It is hot in Istanbul. You cannot move without sweat slowly gathering on every inch of your skin. Many Istanbullians escape to the south of Turkey whenever possible. Those that cannot leave Istanbul search for escapes. My favorite? Ada Beach Club on Heybeliada. While a little pricey (35 lira), a day at Ada Beach Club offers the same experience found along the shores of Bodrum. Once admitted you have your pick of chairs, lounges and cabannas. The crystal clear water awaits you and instantly cools you down. There is a cafe that offers snacks and beer to be enjoyed as you lounge by the water. And, one of my favorite parts? There is a special boat provided by the beach club that takes you to this hidden cove from the main promenade of Heybliada. If you miss the water shuttle, you can always take a horse-drawn carriage. With transportation options like this, it is easy to feel the enchantment of this place. At the end of the day, the club’s water shuttle whisks people away to ensure they catch the last ferries off the island. It is a perfect way to spend a hot day in Istanbul.
This view should be enough to lure you to my favorite terrace bar and restaurant. Located off the back streets of Asmalımescit, beyond the famed music venue Babylon, you can enter a seemingly normal apartment building, and take the intimate 3 person elevator to the top. Once you enter Balkon, another set of stairs takes you to the terrace bar. A view of the Golden Horn, and the Bosphorus awaits you. It is the perfect place to spend the evening and watch the sunset. Additionally, the margaritas and mojitos are excellent, as is the wonderful menu of pizzas, pastas and salads.
Check out the website here: http://www.balkonrestaurantbar.com/
Address: Asmalımescit Mah. Sehbender Sokak No:5 Kat:6 Tunel-Beyoglu
For my birthday, I was surprised me with a very special birthday treat: a weekend trip to Buyukada, the largest of the Princes Islands. The islands are accessible by ferry from central Istanbul and are the perfect retreat from the everyday chaos of city life. The large ferries have the capacity to take around 1500 people each trip, and in the summertime, these ferries are beyond capacity. Stairs become seats, and any floor space is open for the taking. The ferry ride alone is a unique and joyous experience. A man walks around the ferry with a tray of tea and sugar, selling it at the bargain price of 50 kurus. A salesman walks through the cabin with special lemon squeezers, stopping in each section for a special presentation that always captivates the entire room. We stopped at one of the fabulous meatball sandwich stands near the Kabatas waterfront to buy our special lunch in preparation for the 80 minute journey. The sandwiches cost 5 lira, and worth every penny for the fresh tomatoes and richly seasoned meatballs cooked when you order.
Once we reached the island, we walked through the small town. Unlike its bustling summer persona, we found the seaside village quiet and calm. While people normally fill the streets, the small groups that did venture to the islands were now hidden inside the warm cafes and restaurants. Cats and dogs outnumbered the people on the streets. We walked towards our hotel and checked-in. We were impressed by the terrace view of the city, and our spotless room. Next, we walked to the line of horse-drawn carriages (bicycles and carriages rule the streets here. There are no cars allowed), and quickly arranged to go to Lunapark, the closest destination to the small monastery located at one of the highest points of the island. We passed the old and glamorous summer homes of Istanbul’s elite, joking about which one we would buy and make our own. When we reached the bottom of the monastery’s steep hill we thanked our carriage driver and began to walk. We stopped occasionally to take in the view, and 20 minutes later we reached the top.
On a normal summer day, the monastery would be open to visitors and tourists would be wandering up and down the steep hill. However, on this day, the area was empty and ours to explore. We wandered around the beautiful site, and eventually ended up in the small cafe located at the top. Looking over the entire island, and the city’s distant shore, this cafe has one of the most extraordinary locations in Turkey. There was a lively group of Greek people joyously engaged in a night of dancing and drinking inside. We speculated on their lives and background, and assumed they were island fisherman who called Buyukada home. We watched as they danced around with the Raki glasses increasingly more recklessly, and laughed and talked as if we were worlds away from our everyday lives. We sat in this small cafe and watched the sunset as two cats jumped in and out of our laps, and the small stove in the center of the room warmed up the entire space.
We eventually left the cafe and walked down the hill, hoping that there would still be carriages down below. We were lucky: there were two. We travelled back to town humbled by the peace and calm of the cold March evening. We returned to our hotel and prepared to go to dinner. We sat and talked, surrounded by other couples in the terrace restaurant. We retired for the evening and spent the night indulging in American television shows that we never watch at home. We woke-up to a large breakfast, Caglayan tried his luck fishing and in the early afternoon we caught the ferry back to Istanbul…
It was a wonderful getaway and the perfect birthday present. Buyukada is one of my favorite places in Turkey. It is the perfect refuge, and a must-see for any summer visitor to 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.
While it has been over a week since we returned from our trip, it has taken me this long to sit down and conclude my efforts to document our trip. Back in the fast paced world of Istanbul, with the daily dramas and intensity of work, traffic and the early darkness that descends upon the city, I have found it difficult to sit down and reclaim the joy and excitement of each experience. After a big breakfast and two cups of strong coffee, I have finally found the energy to do so.
Our third day of the tour was spent in Fethiye. In the morning we drove to the elaborate tombs that sit above the city. Fethiye was established on top of the ancient city of Telemessos. Telemessos was the son of Apollo. Much of the ancient city is underground, below the modern city that now stands. At different times in history, it was a Greek, Lycian and Byzantine city. The ancient temples and theater that once stood have been significantly damaged by the numerous earthquakes that have plagued this region throughout history. The tombs were strategically placed on the eastern side of the ancient city’s acropolis. We hiked up a steep set of stairs that criss-cross through the steep hillside above modern Fethiye to see the tomb of Amyntas up close. It is modelled after a temple of the Ionic order as a means of paying respect and showcasing the prominence of the King that once ruled over the city. It was pretty spectacular to see up close, but sad to see the damages to each and every tomb and sarcophagi throughout the city. As civilization upon civilization conquered these lands, every tomb was raided in efforts to find the wealth and treasures buried with the dead.
After hiking up and exploring the tomb, we hiked down again and headed towards the waterfront to board the boat for our tour of the surrounding islands off the coast of Fethiye. Memories of the untouched islands and caves, and the turquoise waters of Croatia rushed into my mind. The vivid blues and greens of the water, and the warm sunshine bewitched me and gave me a taste of summer (that many do not have the opportunity to experience in November). We spent the day laying on the top of the boat, reading and chatting. Every 45 minutes we would dock in a new abandoned harbour and dive into the cool water (yes! We swam in November!). We saw wild rabbits and chickens, we feasted on fish and we sipped beer, as the day passed in perfect harmony and ease. The beauty of these islands linger with me, and the tranquility of their inviting bays and beaches stay in my mind. We left at 10 am and did not return until 5 pm. It was an extraordinary day.
Day 4 exceeded all expectations. We started in Oludeniz, a beautiful beach and national park along the coast. Afterwards, we drove through windy roads that maneuver through farmland and greenhouses, small villages and mountains, we stumbled upon the ancient city of Tlos, that sits neat the top of a rocky hillside, seemingly hidden from the rest of the world. There is record of this city as early as 1200 BC, and it was still inhabited throughout the Byzantine and Ottoman period. The ancient city consists of an arena, a theater, numerous tombs, ancient Roman streets, the foundation of Roman baths and an old aqueduct. There is a Byzantine fortress and church built on top of the ancient Lycian city. Farmers led their goats through the ruins. It was amazing to see how the ancient city sat frozen in time as village life moved slowly around it.
After wandering through Tlos, we went to an amazing restaurant situated in the hillside, surrounded by trees. It is called Yaka Park. It has water flowing all around you. There are tree houses situated above everyone and everything. There is a large trout pond, and ducks wandering around. The leaves were green, red, orange, brown and yellow. There was a buffet of salads and other treats awaiting us. We sat on a small elevated deck covered with pillows and ate our lunch. It was absolutely beautiful.
After lunch, we boarded our bus to see Sakli Kent. This was one of the most spectacular places I have ever seen. It is the second largest canyon in Europe and has been shaped by the rapids and streams that pass through it. There is a pedestrian foot bridge that hangs along the opening of the canyon. The canyon is 18 kilometers long and 600 meters high. It contains 16 caves. Several old tools have been discovered which suggest that man took refuge in Sakli Kent in prehistoric times. While the rapids were to strong, and the water was too cold to go very far, I am determined to go back. In the summer people can hike into the canyon as far as they have the courage to go. I have been told that at times the water reaches your neck, at other times you must swim under or over certain rock barriers. It sounds exciting, and it is now on my list of things I must attempt before I die….
Our trip ended with the ancient city of Xantos. It was the capital of the Lycian League, and known for its noble battle against the Persians. There is a black layer in the foundation of the city which proves that the entire city was burned down sometime between 475 and 450 BC, only to be rebuilt again. The city was rich in history. Brutus, Alexander the Great and Mark Anthony all had ties to Xantos. The city was built and rebuilt after various wars and battles. In 1838, the city was discovered by an Englishman named Sir Charles Fellow. The rich historic treasures of the ancient city of Xantos were sent to London on a war ship, and many important structures from the city are showcased in the Lycian room of the British Museum. This is obviously a point of great tension with the Turks, and the Turkish government is currently in negotiations with archaeology museums around the world in efforts to bring everything back to the historical sites in the country. I will leave that for another post…
Lycia means ‘Illuminated Nation’. While the civilization thrived over 2000 years ago, its tenets of democracy, order and honor still shape nations and societies today. We wandered through the ancient ruins of 3 major Lycian cities, in a region that once contained around 40 cities that came together to form a republic. The natural beauty of the coast, the mountains, and the small towns captivated me, and will certainly lure me back in the future. I hope everyone seizes the opportunity to explore Southwestern Turkey, and the ancient land of the Lycians.