I work as a news editor at Turkey's leading English-language paper, the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, which keeps me up-to-date on everything from political campaigns to coup plots to the latest cultural events in Istanbul. Writing freelance dispatches for publications such as the luxury lifestyle magazine Ayn, the Abu Dhabi-based daily The National, the online magazine Salon.com, and the popular U.S. technology magazine Wired meanwhile allows me to peek into new cultural, political, and historical corners of this ever-fascinating city in greater depth.
I was smitten with Turkey on my first visit to the country, in 2001, and have now been living in Istanbul for more than three years, regularly renewing my love affair with the city by gallery- and bar-hopping in Beyoğlu, clambering on the Byzantine city walls, and swimming in secluded coves on the Bosphorus. As an inveterate urban explorer, news junkie, avid photographer, and enjoyer of a good night out, I find Istanbul hits all my buttons -- excepting, alas, the yen for microbrews and Burmese food.
I write about my travels, linguistic misadventures, and daily observations about expat life at http://theturkishlife.blogspot.com.
Where I always grab a coffee: With its funky-old-house interior, large patio, and artsy vibe, centrally located Kafe Ara (named for the famous Turkish photographer Ara Güler) is the perfect place to meet for a leisurely chat with friends or while away the afternoon with a book.
My favourite stroll: Every time I walk along the waterfront from, say, the Sakıp Sabancı Museum in Emirgan to Bebek for an ice cream, I ask myself why I don't do it more often. The Bosphorus views and sea breezes always give me new energy. For a more urban experience, I love crossing the Galata Bridge on foot, watching the passing boats, the crowds of fishermen, and the giddy tourists, before being swept up into the chaotic warren of streets in Eminönü, where everything from cheap pajamas to heating stoves to wooden spoons is on offer.
Books for inspiration: Nobel Prize-winning writer Orhan Pamuk's memoir Istanbul is a loving, if melancholy, ode to the city, while Elif Şafak's novel The Flea Palace has been described as a Turkish-style Tales of the City. Latife Tekin explores a darker side of Istanbul life with her Berji Kristen, a somewhat surreal story set in a community built on a garbage dump. For lighter fare, Jason Goodwin's Ottoman-era mystery The Janissary Tree is an atmospheric page-turner.
City on screen: Istanbul's twisting streets and dramatic backdrops seem made for action flicks, from the James Bond classic From Russia with Love and the 1960s French heist movie Topkapı to the 2009 global-banking thriller The International. Films by Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Distant), Semih Kaplanoğlu (Egg), and Fatih Akın (Head-On) give viewers a taste of modern Turkish cinema along with an intimate perspective on the city.
Where to be seen this summer: Life is lived outdoors during Istanbul's sticky, sweltering summers, whether on a rooftop bar or a sidewalk café. The Cihangir neighbourhood has a café culture to rival any in Europe, with the White Mill Café and nearby Limonlu Bahçe offering shade and socializing day and night in their "hidden gardens." Rooftop bars like Balkon in Asmalımescit and My House near Taksim have great views without too much pretence.
The most breathtaking view: A ramble up through the leafy hillside cemeteries of the Eyüp district is rewarded with a sweeping view down the Golden Horn from the Pierre Loti Café, while those who hike up to Yoros Castle above Anadolu Kavağı (the last stop on the Bosphorus Tour) can gaze out over the seemingly endless Black Sea and the undulating green hills leading back to the city.
The best spot for some peace and quiet: The car-free Büyükada - The Princes’ Islands is the classic Istanbullu getaway -- escape from the city for the price of a ferry ride. If you must go on a summer weekend, try the lesser-visited Heybeliada or Burgazada. Pure bliss, though, if you have enough people and/or money, is to charter a boat for a day trip up the Bosphorus, to sunbathe, grill fish, and swim in the secluded coves at the northernmost end of the strait.
Shopaholics beware: There's always something enticing to buy in this city of salesmen. The Grand Bazaar is a must-see on most visitors' itineraries for its sheer size and chaos, but to pick up evil eyes, prettily patterned ceramics, and other typical Turkish gifts for visits home, I prefer the much smaller Spice Bazaar in Eminönü or (to escape the "Hello, lady, I have very nice carpet. You like?" gauntlet altogether), the Avrupa Pasajı, a quiet arcade off the bustling Balık Pazarı in Beyoğlu. The new city's Cihangir, Çukurcuma, and Galata districts are increasingly good places to find boutiques offering clothing by up-and-coming designers and other out-of-the-ordinary items.
City soundtrack: Ship horns on the Bosphorus mixed with the cries of street vendors, the five-times-daily call to prayer, taxi horns honking, and whatever pop hit of the moment is pumping out of all the stores and bars on İstiklal Avenue.
Don't leave without… Joining the throngs on İstiklal on a weekend night and feasting on mezes while drinking rakı at a raucous street-side meyhane in Nevizade or Asmalımescit.
My expert information
Soak in 2,000 years of history
From the breathtakingly high dome of Aya Sofya to the massive walls that once ringed the city, Istanbul is full of gorgeous - if sometimes crumbling - evidence of the important role it held for centuries as the capital of the powerful Byzantine and Ottoman empires.Read more...