For a French person, it’s quite Oh mon dieu (as in OMG) to have a savory breakfast. It took me a while to get used to black olives, tomatoes, honey with white cheese or cucumbers to start my day. But now I love it. Especially at Asssk Cafe where we started our day on Saturday. Breakfasts are an important meal in Turkey.
Istanbul is a very big city with terrible traffic so it’s important to plan things in advance in terms of itinerary, and to be smart about avoiding rush hours. Taxis are very easy to find and relatively cheap (as opposed to the rest of the city life which has turned quite expensive). We sort of made our way along the Bosphorus the whole week end, neighborhood by neighborhood, on the European side.
Remember that Istanbul is Asia on one side, Europe on the other, in itself a wonderful story to share with the kids.
Asssk Cafe is right by the water, in the neighborhood of Kurucesme (Muallim Naci Caddesi 170/Ia, T 0212 265 4734). It’s a hip but very casual place 100% Turkish. Not easy to spot from the road (next door to Migros supermarket) so make sure to write the name and address down and show it to your taxi driver. There, you must order their famous toasts, and also kaymak with honey. It’s to die for, a sort of thick full fat cream served with sweet honey and eaten with fresh white rolls. Marcelo was feeding the fishes in the Bosphorus with bread all the meanwhile, until the seagulls rushed to steal the crumbs..and one of them splashed a berk pouh on my left foot. Apparently it was good luck. The baby wipes came in very handy.
Next door is Les Ottomans, a yali entirely restored and converted into a luxury hotel with just 12 rooms. Yalis are those very old and incredibly beautiful wooden houses by the Bosphorus, worth millions today. Les Ottomans is very pricey and way overdone to my taste but worth checking out. The spa and its traditional hammam are wonderful.
Another favorite breakfast / lunch place is Mangerie (Cevdet Pasa Cad. No.69, T 0212 263 5199). Again, not easy to spot (up the stairs, terrace with great view on the water, right after the police station), it’s in the cool neighborhood of Bebek, which is packed every week end.
We continued to the neighborhood of Ortakoy, a short drive. This is a bohemian area where turks love to hang out, sit at the many cafes by the colorful houses. It’s famous for its mosque (pictured above), majestic as it stands by the water, right under the Bosphorus bridge. You can hire a fisherman’s boat (negotiate hard), or simply take one of the many larger boats for a one hour trip. We did that. Amalya took her nap in her stroller onboard and we delighted in watching the many mansions and palaces on both sides of the Bosphorus. For 10TL per person, it was a bargain.
You could also have brunch at the delightful and stylish House Cafe in Ortakoy, designed by the star team behind Autoban. I have been a fan of their designs for years and they are finally getting huge international recognition. Go Turkey, Go.
If still hungry after that, go for the specialty of the area: a kokorec sandwich (pictured above). You really want to know what’s inside? lamb intestine. Yeap and berk. My husband can’t resist each time we’re there. He tried to convert our son but did not succeed…ouf
There’s an arts&crafts market in Ortakoy, lots of rather little cheap things to buy such as the evil eyes bracelets. Please get one, it will send the evils away – Turks are very superstitious. There are also second hand book stalls. Ceki got the Turkish version of Istanbul from Orhan Pamuk while I’m reading it in English. Pamuk is the Nobel Prize in literature in 2006, a controversial and critical writer of his own country.
I’d recommend two other books. Istanbul, City of a Hundred Names and Ara Guler’s Istanbul. Ara Guler is a famous photographer who spent time at the Magnum agency. Both books have essays from Orhan Pamuk.
In Istanbul (and elsewhere), you’ll see Ataturk everywhere. He’s the founding father of the Republic of Turkey, and its first president. He transitioned the country successfully to a democratic state and is much much respected.
On Sunday, we moved to the area of Galata.
After a copious breakfast at Namli Port (Rihtim Cad. No. 7 tel:0212 251 1541), a very unpretentious and local cafe with communal tables and great views of the boats, we crossed the famous Galata bridge which separates the Bosphorus from the Golden Horn, and we observed the fishermen.
It’s not far from the Galata Tower, a must-visit place. The elevator takes you to the open-air top for a magic view. If you’re lucky, you’ll be taking in the view at the same time than the call for the prayers from all the surrounding mosques, they will echo, and it will be one of those special moments in life that you will never forget.
Two other visits by the Bosphorus that children would enjoy:
1. The Maiden’s Tower after taking the boat from Kabatas (every 30min). Many legends surround this tower on an island, and the one of Hero and Leandros’ eternal love story is particularly sweet to tell.
2. The open air Rumeli Fortress. It was built by Mehmet The Conqueror in 1452 in 4 months only, in preparation for the final attack on Constantinople, which led to the fall of the Byzantine empire. It’s also right by the Bosphorus in Sariyer, not too far from the neighborhoods of Bebek and Ortakoy.