Growing up on small island in the Pacific Northwest, I was spoiled by the natural beauty of the region. However, when I moved to the bustling concrete jungle of Istanbul, I realized that my natural surroundings are more than something I appreciate, but something I need. It took me too long to find a natural refuge from the chaos of city life, but ever since I discovered Yildiz Park, I have flocked to this beautiful green hillside whenever I was consumed by the desire to be surrounded by nature. For a lovely Sunday afternoon, we took a bus to Besiktas and walked past students, couples and tourists before entering the grand gates of Yildiz Park. Formally, the palace gardens and hunting grounds for the sultans who inhabited the ornate Dolmabahce Palace, it is now a public park that is always full of life. On Sundays, it is overflowing with families and friends who flock to this prized piece of urban greenery for a picnic. We love walking along the paths and up the steep hill. Sitting at the top of this hill sits a wonderful cafe where you can order tea, read your newspaper and enjoy the scenery. It is the perfect way to spend an afternoon outdoors in Istanbul.
We spent last Sunday soaking up the sunshine and exploring a new neighborhood. Kalamış is on the Asian side of Istanbul, and situated along the waterfront. Fenerbahce Park, a yacht club and a line of of restaurants bring Kalamis to life.
We started our day sipping tea on the ferry to Kadikoy. We caught a dolmus (a shared taxi) headed to Bostanci and it dropped us off at the top of Kalamis. We wandered along the waterfront, laughing and chatting. Cafes lined the street, with the yacht club as a backdrop. Pop music of every decade and origin competed for my attention, people walked hand-in-hand with loved ones and familes watched as their children ran around the park. We strolled through the park, sat along the shore and ended our day at one of the cafes, eating fajitas and sharing apple and mint nargile. It was wonderful.
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…