This is my Istanbul

The things that shape how I experience the city

This is my Istanbul: Ortakoy July 10, 2010

Filed under: Places — Rebecca @ 8:02 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

When I wake up to a gorgeous sunny summer weekend morning, my first instinct is to throw on something with a skirt, grab a pair of oversized sunglasses, and take a stroll down to Ortakoy. With sun, water, beautiful views of Asia and the First Bridge, and a great little waterfront café-and-handicrafts-bazaar area, Ortakoy is ideal for a weekend wander.
Ortakoy is just up the shore road from Besiktas – there are busses that regularly trawl the waterside, passing Ciragan Palace, the Four Seasons, and the Kabatas Erkek Lisesi in agonizingly slow traffic before clearing up a bit right at Ortakoy. It’s easier to just walk from Besiktas; unfortunately the road past Ortakoy has better water views, but the Besiktas-Ortakoy bit has decently wide sidewalks and a billboard installation of early eminent Turkish arts luminaries.
I’m always surprised by how relatively uncrowded Ortakoy is on weekend afternoons. Generally, if a spot in Istanbul is anywhere approaching a decent place to spend a few hours, and outdoors to boot, it is teeming on the weekends. See Sultanahmet, the Islands, Istiklal, the beaches up north, etc. But in Ortakoy there’s enough space to wander, stop, check out a bauble or interesting print, and meander on without coming remotely close to knocking in to anyone.
In addition to its warren of al fresco restaurants and weekend handicrafts market, Ortakoy is known for its waffle and kumpir stands and its secondhand booksellers. I’ve not tried the waffle and kumpir in Ortakoy, as I’m not the biggest kumpir fan, but their secondhand book stalls are treasure troves, and have decent selection of English-language Great Literature. Last week, I picked up a Wodehouse novel there for 7 lira. There’s also a really great print shop tucked away in a back street where I get all my early-20th-century Orientalist poster prints and Constantinople map copies. They have a surprisingly affordable selection.
During Ottoman times, Ortakoy was a fairly mixed neighborhood, and you can see remnants of that today: if you find the right spot, you can see a mosque, synagogue, and an Orthodox church by pivoting around. One of the neighborhood’s highlights is the Ortakoy Mosque, which Wikipedia tells me is actually named the Buyuk Mecidiye Camii. It’s striking because it’s done in a neo-baroque style, very singular in Istanbul, and dates from the 1850s. The mosque juts out over the water, with the First Bridge in the background, creating a pretty iconic image of Ortakoy.
For weekend afternoons or really any lazy free time I have, Ortakoy is one of my favorite places to while away a few hours. If you can stop by on a weekend it’s a great mix of laid-back shopping, leisurely lunching, and beautiful Bosporus views. What more could anyone want?


This is my Istanbul: Sublime Portal July 5, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rebecca @ 1:34 am

The television show Cheers was perhaps a bit before my time, but its iconic theme song has been an earworm of mine many a time. I’m not the most gregarious of folks, so it’s rare that “everybody knows [my] name,” but one place where that lyric holds true in Istanbul is The Sublime Portal.
The Sublime Portal is a web-based forum and wiki for expats and repats across Turkey. I initially joined while living in Ankara, and met some very nice folks there before moving to Istanbul and showing up to one of the Portal’s weekly meetups, not knowing a soul. Now, one year later, when I walk into a weekly meetup I usually know everyone. I’ve met some of my closest friends through the Portal. Last month alone, I went to a pirate-themed boat party, organized a hamam trip (to Cinili of course), and met up for several dinners and several World Cup viewings with folks from the Sublime Portal.
There are other expat forums out there, but I’ve found the closest and most welcoming community on TSP. Because it requires that members be expats or repats, it does a good job of weeding out the magandas that run roughshod over certain other Turkey fora.
Folks on the forum are just plain interesting. There are teachers, journalists, lawyers, executives, and people whose primary pastimes are perhaps less easily defined. Some have just arrived in Istanbul for their first time living abroad, while others have stumbled in to the city after a long string of stints in exotic and occasionally difficult locales. The language of the Portal is English, but there’s a veritable grab bag of native languages (I’ve met a lot of German speakers recently, for example) and, naturally, native countries. As a sometime Turkophile, I’ve found great discussions and debates about modern Turkish society and politics with folks I’ve met via the Portal, as well as gossip about Turkish soaps and local shopping hints.

In addition to being a social hub of sorts, the Sublime Portal is a clearinghouse of information. If something changes procedurally at the Istanbul Emniyet Mudurlugu, someone’ll post the new requirements. If you’re sick of missing out on YouTube videos, the TSP wiki has a nice list of workarounds. If you have any sort of question or problem concerning life in Turkey as an expat, chances are good that several people have experience with the issue and can offer advice (or, barring advice, a place to vent your frustration – also very helpful).

The Sublime Portal is not a resource for tourists, but if you’ve ended up in Turkey for the long haul (or for a middling term), it is invaluable. The site itself, and the fantastic people I’ve met through it, are a central part of my Istanbul

The Sublime Portal