Travel like a modern sultan with design-conscious hotels, bespoke shopping, and high-end dining at the crossroads of two continents: Istanbul, Turkey.
In 2010, Istanbul made headlines in every travel magazine and newspaper as it was home to one of the European Capitals of Culture. The influx of cash and visitors meant dozens of new hotels, art galleries, museums, and world-class restaurants. As many European countries’ economies have seen trouble in the last year, the Turkish Tiger is booming. Visitors today can relive the glory days of travel in the restored Pera Palace Hotel, built for the Orient Express passengers, or luxuriate in modern style with a water view at the House Hotel Bosphorus. Marvel at the jewel-encrusted treasures at Topkapı Palace and pick up something for your own royal residence at Paşabahçe, where home goods run from a few lira for a çay glass to thousands for a mosaic-tiled Ottoman-inspired vase; or invest in artisanal, limited-edition jewelry and textiles at Armaggan. Sample Turkish classics with a modern twist at Lokanta Maya for shared mezes or at the Michelin-standard Mimolett restaurant and wine boutique. If you haven’t put on too much weight from all the fantastic food, you can commission a bespoke suit, leather jacket, or customized pair of shoes at the Grand Bazaar or on the back streets of Nişantaşı, Istanbul’s fashion district. While no longer a budget travel destination, Istanbul has something to offer every taste, from an elaborate dinner aboard a private yacht to the simple (and cheap) pleasure of a ferry ride between continents.
As an expat in Istanbul, I enjoy seeing anything Turkey-related, and this vintage video of the former Constantinople is especially fun to see. Narrated by a droll British commentator, you travel over and around Istanbul, checking out some of the big sights such as Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, as well as life on the Bosphorus before the bridges were constructed to provide alternate access between the European and Asian sides of the city. Not too much has changed in 45 years, though the traffic seems lighter and the city less crowded than with today’s populate of 13 million (or perhaps more) people. I’d like to say that the Galata Bridge is no longer a “man’s world,” but fishing is still mostly men-only even if women are not only “veiled or hidden away”.
They do miss out on some correct terminology: the “different and delightful” bread ring is a simit, best accompanied by some Turkish cheese or with a full breakfast spread. The “hubble bubble pipe” is a nargile, found at many cafes and bars around the city and savored with a hot glass of çay (only tourists drink the apple stuff) or a cold Efes (if your nargile bar happens to serve alcohol). Barbeque remains a national pastime of the Turks and yes, “any old tin” will do. As in 1967, Istanbul is still the place to savor a fish sandwich fresh from the water, hop on a ferry between continents, and admire your newly shined shoes.
The US may be all abuzz about President Obama’s birth certificate, but the big news in Turkey this week is the proposed Istanbul canal project to dig a second Bosphorus. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan’s self-proclaimed “crazy” project would connect the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea, making Istanbul a city of “two peninsulas and an island.” Details of the project are still unclear, but it is estimated that it will cost more than $10 billion and would be finished in time for Turkey’s centennial in 2023.
“Today, we are rolling up our sleeves for one of world’s greatest projects which cannot even be compared with Panama Canal, Suez Canal or Corinth Canal,” Erdogan said. “Istanbul is the only city on earth that a sea passes through. With this project, Istanbul will become a city that two seas will pass.”
Turkey’s cultural capital is already known for several historic bodies of water including the Bosphorus strait, which divides Istanbul between Europe and Asia, as well as the Golden Horn, the Sea of Marmara, and the Black Sea. The Bosphorus is one of the busiest and most important waterways in the world, with up to 50,000 passages per year with one-way traffic for tankers. The new canal would alleviate all of the commercial traffic and allow for additional ships to pass. The waterway would be around 30 miles long, 500 feet wide, and 80 feet deep and cut through the European side far west of the city center. The upside for vistors is that the crowded Bosphorus would be returned to sport and pleasure boats, making the classic Bosphorus cruise less polluted and crowded.
Six months ago today, I arrived in Turkey, jetlagged and excited to begin my current adventure as an expat. Since then, I’ve gotten to know the many hills, museums, and cafes in this city nearly as well as New York. In honor of this anniversary, I chose this photo by Flick user Luke Robinson that says “Istanbul” to me with nary a kebap, bazaar, or minaret in sight. It’s on the Galata Bridge spanning the Golden Horn, where dozens of fishermen stand every day in hopes of catching a fish from the Bosphorus. Some men fish for a living, others fish for pleasure, and you can spot more than a few men wearing suits and leather shoes. Hungry for fish? The bridge’s lower level is packed with fish restaurants serving the catch of the day.
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