• Places

    Büyükada Day

    Prinkipo or Büyükada, as the name in Turkish tells you, is a big island. It’s also a big tourist destination right now, much to the distress of Istanbul’s weekenders. That’s why you should never go on weekends this time of year without your own private pad to enjoy. My advice is visit between Sunday evening and Friday morning. There will still be some tourists, especially in the vicinity of the ferry port. However, if you grab a horse and carriage, walk or rent a bicycle—as I did at the staggering expense of 10TL/day—you can easily escape for some quiet seclusion in the hills and enjoy a vista worthy of Elysium.

  • Art / Design / Craft,  Places

    Call to Şakirin

    Many things have been done in the name of God, some good, some bad. I’d definitely say the Şakirin Mosque falls into the former category. This place of worship is notable for its extremely contemporary design sensibility and, perhaps more important, the fact that its interior was designed by Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu — a woman.

  • Photography,  Places

    Balat textures

    Balat is one of my favorite places to get inspired. It may be run down but the light shines differently here. There are textures, colors, scents and a mood you won’t find anywhere else in Istanbul. Last time I visited my fingers were freezing on the shutter release. Yesterday was a different story. A whole new experience, in sun-drenched, tumble-down Balat.

  • Food & Drink

    Şişhane lunch

    Every time I visit Şişhane there seems to be something new and worth checking out. Yesterday it was Gram, a swanky little bakery/eatery that’s been around for about two months, just opposite Da Vittorio, my favorite Italian restaurant in Istanbul. The design and the atmosphere of Gram make it a really appealing space — hats off to the architect and owners for creating such a reaxed yet intimate environment, with common tables, and the natural feel of wood, stone and brick. In particular, I liked the ceiling and lighting display featuring old scale weights as decoration.

  • Places

    The Antique Market – Kapalıçarsı

    After a few years of living in a place, you tend to avoid the touristy areas. My one exception is the antique market in the  Kapalıçarsı (Covered Bazaar). This place never fails to entertain me. My wife and I like to pay regular visits to the bazaar simply to soak up the feel. It’s truly a city within a city. There’s an incredible mixture of stuff, from the kitsch and cheap, to the truly antique and interesting — from pocket watches, naval instruments, old film cameras, illuminated pages, and semi precious stones.

  • People,  Places

    The two shores

    Nowhere is the contrast between Istanbul’s coexisting communities more apparent to me than on the Beykoz-Yeniköy ferry. Everyday these small, roughly 30-passenger capacity craft putter back and forth across the Bosporus, bringing Anatolia to Europe and vice-versa. Once upon a time there might have been a more upstairs-downstairs style transition as wealthy businessmen crossed one way to their factories and warehouses on the Anatolian shore, while wage-earners and house servants crossed to the other. In Ottoman times, Yeniköy was an affluent mix of Greek and Turk, and later on, Jewish settlers. Now that the Greek and Jewish communities have dwindled but still exist, it’s a mainly Turkish, primarily Republican group, with a strong sprinkling of foreigners. By contrast, Beykoz is a much more religious and conservative area, with no sycamore lined boulevards or fancy cafes. In Beykoz there might be a tekel or two selling Efes beer, but they aren’t readily…

  • Art / Design / Craft,  Books & Lit,  Places

    Salt Galata

    Yesterday I decided I wanted to experience the audio exhibit Translated By, a series of 13 performed excerpts from books, and one original piece, by various writers about different cities and landscapes, some imagined, an exhibit sponsored by the British Council. For the most part, I’m glad I did, although I must admit I skipped over a few whose writing or narration style grated after a couple of minutes. As you tour about Salt Galata, you don your headphones and tune into a numbered channel, one for Istanbul, Tokyo, Baku, the Metaverse—you get the idea—and listen to a passage written about each of these places. I’d recommend it if you have some time. However, when I wasn’t absorbed in these orally rendered landscapes I found myself wondering about the physical space I was in. Ever feel that you really want to like a place but instead leave uncertain what to think? That’s how…

  • Photography,  Places

    Neighborhood watch: Tarabya

    In a few months we’ll probably be leaving our beloved Yeniköy for Tarabya, one village farther up the Bosporus towards the Black Sea. Like Yeniköy it’s originally a Greek village (Therapia). However, it differs from Yeniköy significantly in that it has a large natural harbor dominated by the architecture of the Tarabya Hotel which is currently under renovation. This building is unique to the Bosporus in both its architecture and its size and under normal circumstances would be an illegal building for the Bosporus, exceeding its building height restrictions, yet somehow this one snuck through. While I wouldn’t want more hotels like this crowding the shores of the Bosporus, I’m actually quite fond of it and its placement at one of the last points before the strait curls towards the Black Sea. Tarabya is a very mixed neighborhood. Waterside there are pricey properties and perhaps one too many a fish…

  • Books & Lit,  Places

    The Book Bazaar: Sahaflar Çarşısı

    On rainy days there’s nothing better than taking refuge in a book. Yesterday I escaped a flash downpour in the Old City  under the awnings at the Sahaflar Çarşısı, a book bazaar located right next to the Covered Bazaar’s Beayzıt door.  While the slate sky above lit up and roiled with thunder, I discovered that there’s everything here from university textbooks to religious scripture, out of date travel guides, pulpy pocketbooks, massive coffee table tomes—and even a book claiming it had the inside scoop on the steamy life of Ottoman harems. Most of the stores don’t have a great selection for English readers but there are a few with a decent stock, including Gözen Kitap ve Yayın Evi, which has some splendid art books. As usual if you have cash, you can talk down the price of discovering all those sordid Ottoman Harem secrets. Definitely worth a peruse — the book bazaar,…

  • Food & Drink,  Places

    Cold tea time

    It’s not always easy to get a beer in this city. Sometimes, it has to be done on the sly. Recently I was in a nice little eatery a bit too close to a mosque to have an alcohol license, which used the code name soğuk çay (cold tea) for beer. There are times when I enjoy these little rituals and games and  then there are times when I just want a beer without any secret handshakes or fuss. Yes, there are days when it seems that there are a few too many fences between me and the swinging Sultan style of life I believe I desire. Some days I’m half tempted to just knock at the gate of someones’s yalı and find out what’s going on for those fortunate enough to live within toe-dipping distance of the Bosporus. Fortunately there are a few places where you can almost pretend you’re an Ottoman…