Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Nişantaşı Tour: Abdi Ipekçi and Atiye Streets

Dear readers,

If you live in Istanbul, you know we are now celebrating the 3-day Ramadan Holiday which began on Tuesday, August 30 and will end on Thursday, September 1. This means that there is a 3- day official holiday in Turkey. However, since the holiday falls smack in the middle of the week, the government made Monday and Friday public holidays and most private companies also gave their employees the days off - while others took a couple of vacation days. As a result, the 3-day holiday turned into a 9-day holiday! Previous to January 1, 2011, this would have excited me, but since I now work freelance... THANK GOD I no longer have to worry about holidays and vacations and can make my own program.

For this reason, I didn't make any vacation plans this week and decided to stay in Istanbul: I will be going to Bodrum mid next week to attend a friend's wedding and will be spending 3 days there and will prepare a post on Bodrum to give you a flavor of this very popular resort town on the Aegean coast upon my return to Istanbul - this trip I DON'T plan on taking my pc - I just want to relax for a change, so no work and no posting in my blog!

Following the news and just by observing, I can tell you that Istanbul - for Istanbul - is like a ghost town!!!! The city has a 13+ million population and I think half went on vacation! I haven't gone down to the Bosphorus yet (that I will do tomorrow), but I did go to Nişantaşı yesterday and let me tell you - it was empty ... empty... empty... as you will see from the pictures!

As I said, yesterday was the first day of the Ramadan holiday. Since 99% of my relatives live in NYC, the "family" visits I have to do is minimal: my mom lives in Istanbul and so does my sister... but she is still on holiday with her family in Çeşme. So, the only obligatory holiday visit I had to do is to my mom! Also, most of my closest friends are also somewhere in Europe or the Aegean or Mediterranean coast in Turkey with their family or friends too.

So... Luka and I went to visit mom yesterday.. she lives close to me in Levent and we got to her house around noon.

Mom and Luka

Mom... god bless her soul is 85 years old! In her day, she was a very beauty! Unfortunately, she is not very mobile now and has difficulty walking, so is home most of the time - even though I will be taking her to Bebek tomorrow to one of her favorite places - Bebek Bar - and she is really looking forward to it!

After our visit, Luka and I headed to Nişantaşı to meet my friend Yazgülü Aldoğan - a journalist and columnist who writes for Posta, the highest selling newspaper in Turkey. I met her years ago during a press trip to Ankara and we have attended many press trips through the years and have remained friends.

My lunch with Yazgülü was both business and pleasure and we decided to meet at one of the new places that opened on the now "pedestrian" only Atiye Sokak in the hub of Nişantaşı.

Atiye Sokak - facing Teşvikiye Street
Atiye Sokak - facing Abdi Ipekçi Street

Before continuing, I think I should say a few words about Nişantaşı for my international readers. Nişantaşı is a major high brow neighborhood in Istanbul with some of the trendiest cafes, restaurants and retailers in town. My tour of this neighborhood will only include Atiye and Abdi Ipekçi Streets, but rest assured there is sooooo much more in Nişantaşı and I will write about other areas at a later date.

Back to Atiye Sokak... this one-block street is parallel to the two main streets in Nişantaşı: Teşvikiye Caddesi and Abdi Ipekçi Caddesi. Until a few short months ago, car traffic was allowed, but since then, the street was totally transformed and is now pedestrian only. In a very small area, there are SO many cafes - to include Salomanje, Casita, Quick China, The House Cafe, Elio and Hardal along with quality retailers to include Gönül Paksoy, a prominent Turkish designer of clothing and jewelry; Ela Cindoruk/Nazan Pak, popular Turkish jewelry designers (and Ela is my friend and her jewelry is truly one of a kind - of course, I have a few pieces!); Tiffany and Frey Weille on opposite ends of the street at the intersection of Abdi Ipekçi Street, among others.

Quick China


Frey Weille

Another noteworthy venue on Atiye Street is KAV Wine Boutique Shop.

KAV Wine Boutique
KAV was closed for the holiday, but when open, there are tables placed outside where you can sample different wines from Turkey and abroad... or buy to take home with you. Snacks are also served.

Yazgülü and I met at 2:30pm and we decided to sit at Hardal, one of the newcomers on the street. Hardal, which means mustard is new to Nişantaşı, but they also have a branch which opened a little over a year ago in Asmalımescit. A little side note... one of the partners of the restaurant group is the son of Tansu Çiller - former Prime Minister of Turkey. Of course we sat outside, but the indoor section is also quite spacious, there is a small terrace in the back and they have an "open-kitchen" (very clean!) on the basement level.

We were handed a menu -which was like a book! Since it is more of a cafe, the menu was extensive!!!! This type of menu usually drives me nuts and this one - like most of these types of cafes - included tons of pictures too!

Long story short... I ordered an appetizer "Avocado and Mozarella cheese" served with cherry tomatoes on a bed of arugula and Yazgülü a pizza with roasted eggplant.

The menu might have driven me crazy, but the most important thing - the food - was excellent! My appetizer had just the right amount of garlicy olive oil dressing and the pizza was thin and loaded with ingredients!

If I have to criticize one other thing at Hardal - just like I did at Backyard - the chairs are not very comfortable at all - if they had a cushion, the sit which is very hard would have been softer on the butt!

The prices were modest at Hardal and I would definitely go again, but when the city is back to normal, I know it will be very difficult to find a place to sit.. but the staff loved Luka, so I think I have an "in" now!

We had a lovely lunch.. and the "business" part of our get-together was to finalize the schedule for translating her popular bestseller book titled "Kiralık Adam" from Turkish to  English. Her book came out several years ago and will be sold abroad once I finish translating it. I'm so excited for her! She is a very good writer and I hope she gets the international exposure she so deserves... she is already at the half way point of her 2nd book! I hope to translate that into English too!

After we said our goodbyes... and since I decided to prepare a post on Nişantaşı... I headed to Abdi Ipekçi Street to take some pictures.

Abdi Ipekçi Street - left side from Atiye Sokak

Abdi Ipekçi Street - right side from Atiye Sokak

Now, on a "normal" day, Abdi Ipekçi Street is not this desolate! The street is usually full of people shopping or hanging out at the cafes/restaurants and the street is full of cars... I pretty much had this street to myself today!

Abdi Ipekçi Street is about 6-7 blocks long... on the left side after you turn from Atiye Sokak is Mont Blanc, the entrance to the Milli Reasurans Mall (there is also an entrance on Teşvikiye Street), a branch of Midpoint Cafe and Gourmet Burger Kitchen and a little further down... other venues include Brandroom (which includes the designs of Elie Tahari and DVF among others) and Hermes. Just a few notes on the mall.. the 2-story Milli Reasürans is overrun with cafes, restaurants, bars and retailers... my two favorites include Zanzibar and Aşşk Kahve, but tex-mex lovers can visit Ranchero or you can have drinks at Touchdown.

Entrance to Milli Reasürans Mall from Teşvikiye Street
Aşşk Kahve

Actually.. the right side of Abdi Ipekçi Street after you turn from Atiye Sokak is where most of all the action is! I didn't walk the entire street to the end where it intersects with Vali Konağı Street... but rest assured that some of the major retailers to include my favorite Louis Vuitton, Prada, Tod's, Cartier, Alexander McQueen, Brioni, Chanel, Ermenegilda Zegna, Escada and Marina Rinaldı among others line Abdi Ipekçi. And, right above Prada, is The House Hotel/Nişantaşı, a fairly new posh boutique hotel with branches in other parts of the city.

Other shops along this street include the Turkish brand Punto, if you are looking to buy leather goods, L'Occitane en Provence for lotions, soaps, etc., and the Turkish brands Vakkorama (young fashions) and Vakko (men's and women's designs) among others.

My final stop on my mini Abdi Ipekçi Street tour was at one of my favorite haunts - Nişantaşı Brasserie - commonly called Beymen Brasserie because it is at the entrance of the multi-level posh Turkish department store Beymen and across the street from Louis Vuitton.

Nişantaşı Brasserie - a.k.a. Beymen Brasserie

The square on Abdi Ipekçi Street

As Luka had "sniffed" his way up the street, the walk took a little longer than we thought, so we stopped by Nişantaşı Brasserie for a little rest and water for him and a glass of red wine for me!

I have been a steady customer of Nişantaşı Brasserie since it opened over 5 years ago. The menu includes a wonderful selection of dishes from French cuisine and it is expensive, but definitely worth it! It is owned and managed by Metin Fadıllıoğlu, also the owner of Ulus 29, the popular fine dining restaurant in Ulus.

After our break, we walked back the same way we came and then stopped by The House Cafe for a cup of coffee on the corner of Teşvikiye Street, right across the street from Atiye Sokak... the "first" House Cafe is on Atiye Sokak and there are many branches all over the city.

It was a long, but very nice day! Luka and I were totally wiped out... we got home around 7:00pm and we were both out cold by 9:30pm!

Note: The places I mentioned in this post are just a "drop in the bucket"! There are sooooo many more places to visit on Atiye and Abdi Ipekçi Streets not to mention the other areas around Nişantaşı... but that's another post!


Thursday, August 25, 2011

22 Things to do in Taksim & surroundings

Dear readers,

After a few days of silence... I am back!!!! I have sooooo much work to do (have to make a living!), so I didn't get a chance to write the last few days...

On Tuesday, I had to visit a customer and there offices are in Taksim... so while there, didn't have too much time, but I still took some photos and decided to prepare an article on 22 things you can do in Taksim & its surroundings. Why 22? That's all I could think of...but be rest assured.. this is still the tip of the iceberg...but I'm just writing a post... not a book! 

Our tour will begin in Taksim Square... this is basically the center of the city and a place often visited by locals and tourists alike.
Taksim Square
This post will come in handy not only to newcomer residents/expats to Istanbul, but also tourists. The list was prepared in no particular order, so here goes!

1) Take the tram from Taksim square to Tünel or from Tünel to Taksim Square. The tram runs down the middle of Istiklal Street (the main street that connects Taksim to Beyoğlu, Galatasaray and Tünel).

Istiklal Street
The one way full fare cost is 3 TL and you need to purchase a ticket (no cash payments accepted) from the kiosk right by the metro station which is right across the street. You can get off at different points along the route, but I suggest you go to the very end and then walk back to original point.

2) From Taksim Square... walk down Siraselviler Street to Cihangir.

Sıraselviler Street
The walk is about 6-7 city blocks long and you know you are in the heart of Cihangir when you arrive at the mini-square. This neighborhood is favored by expats and local Bohemian Turks and is full of cafes scattered around its narrow streets. Hang a left at the square, and you will be on Akarsu Caddesi. Some recommendations include Smryna Cafe (Akarsu Caddesi No. 29), White Mill (Susam Sokak No. 13) , Cuppa (Yeni Yuva Sokak No. 22), Fol in Love (Cihangir Caddesi No. 16/B) and Kahvedan (Akarsu Caddesi No. 50). If you are interested in trying Armenian cuisine, definitely go to Jash (Cihangir Caddesi No. 9, Tel: (0212) 244 30 42)... the food and ambiance is fantastic! And... if you are interested in purchasing all different types of Turkish regional cheeses, olive oil, olives, etc., stop by Antre Gourmet Shop (Akarsu Caddesi No. 52) where you will find a wide selection and knowledgeable sales staff who can assist you.

3) If visiting the city, stay at the newly refurbished 5-star Turkish owned The Marmara Istanbul Hotel (

The Marmara Istanbul Hotel
That is IF you don't mind staying steps fromTaksim Square where it does tend to get very crowded... noisy... etc. If you are lucky enough to get a room facing the Bosphorus sea on a high floor, you will definitely enjoy your stay! I have seen a couple of the rooms and they are nicely furnished and the rooms are not very small compared to counterparts found in most European cities.

4) Take a coffee break at Kitchenette (you can also have a meal) or its neighbor Starbucks at the entrance to The Marmara Istanbul Hotel.

5) Take the metro from Taksim Square to the "Levent" stop and visit either Metrocity (escalators on left side once you get off the metro)or the open-air Kanyon (escalators to the right as you get off the metro) - two major shopping malls in Istanbul. The metro is right across the street from Taksim Square.

Metro entrance at Taksim Square
The full fare cost of riding the metro is 2 TL and tokens can be purchased from the automated machines located by the turnstiles. You don't need to have exact change and bills and coins are accepted (and change given). The metro is very clean and air-conditioned and there are concession stands on the platforms and stairways where you can pick up something to eat, drink or purchase newspapers, magazines, etc.

Taksim Square metro station

Taksim Square Metro station

Taksim Square metro station

Levent metro station
 6) Be courageous! Try two of the locals favorite street foods: "Islak" (Wet) hamburger and döner (meat or chicken) sold at one of the side of side stands by Taksim Square.

Islak (wet) burger at Kızılkayalar

"meat" döner
A "wet" hamburger is just that and prepared with a special tomato sauce with herbs and the "best" one can be purchased from Kızılkayalar and costs only 2 TL.  Or, you can have a döner sandwich prepared with either meat or chicken (photo above is a meat döner). Sure, you might be concerned about the "health" standards.. but Turks and foreigners alike have been purchasing these goodies from these stands for years and as far as I know.. no one has gotten "major" sick (including me!).

7) Stroll down Istiklal Street (instead of taking the tram) and take in the sights and try some other "street" foods along the way ... like corn on the cob and roasted chestnuts.

8) Try a "typical" Turkish milk pudding... either "Tavuk Göğüsü", "Kazandibi" or "Fırın Sütlaç" (rice pudding). Your best bet is to try it at Sutiş or Saray Muhallebicisi - both with branches on Istiklal Street.

Tavuk Göğüsü (left and right), Kazandibi (center) at Sütiş

Fırın Sütlaç at Sütiş
9) Purchase the "best" Turkish Delights from Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir Confectioners to take back home! You can purchase the pre-packaged selections or have them prepare a box with the ones you like - in any size!

10) Purchase "Turkish style" chocolates from Elite

11) Stop by the new Demirören Shopping Mall... especially if you want to buy books and records at Virgin... or all sorts of appliances... electronics and more at Saturn.

12) Visit one of the many art galleries on Istiklal Street to include Arter, Galerist, Galeri Nev, and Garanti Contemporary. Note that a couple of them (Galerist and Galeri Nev) are not on the street level and are on the upper floors at Istiklal Street No. 311 and No. 163 respectively) of the buildings. Don't forget... most are closed on Mondays.

13) Treat yourself to a night of music at Borusan Music House ( where there are different live music performances (but not during the summer - the season opens in September).

14) Stop by one of the specialty bookstores (Denizler, Pandora and Robinson Crusoe).

15) Purchase ice cream from one of the many ice cream shops along Istiklal Street to include Cremeria Milano.

16) Stop by Ara Kafe ( for a light lunch or beverage. The cafe is on the left hand side of the street in a small alley by Galatasaray High School and Yapı and Kredi Culture Center on Tosbağa Sokak (street). Alcohol is not served

17) Take a stroll through the Fish Market (Balıkpazarı) where you will find many fishmongers... small seafood restaurants... fruit and vegetable stands... delis... etc.

18) Have a meal at one of the taverns/restaurants at Çiçek Pasajı (Flower Market). I recommend Sev İç.

19) Once you arrive at Tünel... about a 15-20 city block walk from Taksim Square... once you pass the Metro Station on the left hand side of the street, walk down the street right in front of you - past the Dükkan Burger eatery and visit Galata. You will walk a steep street for about 4-5 blocks and lined with musical instrument stores before arriving at the Galata Tower on a street to the left. Around the square are several restaurants and cafes and on the parallel streets many trendy boutiques, curio shops and more. If you need to pick up some Turkish wine, stop by Sensus Wine & Cheese Boutique (at the Anemon Hotel) where you will find a wide selection of only Turkish wines. If you want to taste some regional Turkish dishes... stop by Kiva - right in Galata Square.

20) Hang a right at Tünel Square and enter the world of Asmalımescit! The narrow side streets are full of side by side cafes, bars and taverns. Currently the street side seating at these eateries have been removed, but due to massive complaints, it is hoped that most outdoor seating will be restored. Some of my picks in the area include Otto, The House Cafe, Sofyalı (Turkish) and Antiochia (excellent food from the city of Antakya). For music and after September when they open for the season - Babylon ( If you want to visit a meyhane (tavern), then head to Yakup, an old-time favorite.

21) Walk through Asmalımescit heading towards Pera which is only a few blocks away... Make sure to visit North Shield Pub for a wide selections of beers, whiskies, etc.; La Brise Brasserie for French Cuisine; 9 Ece Aksoy for Mediterranean cuisine; Mikla - high atop the Marmara Pera Hotel for a fine dining experience... Istanbul Culinary Institute - for excellent Turkish contemporary cuisine; Çok Çok - for Thai cuisine; Nu Teras - for a lovely Haliç Bay view and International & Mediterranean cusines (the terrace will close for the season probably by the first week in October); and the Pera Museum to view their permanent collection as well as temporary exhibits.

View from Nu Teras
22) Stay at the Pera Palace Hotel ( The century old hotel (1892) was totally refurbished and re-opened in September 2010. Or.. if a resident of Istanbul.. have a lovely meal at Agatha Restaurant or a light meal/beverages or cocktails at Orient Terrace.

Orient Terrace
This ends my "short list" of things to do in Taksim and its surroundings.... I hope you enjoyed our mini tour!


Sunday, August 21, 2011

KEYIF.... revisited!

Dear readers...

No matter where in the world you are - and based on the stats for my blog.. you are truly all over the world - from Brazil and the USA... to many countries throughout Europe (France, UK, Germany, Spain, Norway, Switzerland, The Netherlands, etc.) to of course Turkey, Latvia, Russia, India and Thailand... I HOPE ALL OF YOU ARE ENJOYING the last day of the weekend!

The weather is absolutely lovely in Istanbul... it is in the high 20s (centigrade) here today, there is a nice breeze and very  sunny with not a cloud in the sky right now (even though there were some this morning.. but just the kind that pass through and just complement to the beautiful skyline).

On July 6th... just several days after starting my blog... I had prepared an article titled "Keyif". If you haven't read it, you might want to before reading the rest of this article to understand what I am writing about.

After preparing this article, I had received an email from Elaine Graham... a friend of mine who has been living in Istanbul for a long time with her husband...she wanted to share some of her "keyif" experiences with me.. which I want to now share with you.... Elaine says and I quote...

"About keyif, isn't it amazing how much of Turkish life is formed by this concept. There are so many strands of pleasure that they are now firmly woven into the tapestry of life. However, for me being able to hand over a car when arriving (wherever) and it will be safely - more of less - taken care of. Sipping a glass of chilled and frosted white white on the terrace here in Assos is another different joy. To be up before the sun in the cool of the walled garden here, and hear the gentle sweeping of the gardener's Turkish hand broom as he clears the leaves of the past day. To see my dogs sheer, tongue-dripping joy as we head out for our walk . .. "

I loved what Elaine had written and told her that there would come a time that I would use her quote in my blog!

Having said this... I want to add a couple of my recent "keyif" experiences that I want to share with you...

1) Spending a day in my favorite part of the city - Bebek - a couple of days ago after taking Luka to the vet for a shampoo/dry with our first step at my fave place Lucca ( for a leisurely afternoon where both Luka and I made new friends... then strolling along Cevdetpaşa Street towards the Bosphorus waterfront...

 and then walking back to Bebek and stopping my Mangerie ( for a light dinner - where Luka did his "keyif" and I did mine with a glass of wine while enjoying the beautiful view from Mangerie's terrace!

Just as the sun was setting, we headed on home after a lovely afternoon in Bebek!

2) I woke up this morning FINALLY feeling healthy again after battling a summer cold for the past 14 days! This made me feel in excellent spirits. After our morning walk with Luka... unbelievable maybe BUT ... for the FIRST time since I moved into my apartment in March 2010 (yes over 17 months ago)... I carried a comfy chair out to my balcony (haven't had a chance to purchase furniture for balcony yet) and sat under the sun... enjoyed the view... took a nap and then read the Sunday papers...

After my "keyif" break.. did chores around the house... took a shower... had a late lunch and now I am writing in my blog and then will get to work on my project!

So... what do you you that is "keyif" to you? Would love to get some feeback, so that I can share your experiences with our readers too!