We completed my visa application after two unsuccessful attempts. First, we went to the wrong office. The second time, we did not have the correct official documents.
On top of that, there was a lovely little surprise. Remember, there is no clear set of information available about this application. So, we arrive to visit number two, only to learn that I have been illegally in the country for two months. Apparently, when my old employer cancelled my work visa, they also cancelled my residency visa. This minor detail was never mentioned to me. Now, this sounds much worse to American ears. Of course, this is Turkey, and if you talk to the right person and pay the right fee, there is a solution for everything. Thus, we talked to several people and paid the fee of 120 dollars to move forward with the process.
In the end, after obtaining bank information to prove that I had the funds to support myself, visiting two different police stations, talking to more than 4 different police officers, a 20 minute walk in search of the tax office where I had to pay several different and independent fees and a 15 minute conversation entirely in Turkish with the officer responsible for laminating my visa with a machine that was older than him, I picked up my visa on Friday.
I met Kamile at the Ferikoy Antique Bazaar on Sunday. She used to own a store near Galatasaray High School, where she sold her whimsical recycled treasures in the heart of Taksim. This is unique. Recycling is not a widely embraced or established system in Turkey. However, this artist creates unique jewelry out of antiques that have fallen into disrepair and recycled goods that she collects. For anyone who likes jewelry with a story, this is your artist. She sold her store to travel throughout India for the past year and a half. Some of her most interesting necklaces are created with the pieces of her grandfathers old watches. She is thoughtful, creative and truly lovely. Her company is called Dön Dön Dön Durmadan. You can find her blog here and another blogger’s report here.
The couch still seems empty despite the fact that our beloved visitors left over one week ago. These three wonderful women decided to take a trip of a lifetime and travel the world for 6 months. They left their jobs, rented their apartments and put all of their essential belongings into a backpack. They started in Greece (and Amsterdam), met in Izmir to tour the ruins of Efes and then came to Istanbul for one week. It was their friendship with my beloved college roommate that initially brought us together, however it was their enthusiasm, curiosity, kindness and sense of humor that ensured they became friends of our own.
They left Istanbul for Kathmandu, despite warnings that few backpackers make it out of Istanbul to continue their travels to Nepal (Perhaps Istanbul’s charms lure them in longer than expected). They are currently on an 8-day trek to the Annapurna Base Camp through the Himalayas. To anyone with wanderlust, a sense of adventure and a love of travel, follow their story and adventure on their blog. Read the rest of this entry