This is my Istanbul

The things that shape how I experience the city

This is my Istanbul: The Marmara at night April 19, 2010

Filed under: Places — Rebecca @ 11:43 pm
Tags: , , , , ,
Photo credit to Kevin, thanks Kev!

Photo credit to Kevin, thanks Kev!

Living in Istanbul can be frustrating. After a day in cubicle land bookended by particularly rank municipal bus rides with 90 of my bestest Turkish male friends (the combination of a diet heavy on garlic sucuk and an exuberant love of cologne can be literally breathtaking in the summer months), I can get a little run down by the less-easy bits of living in the city. Whenever I do, though, it doesn’t last long because invariably I have what I call a “moment of perspective” – something that makes me stop and go “I cannot believe I get to live in a place this incredible.”

One of my chief moments of perspective comes late at night when I’m in a car heading down Kennedy Caddesi – the shore road on the Euro-side Marmara. Unlike the Bosporus, there’s almost no traffic so the driver can zoom along, curving in and out along the parkland and coastal hotels. Also unlike the Bosporus, there are very few buildings between the road and the water, giving a nearly uninterrupted view of the vast sea and the hundreds of ships moored out in the water, waiting for their turn to go through the Bosporus and on to the Black Sea. At night, they’re all lit up, and the water, the shoreline, and the distant shore beyond are all so dark the contrast is beautiful. It’s like a city on the water. Every time I end up on the shore road at night, I am awestruck by the sight of this floating city, directly between the two halves of Istanbul itself. I take the road more or less weekly, and it never gets blasé.

The Bosporus is a major transit point for global shipping, especially for the oil industry. Throughout history, it was pretty darn strategic, and figured prominently in more than its fair share of wars. I’m having a bit of difficulty finding hard facts on this online, but I’ve heard that ships have to wait at either end for somewhere around 3 weeks, in the queue to pass through the Bosporus (because there are so many ships passing through). The ones on the south end all gather in the Marmara, off towards the Euro side near Yesilkoy. Apparently there’s a thriving commercial aspect to the waiting ships, as they all have crews of a dozen-ish, waiting around with not much to do, so small boats ply the water between the tankers with snacks, DVDs, and other random things the crew might want to help pass the time.

It’s quite nice to look out on the sea full of tankers and cargo ships during the day, but at night the lit boats are just tranquil and magical, and the visual impact reminds me of how lucky I am to live in Istanbul. Burasi Istanbul (“this is Istanbul”), and the Marmara at night is a vital part of my Istanbul.


This is my Istanbul: Gebze April 11, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rebecca @ 12:00 pm

Osman Hamdi Bey's waterfront Eskihisar house

There are a few traditional day trips from Istanbul for those who find, when they have free time, that they’d rather get away for a day. Depending on the weather, one can go up to the Black Sea beaches, head out to the Islands, take the ferry to Bursa, drive to Edirne, or ski at Kartepe, Kartalkaya or Uludag. All are pretty darn nice, but there’s another place whose Istanbul daytrip potential has been sadly overlooked: Gebze. Anyone here long enough to call Istanbul home should definitely check out this hidden gem of a town, south of Istanbul on the Asian-side Marmara shores.

I visited Gebze on somewhat of a whim – my friend the Art History Grad Student (AHGS) was in town and wanted to visit the Osman Hamdi Bey house, located in Gebze (more specifically in Eskihisar, better known as the place to catch the slow car ferry towards Bursa if the fast ferry at Pendik isn’t running). Even though it poured the entire time we were there, and we made it back to Istanbul thoroughly drenched with teeth chattering, it was awesome and I’d definitely go back, especially now that it’s warmer.

Gebze has a hodgepodge of sights that should keep pretty much everyone entertained: First, there’s the Osman Hamdi Bey house and museum. Osman Hamdi Bey was a true Renaissance man and perhaps Turkey’s best-known painter, and the house was his family home and studio. It’s set up with the original furnishings and copies of many of his better-known works (the originals are at the Pera and the Sabanci museum). One of the cool parts of the house, particularly for those art history students out there, is the doors in the downstairs study, which were hand painted by Osman Hamdi Bey. The museum is also home to an art gallery and a painting cooperative, where you can stop by for tea and chat with the very nice and very talented women who spend their weekends painting together there.

In addition to the house and museum, Gebze is also home to the Coban Mustafapasa Mosque, which is very big, very old, and interesting to explore as it’s architecturally closer to the mosques of Bursa than to Istanbul’s Mimar Sinan archetype. The mosque grounds are gorgeous, and there’s a turbe in the back to check out as well as a few outbuildings. The city is also home to an ancient kale or fortress, which is not safe to climb when it’s raining but which otherwise would be a great thing to scarper over.

The area of town around the house and museum, Eskihisar, is home to many small fishing boats and a few decent fish restaurants along the shore, affording beautiful views across the Marmara. A daytrip to the area could easily start off at the museum, do lunch next door at one of the restaurants, then head up into town for the mosque before finishing the day at the kale and heading back to Istanbul after a very full day. There are almost no tourists; when I visited we were the day’s only guests at the museum and the kids on the bus we took to the mosque very clearly did not see tourists all that often. Gebze is a sadly overlooked daytrip with a lot of potential and is definitely part of my Istanbul.

Easy to get to via the Asia-side banliyo train from Haydarpasa; trains every half hour or so, TL 1.5
Gebze is the last stop, you can walk to Eskihisar from the station through some picturesque back streets. From Eskihisar, catch a dolmus up the hill to the mosque and a dolmus or bus from the mosque to the train station. The kale is visible from Eskihisar and is most likely walking distance.

Gebze fun fact: Hannibal, he of the Alps-and-elephants fame, died in Gebze.


This is my Istanbul: April 10, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rebecca @ 10:06 pm

Living in a city such as Istanbul, with its reputation as a cosmopolitan, exotic, and bustling metropolis, there’s a bit of an expectation that when you’re not cooking for yourself, you’re seeking out dinner in a Bosporus-side bistro, hidden treasure of a back-neighborhood local hangout, or trendy hotspot. While I have a post coming up with my source for all restaurants that’d qualify for those, this post is about what I use when all I want to do is stay in and order in: This website has facilitated pretty much every single delivery dinner order I’ve made in this country.

In Boston, there were actually a few online delivery aggregate websites, and I certainly used Foodler and Campusfood a few times while in the middle of thesis-writing. But when I arrived at Bogazici the summer before last, I didn’t expect the latest in restaurant delivery technology to have made it to this time zone quite yet. Thus I was pleasantly surprised when one of my Bogazici roommates mentioned ordering in one night, and pulled up a website with a 30 or 40-strong list of restaurants open and delivering to our address. Thirty minutes later we had manti at our door and a free DVD because we’d ordered over TL 30. Not too shabby.

Yemeksepeti has restaurants signed up in 11 cities across Turkey, including 2,200 restaurants in Istanbul and 300 in Ankara. It’s ideal for expats, especially, because it has an English interface so you can order without knowing Turkish or without having to convince the guy taking phone orders that yes, you are speaking Turkish and no, you would not like to go to a bar with him when his shift is done. It also has a larger variety of restaurants than most people would keep delivery menus for. Helpfully, many restaurants have photos of their menu items, plus the site has an integrated Turkish-English dictionary for those unfamiliar food terms.

Thanks to perusing yemeksepeti options I’ve found Mexican and Chinese food in the city, both of which I knew were out there somewhere but wasn’t quite sure where. It’s comforting to know that you can just go online and get guacamole delivered to your door in a city with maybe five restaurants total that actually serve guac. My current neighborhood has pretty limited delivery options, but earlier this year a Chinese restaurant expanded its delivery zone to include my area, which I was pretty psyched to see. Before that, my choices were pizza or Turkish cuisine, which served me fairly well. The website also often has specials and deals at its restaurants, for example most pizza places listed offer a free medium pizza when you buy another medium pizza. Yemeksepeti clearly isn’t a tourist experience or really any sort of cultural thing, but it definitely is a part of my life here in Istanbul, and one that anyone moving to the city (or the 10 other Turkish cities it serves) should check out.


This is my Istanbul: Kurukahveci Mehmet April 7, 2010

Filed under: Places — Rebecca @ 10:04 pm
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I’ll cheerfully admit it: I have an inordinate love of coffee. Get me a freshly roasted strong black filtered coffee and I’m pretty much in Nirvana. Get me a well-made cappuccino or latte and I’m fairly content with life. One of the hardest parts of living in Istanbul has been the relative dearth of coffee shops, especially independent ones, as well as the scarcity of coffee on menus or in grocery stores. Nescafe doesn’t count. It smells like soy sauce.
I know Turkey has a bit of a reputation in the West for Turkish coffee, but honestly it’s not drunk all that much here. Turks have pretty firmly turned to tea for their hot caffeine fix. Still, certain restaurants do have Turkish coffee, and they seem to get their grounds from the same place everybody in Istanbul gets their grounds from: Kurukahveci Mehmet. After trying their coffee grounds in my French press, my taste buds cry when I switch back to Starbucks grounds.
Kurukahveci Mehmet’s shop is located directly next to the Spice Bazaar, on the corner of what I know as “the street with the great baking stuff and dried hibiscus.” I have never not seen a line stretching at least a dozen people back up the street, waiting for freshly ground coffee. They roast and grind the coffee on-site, all day. It smells wonderful.
Customers don’t actually enter the shop. There’s a to-go window opening to the street, where you buy your coffee, cocoa (they also do fantastic cocoa powder), or coffee gift sets. Prices are quite reasonable for such delicious coffee – half a kilo is TL 10. It’s a very fine grind, if you’re used to Western coffeemakers and coarser ground coffee, this is almost the consistency of flour. I wouldn’t personally use it in a filter coffeemaker, but it’s very good as espresso, because it’s just a bit finer ground than an espresso grind. I personally brew it in my assortment of French presses and enjoy American levels of caffeination with my oh-so-very-Istanbul coffee from Kurukahveci Mehmet.
The name “Kurukahveci Mehmet” literally means “Mehmet the Coffee-grounds-guy.” They have a surprisingly excellent website that I highly recommend spending an hour or so perusing. It wanders from the history of coffee, to coffee culture, to an illustrated description of how coffee is made, and even has a section on how to read coffee grounds. It is really interesting, and fairly in-depth.

Kurukahveci Mehmet
Tahmis Sokak 66
(1 block in on the street directly to the right of the Spice Bazaar’s entrance by the Yeni Cami)
TL 10 per half kilo