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.
The friendly American in me struggled with this seemingly bizarre fact: Turks do not smile. Growing up in a small town, I was trained to make eye-contact and smile at everyone I pass. However, when I moved to Istanbul, I quickly learned that this only brought unwanted attention from men, and skeptical looks from women. It boggled my mind, how could a country with such an emphasis on hospitality, with such deep bonds between friends and family, be so closed-off to the people they encounter on the streets? Well, a recent op-ed piece in the Turkish Daily News attempts to explain this mystery. He asserts the following:
1.) “Turkey is a ‘transitional society’, one that is in the critical middle of a long transformation from a traditional (rural, agrarian and communal) to a modern (urban) nation. So, traditional mores are eroding, whereas new ones are not fully matured”
2.) The political climate is incredibly divisive and promotes significant levels of distrust between parties, people and government as a whole. This distrust spreads to the unfamiliar. Problems within the country are blamed on “enemies within and without”. In the absence of a true democracy, there is a lack of openness.
2.) Despite the rapid urbanization of Turkey, Turks still identify their hometown as their father’s place of birth. Very few people are from Istanbul, however this growing metropolis has become home to a diverse group of people from all over the country. In a ‘colossal city’ like Istanbul, there are too much that is unknown and unfamiliar. You no longer know or trust your neighbor. These neighborhood and local bonds are no longer relevant or possible in large urban environments.
While this is not necessarily unique to Turkey, it is interesting to contemplate how the political climate impacts social bonds and interactions in a place I call ‘home’.
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
You have not experienced the glory of Turkish Breakfasts, until you have been to Cafe Kale. Located in the Rumeli neighborhood along the Bosphorus, in the shadows of the second bridge and the Fortress of Europe, the view alone is reason to enough to explore Rumeli. Once a simple bakery in a small seaside house, the cafe has now expanded into two adjacent buildings and onto the streets. After securing a table, you will quickly be spoiled with delights. Especially if you order the ‘Serpme Kahvalti’ (The Breakfast Spread). I promise you will not be disappointed! This breakfast spread goes above and beyond normal breakfast standards. Within 5 minutes of placing your order, your table will be covered with delights. Ranging from kaymak (decadent clotted cream) covered in honey, fresh squeezed orange juice, fried eggs and sucuk (the Turkish sausage), Helumi (Fried Salty Cheese from Cyprus), Borek with pastirma and so much more. The staff is famous for their hospitality and service, and the space itself is buzzing with activity. This is a meal that cannot be missed in Istanbul!
Address: Yahya Kemal Caddesi, No: 16, Rumelihisarı. Take the Bahcekoy-bound 42T anywhere along the Bosphorus Road until you reach Rumeli Hisari.
Each time I walk through the covered and bustling streets of a bazaar, I feel like my day-to-day experience in Turkey is put in fast-forward: the streets are abuzz with locals gathering their weekly groceries and determined to find the best deal. The produce appears to be fresher. The scent of fish seems to be more potent. The colors are more vivid. The chatter and bargaining seem more passionate.
I love bazaars. There are delicacies and treasures hidden among cheap shoes, name brand make-up and trendy bags. The olives, fruits and nuts sparkle under the strings of lights, while darkness descends throughout the city. The dirty tarps create a low ceiling, but offer a much welcomed refuge from the rain outside.
The Gultepe Bazaar is a perfect way to start the weekend. I jumped off the bus in front of Kanyon (in Levent) and wandered past the back entrance, and into the lively neighborhood that surrounds the growing metropolis. The bazaar is hidden in the back streets, but easy to find as you wander down the main street. I collected several types of cheeses, a collection of olives, nuts and dried fruits, kitchen supplies and some potted plants for less than 25 lira. They became the heart of our breakfast on Saturday.
The Gultepe Bazaar is held every Friday and spans almost a half of a mile down the narrow back roads of Gultepe. I arrived at 4:45 PM, and found the streets full of people. When my hands were full with special purchases and an eclectic mix of bags and packages, it was time for me to leave. However, crowds of people were still descending into the covered market as I made my exit around 6:15.
With pictures of New York City covering the walls, oldies music playing in the background and the very familiar smell of bagels filling the restaurant, I felt instantly at home at Tribeca. As I looked at the menu I saw all of my favorites: poppy seed, cinnamon raisin, sesame seed and my personal favorite: the everything bagel.
With over 12 different types of bagels, and a menu of every type of bagel sandwich or topping you could crave (even lox cream cheese!), I was thrilled by the satisfaction and joy of this discovery. With locations in Akatlar, Yenikoy and Nisantasi (less than 20 minutes from our apartment!), the restaurant is strategically located to attract foreigners and any Turk with a particular fondness for New York bagels.
The owners of Tribeca lived and worked in New York City, and returned to Istanbul to share their love and knowledge of bagels. They succeeded. The bagels are authentic and satisfied my craving. I am hooked.
The success of Tribeca was featured in a New York Times article that shared the owners intention to sell a slice of American culture, along with a bagel breakfast. While I am not sure if I agree with some of the things they assert, I was fascinated by the power and influence American movies were given in their explanation. The owner claims that ”maybe people in other countries don’t understand what a bagel is, but they saw Bruce Willis eating one in ‘Die Hard’ so they want to eat the same thing.” He reassured us by saying “Turkey will stay Turkey. France will stay France. But that American daily culture will become the world culture because Hollywood is so powerful. It is a huge power”. I was surprised to hear the connection between the allure of bagels and the allure of American daily life…
My most memorable bagel breakfasts will always be the magical mornings from my childhood following my dad’s return from New York City…with two bags of H&H bagels. The suspense surrounding the content of the bags, and the excitement around the cream cheese and other toppings ensured that it was an event that lived up to every expectation.