Blog by Vietnam based documentary Photographer Christian Berg
categories: Travel, Turkey
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Istanbul – City of plenty

Istanbul is not city, but many in one: an estimated 20 million live in this colorful melting pot between East and West; on the very border of Europe and Asia. Istanbul is a city of opposites, and opposites attract: old and new; tradition and modernity; hedonism and religion; century old oriental bazaars and shopping malls that almost seem to come from a distant future (a central part of the famous hyper-post-modern Kanyon looks like cut out right from Darth Vader’s Death Star in Star Wars – and if you don’t believe me, why don’t you just visit this amazing city yourself, hello?) a list as endless as the water that flows down the Bosporus, that legendary strait that parts the city, the two continents as if they were 2 sides of the same medal….


Istanbul – Images by Christian Berg

Sultanahmet

This is obviously the oldest part of Istanbul. The center of the city from a sightseeing point of view, but also a bit of a tourist trap, comparable maybe with Hanoi’s old quarter even though not that crowded – a beautiful beautiful place, but not where the heartbeat of the city is located. This area of the city is one of the more conservative ones on the European side and here you should not be surprised to see many women wearing the headscarf, even though Turkey is a secular country. Sultanahmet is home to some of the city’s most important and impressive sides, such as the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque or the Topkapi Palace. This part of the city also might cause sleeplessness as the Muezzins call for prayers via loudspeakers on the top of the minarets (small towers at the mosque) at the most unexpected times of the day.

Beyoğlu

A hell of a 20 minute Taxi ride on the European side (and a hell of a ride you will have considering the driving still of Istanbul) will bring you to Taksim Square in the heart of Beyoğlu. Don’t be surprised if your driver opts to drop you a few hundred meters earlier if he sees the chance to pick up some local alternative punky looking girls for the next ride, at least this is what happened to us.

Taksim Square is located at the beginning of the some 2 kilometer long Istiklal Avenue, the main shopping area in this part of town. On weekends this is where to meet the masses. And by masses I mean masses. It must have been some ten thousand on the first Saturday night that we have been here. Here you find everything (and pickpockets easily find you). From international branded shops and huge kebab places on the main road to beautiful garden restaurants being tucked away in the back alleys and backyards around Galatasaray square to fancy sky bars or basement second hand stores as big as Ben Thanh Market with a DJ playing between the clothing racks. This is definitely the hippest area in town, playing in a league with similar areas in London, Paris or Berlin. An area though that does not always make it easy for you to find the hidden gems. If you are new to the city it takes some endurance to find that special Meze restaurant you might have picked and maybe only to figure out that it is still another 4 hours until it opens. One thing I know from this trip to Istanbul: next time I will definitely stay in Beyoğlu and not in Sultanahmet.

Crossing the Bosporus to Asia

Probably the best way of catching the spirit of the city is to take a ferry over the Bosporus to Asia. We took the ferry from Kabataş to Üsküdar and from there back to Emınönü.

On deck, the wind in my hair, screaming seagulls, ship horns and the muezzin in your ear while drifting between Asia and Europe for me is was of the most essential moments of this trip. On the Asian side then the world again looks totally different. Organized chaos like you might know it from the suburbs of lets say Kuala Lumpur instantly reminds you of setting foot on Asian ground again. Here suddenly all women seem to wear headscarf and the often described gender difference in Islam seems striking when you enter a small park and suddenly realize that the more than hundred people sitting on benches are only bearded elderly men. After returning to Europe there is probably nothing better then Sardine sandwich (with squeezed lemon) and Efes beer under the Galata Bridge while you can see the fishing lines of the overly enthusiastic locals flying over your head towards the sunset.

Beşiktaş

The posh area of Beşiktaş is located south of Beyoğlu and a must for those who want to buy expensive fashion brands like Mark Jacobs and Co. Beşiktaş is also home to the famous Dolmabahçe Palace at the shores of the Bosporus -  a relict of the once mighty Ottoman empire. Unfortunately it can only be visited with a guided tour which spoils a bit of the fun, so instead it is a good option to just have a cup of turkish coffee outside the palace at the sea and then head a few kilometers back in direction of Beyoğlu and visit the surprisingly excellent Istanbul Modern featuring a library of flying books and other inspiring contemporary Turkish art.

Travel Tips


istanbul travel tips – Images by Christian Berg

Where to eat:

Limonlu Bahçe

Yeniçarşı Caddesi 98, Galatasaray

Tel: (212) 252 10 94

A secret garden in the back alleys of Galatasary in Beyoglu. Not only beautiful and relaxed atmosphere but also great local food with a own note!

9 ece aksoy

Asmalimescit Oteller Sok. No.9, Istanbul, Turkey

Tel: 0212 245 76 28

Awesome Meze restaurant tucked away in a small side alley of Istiklal avenue. Open after 7 pm. Not the cheapest choice but for sure one of the best around town!

Where to stay:

W Istanbul

Suleyman Seba Cad No: 22,

Akaretler, Beşiktaş

Istanbul,

34357

Phone: (90)(212) 381 2121

Ueberstylish luxury Oasis in the cities poshest area. Prices are also ueberstylish.

Where to buy:

by Retro

Istiklal Caddesi 166/C. Suriye Pasajı (0212) 245 64 20.

Vintage heaven! No need to say any more.

Lazy Istanbul

Yeniçarşı cad. 9/A,Galatasaray,Beyoğlu, İstanbul,Türkiye. Tel:+902122523155

Hip local designs for the ladies! Very worthwhile checking out!

Kanyon

Esentepe Mh., 34394 İstanbul, Turkey

One of Europes biggest shopping malls. Reminds of Green Belt in Manila.

Grand bazaar & Spice bazaar

Experience first hand the local trading and bargaining culture in one of the world’s biggest market area. And expect to spend way more money then you intend to.

What to see:

Must see: Topkapi palace (the Harem!!!), Blue mosque, Hagia sofia, a trip on a Bosporus ferry,

Should see: Istanbul Modern

What to read:

Elif Shafak – The Bastard of Istanbul

What to watch:

Movies by Turkish-German director Fatih Akin such as: Crossing the bridge, On the other side, Head On