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
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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: Hidrellez May 17, 2010

Filed under: Events — Rebecca @ 10:11 pm
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During my time in Ankara I’d heard vague stories of a holiday celebrated each spring where girls wrote down their wishes for husbands, houses, etc. on slips of paper and buried them under rosebushes, but never really figured out what it was all about. Thanks to a few fortuitous events, I’ve figured out the holiday and now started celebrating it here in Istanbul. The mystery holiday? Hidrellez.

Hidrellez is a bit hard to pin down accurately, because it’s truly more of a mishmash of coming-of-spring rites melded together from the Caucasians, Central Asians, Anatolians, Balkans, etc. There are both Muslim and Christian elements – in fact, although the holiday is celebrated on May 5/6 in the Gregorian calendar, Wikipedia tells me it’s celebrated on April 23 in the Julian: April 23 is St. George’s Day, and the Greek Orthodox celebrate it with a whole lot of rituals eerily similar to the Hidrellez traditions, down to making wishes on slips of paper.

Hidrellez at its most essential welcomes the coming of spring, or I guess more accurately truly warm weather. In Muslim tradition it’s the day that the prophet Al-Khidr (or Hizir) met the prophet Elijah (or Ilyas) – the name Hidrellez is a portmanteau of Hizir and Ilyas. Hizir is apparently considered a saint and is very important in Sufism (the whirling dervishes, among others). He appears with a long white beard and is said to be immortal. Once a year, if you ask nicely and if he feels like granting, you may petition him with your wishes. He has the power to grant wishes, which he does when he feels the wishmaker is well-meaning and benevolent. While it seems that traditionally the wish-making is done almost solely by women, at Istanbul’s Hidrellez festival I saw both men and women making their yearly wishes. This is accompanied by lots of folk songs, and later at night people jump over fires.

On to Hidrellez in Istanbul: Hidrellez is still very much a traditional village celebration, so I was surprised to literally stumble into Istanbul’s official Hidrellez celebration on my way home from work on May 5. Apparently about a decade ago the celebration started out as a street Hidrellez festival, and grew steadily until the municipality stepped in to manage it and then move it off the streets because it was just so big. Currently, Istanbul’s Hidrellez is held at Ahirkapi Park, on the shore of the Marmara about midway between Sirkeci and Yenikapi.

Istanbul’s Hidrellez is half traditional Hidrellez and half Springfest. Following the crowds of people headed towards the entrance, I saw more beer being sold on the side of the street than I’ve ever seen in my neighborhood, total. The dress code seemed to be boho/gypsy skirts, flowers, ribbons, and scarves in your hair. I saw a fair number of fedoras as well. It was also most decidedly bring-your-own-tambourine. Once in the gates, it was utter mayhem. People everywhere. The municipality’s website said in 2009, over 100,000 people attended, and they were expecting more this year. There were smaller tents and stages set up with musicians and dancing, but the main eye-draw was the giant pole (looked like a May Pole) set up with ribbons fluttering down and liberally covered with scraps of paper and fabric. This was the wish tree. Actually, there were several smaller wish trees surrounding the main pole as well, to hold the sheer volume of wishes. Some people came prepared with their wishes already written out, but the municipality had paper and pins for those of us last-minute wishers.

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In addition to the wishing tree, Istanbul’s Hidrellez had a large open area with commercial booths, large statues and figures of Hizir to take your photo with, and other things that wouldn’t be out of place at a country fair. Past the food booths, though, was the second main attraction: the main stage. Istanbul’s Hidrellez has turned into a bit of an outdoor spring concert, with Balkans music, beers, and in-crowd tambourine-offs. All quite fun, if not at all part of the traditional Hidrellez celebrations.

Hidrellez is a new part of my Istanbul. Now that I know what’s behind the wish-burying and –tying, I can’t wait for next year’s celebration of spring and hopes and kismet, with a little concert thrown in, because burasi Istanbul.

Hidrellez
Evening of May 5; sometimes April 23
Ahirkapi Parki, Eminonu

 

This is my Istanbul: The Asia-side waterfront March 27, 2010

Filed under: Places — Rebecca @ 6:26 pm
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My first time in Turkey, I did not set foot in Asian Istanbul. When I moved to Bogazici, I took the ferry across to Kadikoy a few times and hopped a train out of Haydarpasa, but never really got beyond the late, great Kadikoy Tuesday bazaar. I knew that Asia “wasn’t that bad,” but between living at Bogazici and hanging out in Bebek, Arnavutkoy, Ortakoy, Besiktas and Taksim, there really wasn’t a need to go explore the other side of the city. Plus, all the historic/tour-y bits were Euro-side: Sultanahmet, the Byzantine churches of Fatih, the museums around the European side, historic Beyoglu. Why go to Asia?

I was totally missing out.

Asia is awesome. This time ‘round, I’ve explored more of the Asian side of Istanbul than I think I knew existed, and have tons more to see. I’m not going to relegate the entire half of the city to one blog post though, so this is going to focus on the waterfront. Between Kadikoy and lord-only-knows-where south on the Marmara, a really well-done waterfront promenade stretches on reclaimed land for over 40 kilometers, most of it adjoining parkland, tea gardens, and marinas.

While I decried workout options in my part of Istanbul in my earlier post on exercise parks, the south side of Asian Istanbul has a gorgeous paved running, biking and walking trail that wanders from exercise park to grassy areas. Recently, I started out from Caddebostan with a friend and walked up through Fenerbahce, past the Fenerbahce lighthouse, through Moda and on to Kadikoy, a decent hour-and-a-half jaunt of 8 km. It was great.

While the European side has shore roads, and has a longish stretch of grass and sidewalk south past Yenikapi, the Asian side’s waterfront is absurdly better developed, with well-maintained grassy areas, multitudinous municipal flower beds, and much more assiduous attention to trash pick-up. Plus, the tea gardens. There’s just so many places to sit and enjoy the gorgeous weather and watch the ships go by, over a glass of tea or a coffee or a kebap or a beer. And the path is long enough and well-maintained enough to get a really decent run in, should one be so inclined.

For all that my neighborhood has to offer, it does not have a waterfront promenade that can hold a candle to the one in Asia. It’s refreshing to be able to hop on the ferry, get to Kadikoy, and set off down the trail, parks and gardens to your left and the Marmara to your right. I don’t get over to Asia as often as I should, but the Asian-side waterfront is definitely part of my Istanbul.