Tag Archives: Istanbul Neighborhoods

The Cat Park

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There is a park less than 15 minutes from our apartment that we have affectionately named the ‘Cat Park’. This park is technically in Nisantasi, and is often overlooked in contrast to Macka Park, which is a much larger park directly below it. However, we love this park. Not only is there a fountain, trees and two cafes, there are also numerous cats.

As many of you know, I love cats. Most Turks do not feel this way. Like many Middle Eastern countries, the majority of cats and dogs in Istanbul do not lead comfortable spoiled lives. They live on the streets, they dig (and sleep) in garbage and scrounge for food. However, this particular park can be considered cat paradise for Istanbul cats. They roam free in a beautiful park. Local residents bring them food (everything from milk to meat to bread), and have even built special homes for them.  And the cats themselves? They are friendly and affectionate. You cannot sit down in this park without being surrounded by 4-5 cats. They purr, they play and they crawl into your lap. We come to this park at least once a week simply to pay a visit to our feline friends…

 

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A Bosphorus Boat Tour

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While there are many opportunities to see Istanbul by boat, my favorite experience is the short 1 hour trip that starts and ends in Ortakoy. I send all of my guests to this location to admire the city and experience the Bosphorus. It is not only worthy of its own blog post, but also of an afternoon, regardless of the amount of time you have in Istanbul. The ride starts at the first Bosphorus Bridge and turns at the second bridge. It provides a perfect opportunity to see traditional Ottoman homes, and the summer palaces which dot the shore. You can marvel at the old European and Asian fortresses that were once built to protect the city from invaders, and are now situated within the modern city. Additionally, you can see the amazing concert venues, cafes, night clubs and summer homes that line the city’s Asian and European shores. As you sip your tea, you catch a glimpse of what makes this city so special…

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Ortakoy

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It is a beautiful Autumn day in Istanbul. I am busy brainstorming all of the things I must do before Winter arrives. One of my favorite ways to spend a beautiful day in Istanbul is an afternoon in Ortakoy. Once a small seaside village, Ortakoy quickly became enveloped by Istanbul’s growing metropolis. It has managed to maintain its charm, despite its new identity as a rather upscale and touristy weekend destination. However, despite this reputation, it remains a beloved and picturesque neighborhood that both Istanbul residents and tourists enjoy. On the weekends, there is an outdoor market along the waterfront, which sells a variety of different homemade crafts and special imports. Additionally, the homes in the area have been transformed into cafes with 3-4 floors, and stairs that lead to a terrace with a spectacular view of the Bosphorus bridge, the shore of the Asian side of the city, and the minaret and outline of Haghia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace. Ortakoy is also famous for its waffle and hot potato stands. You can easily spend 2 hours walking through the market and the shops, as well as stopping to sit and take in the scene at one of these cafes. However, the appeal of the 1 hour Bosphorus tour is usually reason enough to lure me to Ortakoy…

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A Walk Through My Old Neighborhood…

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Our first neighborhood flourished in the shadows of the Istanbul’s Trump Towers. It remained relatively untouched from the business district that developed around it. The neighborhood is called Gulbag  (pronounced Gool-bah). Its residents vary from families and university students, to recent African refugees.  There are two large mosques and two public schools in this small neighborhood. On week days you can hear the school bells throughout the day (the same tune of the ice cream truck from my childhood). Five times a day, the mosques in the area would broadcast their call to prayer, a few seconds before or after the others in the neighborhood.

 I was the first foreigner many of the store owners had ever met, and often was the first person they had ever heard speak their own native tongue. I developed relationships with my favorite vendors in the neighborhood by dispensing daily greetings and pleasantries. One shopkeeper would always give me small treats when he ran into me at the end of a long day. It was in these exchanges where I practiced and developed my Turkish, and began to feel a part of the community where I resided. In the 15 minute walk that led to the metro from our apartment, we would walk through the three bustling commercial streets. On these three streets, anything and everything could be found at some of the cheapest prices in Istanbul.

We observed a lot of development in the neighborhood during the two years that we lived there. New modern apartments were built, an office building opened, a park was renovated and the roads were widened. The face of Gulbag changed during this time, and will probably continue to do so as the city develops around it. These are some of the first pictures that I took in the neighborhood in October 2009 in my effort to capture the Gulbag we knew as home.

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A Walk Through the Bazaar

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The word for Sunday in Turkish is ‘Pazar’. Thus, the bazaar is a weekly event in most Turkish neighborhoods and towns. People from all over the area come to the local bazaar for produce, fish, nuts, cheeses, clothing, spices and household goods. It is a lively and overwhelming experience to many foreigners, but a part of everyday life for most Turks. The bazaar is where you find the best deals and the freshest produce. A normal back street is transformed into a lively market space. Vendors yell the price of their goods, and attempt to lure you to their stands. Large and small busses change their routes to bring people to and from the bazaar. The streets are covered with plastic tarps, and the products are carefully arranged. You can find almost anything in the neighborhood bazaar: bras, honey, shoes, head scarves, eggs, pickled vegetable, special sauces, socks, cheese graters, cutting boards and more… It is a vibrant experience that excites all of the senses.

Unfortunately, as the number of supermarkets and malls increase throughout the city, the neighborhood bazaars have slowly declined in number. Bazaars no longer occur solely on Sunday. Nor does each neighborhood host a bazaar of its own. In Istanbul, the major bazaars are spread out throughout the week.

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It proved to be quite difficult to find an English schedule for the bazaars throughout the city, so below is my attempt to create one. It is not a comprehensive list, but highlights some of the most popular bazaars, as well as some of my personal favorites…

The Istanbul Bazaar Schedule

Monday: Bahcelievler

Tuesday: Kadikoy

Wednesday: Fatih and Yesilkoy

Thursday: Akatlar and Erenkoy

Friday: Findikzade and Gultepe (Levent)

Saturday: Bakirkoy, Besiktas and Ferikoy (the organic market!)

Sunday: Gulbag (Mecidiekoy), Kosuyolu and Tarlabasi

Secret Gardens

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There are secret gardens hidden throughout Taksim and Cihangir. They rarely advertise, and often require a special introduction by a friend. Some are situated on quiet residential streets, and others are surrounded by loud bars in the center of Istanbul’s nightlife district.

White Mill in Cihangir contains a large secret garden, which I discovered for the first time last night. Situated on a residential street, as you walk by you only notice a small gallery space on the ground floor. However, if you wander inside and up the stairs you find a fabulous restaurant that opens up to a beautiful garden. At night, you can observe friends celebrate special occasions and couples sharing intimate moments with one another. The garden is lit primarily by candles and lanterns. The branches of the tall trees planted throughout the garden serve as a natural ceiling, and the autumn breeze gently passes through the space.

The menu offers strawberry mojitos, wraps and excellent pasta. We gathered at White Mill last night to celebrate the birthday of my friend Neslihan, and shared an unforgettable evening with friends. It was full of laughter, travel stories and great food.

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My neighborhood

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We live in Kurtuluş, a diverse neighborhood in the heart of the city. It was originally a Greek (and later and Armenian)neighborhood, founded by Greek families that worked in the dockyards of the Ottoman Empire. Unfortunately, most of the wooden houses and shops in the neighborhood were destroyed by a fire in 1842, and later in 1929. In 1929, the area became a symbol of modernity and hope when the new Turkish government invested heavily in rebuilding and modernizing the neighborhood. It was also renamed ‘Kurtuluş’, which means ‘salvation’ or ’emancipation’ in Turkish.

The neighborhood is lively and serves as a home for several of Turkey’s minority populations. While the majority of the Greek population has returned to Greece, the neighborhood remains home to many Jewish and Armenian families, as well as recent Kurdish immigrants. It is also quickly becoming a popular neighborhood for many expats who are living and working in the city as English teachers. There is a famous Armenian school, church and newspaper in the area. The small grocery stores offer Greek and Armenian products that you cannot easily find elsewhere in the city.

As you walk down the streets, you can overhear conversations in numerous languages and various accents. Everyone seems to know each other (this is not uncommon in old Istanbul neighborhoods where 2-3 generations live in the same apartment building), and people are warm and welcoming to foreigners. We were quickly absorbed into the diverse patchwork of the area, and feel very lucky to be a part of this lively community.

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