Turkey has had bad press over the last few years. The authoritarian president is still around, violating human rights and making many miserable, but it doesn’t take away the beauty of Istanbul and the incredible warmth of its people. I have visited the city more than 15 times over the last 20 years (that’s how long I have been with my Turkish husband!). I have seen Istanbul change visually, women covering themselves more and more, and crates popping up everywhere. But mostly, I have never stopped being mesmerised by the beauty of this city – like almost anyone who visits.
Spring is a perfect time to take the kids. Summer is a bit too hot. Autumn has magic light. Winter can have low grey skies. But no matter the season, the enormous ships cross the Bosphorus and the many tales of East meets West remain.
I have often written about Istanbul. I talked about my favorite hamam, a wonderful experience to share with a daughter (or a dad & son) or a BFF. I also talked about all the places where I like to shop, for delicious loukoum or beautiful rugs in the Grand Bazar. It’s always nice to save a day or two for a trip out on the Bosphorus by boat, or a an afternoon on one of the pretty Princes islands, traveling back in time. If you read French, I wrote a comprehensive city guide for Milk Decoration, talking mostly about the up and coming neighbourhood of Karaköy around the Museum of Modern Art. Below are some places that I advent mentioned before, from our recent stay in the city.
Art, words and photography
Orhan Pamuk is one of Turkey’s most famous writer internationally. His love for Istanbul can be felt vividly in the tiny museum that he opened a few years ago in Cihangir: The Museum of Innocence. It is a visual account of his novel of the same title. It looks like a precious little jewel box, entered through a narrow staircase in a street hidden away, up a hill. The journey to get there is half the fun and it won’t take you long to visit it but it’s worth it.
Ara Guler is another famous Turkish artist. He passed away at the end of last year, aged over 90 years old, but his black and white images of the city that he loved have a huge legacy. You’ll be reminded of his work each time you cross the Galata bridge, with all the fishermen chitchatting on the bridge and comparing their catch of the day. The small Ara Guler museum is supposed to be worth it but was closed when we were there. which I have not visited.
Crossing the Golden Horn by foot is legendary: sea gulls flying en masse over our heads, maddening crowds and the calls to prayer resonating over the city. Deep blue sky, a mix of old and new, the Galata tower in the background, modern constructions peaking out. Istanbul is a city of chaos and contradictions. It’s been said over and over.
I’ve always wanted to visit the Maiden Tower, called Kizkulesi, but there’s always been a reason not to. Last time, the winds were too strong, the waves too big to make the transfer by boat from the Asian side to this tiny island in the middle of the Bosphorus.
Legend has it that a Byzantine emperor heard a prophecy telling him that his beloved daughter would die at the age of 18 by a snake. So he decided to put her in this tower built on a rock on the Bosphorus isolated from the land, thus no snake could kill her. But she couldn’t escape from her destiny after all: a snake hidden in a fruit basket brought from the city bit the princess and killed her.
Fish or Kebab?!
In case you didn’t know, Turkish food is excellent and very under-rated! When in Istanbul, there are two meals that I will cross the entire city for:
1- Going for fish, and for the mezzes typically served in fish restaurants. Mezzes are like Spanish tapas i.e. small dishes meant to be shared early in the meal (a fish called Lüfer served raw is an incredible delicacy, only found in Istanbul during the autumn months). Some favorite fish restaurants:
Akin Balic, right under the Galata Bridge, on a sunny day you’ll seat outside or on the covered terrace. You’ll find it right after the fish market by the stairs of the bridge on the Galata tower side.
Kiyi is an institution in the neighbourhood of Tarabya. It’s quite far from the center and where you are likely to be based but you will not find a single tourist there. Seat in the room on the first floor, by the window with views over the bay. Chic locals only, quite pricey.
Iskele Arnavutkoy Lokantasi. Similar idea to the one above, rather chic local crowd yet a very informal setting, seating right by the water in a large room, in the neighbourhood of Arnavutkoy.
2 – Going for Turkish meatballs (says a flexible pescatarian! Yes!). And especially, ordering a dish of white bean salad and turkish meatballs, best served in the stylish restaurant Karaköy Lokantasi at lunch time, among the locals. Or Cukurcuma lokantasi, a little hole in the wall next to Alla Turca’s incredibly chic emporium. Or Sultanahmet Koftesi (beware, only go to the original one where people are queuing!) right near the Basilica Cistern, which you will no doubt visit.
Ps: Gazebo is another such restaurant where you will not find a tourist. In a chic setting, set in the residential neighbourhood of Arnavuytkoy, you go to indulge in a Turkish breakfast or for lunch and marvel at the view, especially on a warm day when the large windows open directly on the Bosphorus.
Next post: our little adventure in Capaddocia. stay tuned xx
Come, Come again!
Whatever you are…
Whether you are infidel,
Idolater or fireworshipper.
Whether you have broken your vow
Of repentance a hundred times
This is not the gate of despair,
This is the gate of hope.
Come, Come again…”
words that I like by the sufi poet Rumi who was born in Turkey