August 31, 2014

Extreme Sailing: 12 Teams to Race in Istanbul

The first-ever Turkish Extreme 40 syndicate, TeamTurx, has been confirmed to compete at the Extreme Sailing Series™ Act 6 Istanbul as an invitational entry, bringing the tally of boats on the startline up to 12. The event will be further bolstered by support from co-Host Venue partners Yandex, one of Europe’s largest technology and internet companies, and Palmarina, a world class marina located in Bodrum, south Turkey.

The action in Turkey will begin on the September 11, and excitement is building in Istanbul for the return of the Extreme 40 stadium style racing on Turkish waters for the first time since 2012. The Extreme 40s will also face the challenge of racing on the notorious Bosphorus Strait, a crucial shipping channel between the Asian and European sides of Istanbul, when traffic will shut down allowing the colourful sails of the Extreme 40s to replace the ferries and tankers for a few hours, on the morning of September 13. 

Read more on Sailing Scuttle Butt: Extreme Sailing – 12 Teams to Race in Istanbul

Mystery Writer Finds Istanbul's Byzantine Past Hiding In Plain Sight

Istanbul makes an exotic first impression: Boat traffic on the Bosporus sends waves brushing up against the shores of both Europe and Asia as enormous mosques and monuments from previous empires stand guard.

The city wears its history more openly than many, but that doesn't mean it's always easy to find. So writer Selcuk Altun spins mysteries that take his heroes into forgotten corners of the city, where once-majestic monuments go unnoticed amid the bustle of modern life.

Turkey's current Muslim leadership focuses primarily on the Ottoman Empire, but Altun's novel The Sultan of Byzantium is a homage to the Byzantines who ruled Istanbul — then Constantinople — for a millennium before the Ottomans came along.

It begins with a quiet academic living in Istanbul who receives a cryptic message that will change his life. It's from a mysterious organization that tells him he's a descendant of the last Byzantine emperor, Constantine Palaeologus, and it poses a series of tests to determine whether he's a worthy successor. Along the way, he discovers that other descendants, including his father, died under mysterious circumstances. 

Getting Around Ottoman Istanbul

The streets of old Istanbul were often steep, narrow and winding and often stairs replaced the streets – unpaved, muddy in winter and dusty in summer. Only a very few of the widest streets, which followed flatter sections of the historic peninsula might have stone paving and these boulevards were used for ceremonial or religious parades. The Byzantine emperor who would take part in these parades apparently went on foot if the weather was good, but rode on horseback if not, according to Nevra Necipoğlu in “Byzantine Constantinople.”

The Byzantines, however, would have had chariots and palanquins (or sedan chairs, litters), means of transportation among the ancient Romans they had inherited. Transporting goods within the city would have continued to have been by camel, mule or horse and possibly cart and oxen. Where the streets were too narrow or steep, human porters would have been hired to move items.

Nothing much would have changed in the centuries leading up to the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, although chariots were long gone. Men rode horses, but women likely were transported in carts – not the rough, wooden kind used for goods, but painted and decorated in ways that suited the occupants’ station with a covering that could keep out rain and sunshine. In fact, women were forbidden to ride horseback. Women could also use palanquins or sedan chairs, but would have to be escorted. We have no reason to believe the Turks, and especially the Ottomans, still relied on the horse-drawn wagons which they had used during their nomadic years coming from Central Asia.

At the beginning of the Ottoman Empire, only the sultan, seyhülislam and kadıaskers (chief judges) had the right to use a carriage, although later on ambassadors who carried imperial communications and gifts could also. Later the grand vizier and other leading officials were allowed to use carriages. In 1512, Sultan Beyazid II, who had abdicated the throne, was escorted out of the city. He rode in a carriage with his son, Sultan Selim I, walking next to it as his father gave him advice on how to rule. English Queen Elizabeth I presented Safiye Sultan in, or about, 1599 with a carriage and the latter then rode around Istanbul in it, making herself even more unpopular than she was before. We don’t know what kind of carriage this might have been. 

Read more on Hürriyet Daily News: Getting Around Ottoman Istanbul

August 30, 2014

Ever More Foreign Couples Wedding in Istanbul

Istanbul may not sound like the likeliest place a Scottish woman and an Irishman to tie the knot in. Having previously lived in Turkey’s capital Ankara, before moving to their current home in Dubai, Stephanie and Henry chose Istanbul for their wedding celebration because “they had fallen in love with Turkey.” 

“We couldn’t think of anywhere better for a wedding than by the Bosphorus in Istanbul,” Stephanie said about their wedding in the historic Sultanahmet Square in Istanbul, the sporting and social center of Byzantine Constantinople hundreds of years ago. 

There has recently been a boom in the number of foreign couples, especially from Middle Eastern countries, who choose to have their wedding in Turkey, Başaran Ulusoy, chairman of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB) told the Anadolu Agency. 

Read more on Hurriyet Daily News: Ever More Foreign Couples Wedding in Istanbul

Travel Secrets Locked in an Istanbul Labyrinth

A multi-faceted Turkish love story leads off-track to a fascinating journey of discovery in Istanbul, writes Kerry van der Jagt. 

Nothing focuses the mind like the word "secret", especially when it is whispered by a man carrying two cats and an armful of books. "Here's the book you've been searching for," he purrs, putting the cats down and handing me a thick paperback novel. "Be careful, it holds a secret." 

My instinct is to scream "nutter", but I'm curious and his cats seem well-loved, so I stop to listen. 

Read more on The Sydney Morning Herald: Travel Secrets Locked in an Istanbul Labyrinth

August 24, 2014


Housed in a former Ottoman Imperial palace on the European shores of the Bosphorus, Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul is unique in every sense. With its splendid style, superb location, fascinating view and resort ambiance, it offers the ultimate in luxury amid the glamour of a Sultan’s palace.

The grandiose property has a total of 313 rooms, including 20 suites in the hotel and 11 suites in the historical palace. Eighty per cent of its rooms face the Bosphorus or the Yıldız Park, which was once the hunting forest of the Sultans. Beige and blue interiors have nineteenth-century furniture, custom wool carpets, vaulted ceilings and soaring columns to evoke the opulence of the Ottoman era.

The hotel’s four restaurants: Tuğra, the Gazebo Lounge,Laledan Restaurant and the Bosphorus Grill, offer a contemporary take on Turkey’s rich culinary traditions. Each one accented by a balcony or terrace overlooking the Bosphorus promises incredible gastronomic experiences. Guests can also enjoy premium cognacs, quality malts, wines and champagnes at the hotel’s Le Fumoir and Criragan Bar.

Why you should splurge on it?

The Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul maintains the grand tradition of the Bosphorus. Combining architectural grandeur and scenic views, the hotel lets you indulge in the glamour of bygone times and enjoy the boat traffic up and down the famous stretch of water that straddles both the Asian and European continents. Swimming in the hotel’s infinity pool gives a feeling of floating on the Bosphorus. You can also enjoy traditional Turkish message and bath at the authentic Turkish bath.

Many celebrities have stayed at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski that the hotel has a wall of fame off of the lobby with photos of all the notable past guests including Madonna, Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Robert De Niro amongst others.

Bosphorus View One Bedroom Palace Suite offers panoramic views of the Bosphorus through the sash windows. You can quite literally breathe in the Bosphorus that lies in front of your eyes while standing in your balcony. And you can imagine why it was once the residence of the last Ottoman Sultans.


August 20, 2014

Parking Lot Project on Istanbul Vegetable Garden Canceled After Public Uproar

A parking lot project planned on a public vegetable garden on Istanbul’s Asian side has been canceled following widespread criticism, officials said on Aug. 18. 

The project was condemned by locals, particularly due to the fact that the garden, located in the Moda neighborhood of the Kadıköy district, was also designated as a gathering spot in the event of a natural disaster. In protest at the plans, locals had set up a camp in the area to prevent the construction works.  

Following the protests, the Kadıköy mayor said he had applied to the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality to request the cancelation of the construction permit given to a private investor. 

In a public statement on Aug. 18, Kadıköy Municipality said the permit had been canceled following their request. 

Letter from Istanbul: Observations on Style

One warm afternoon this past week, I was strolling through some back streets in a neighborhood near Moda. Here there are cool, atmospheric cafes and shops selling antiques, crafts and other bric-a-brac. 

Inside one of the shops, where I was browsing the sparse collection of second-hand English books, hung a poster of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. In the photo, they are locked in an embrace: Bogie wears a mariner’s hat, and he’s tipping Bacall slightly back; her eyes are closed, her lips wait to be kissed. 

I’ve always been a fan of that particular shot, suffused as it is with all that old Hollywood, smoke-lit glamour. I couldn’t help but feel sentimental, reflecting that the great Bacall passed away this week at the age of 89. She outlived her Bogie by more than half a century. 

With this feeling, and thinking it would look good adorning the bare walls of my flat, I enquired about the poster. 

“Maalesef,” said the old proprietor, shaking his head and smiling a wan apology. That particular item was not for sale. He offered other posters, including one of Sly Stallone, in a menacing Rambo pose, and another one of De Niro as the lonely, mad Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver.” 

No thanks, I said. 

I complimented the old proprietor on his shop, and nodded once more to the Bogart-Bacall poster on my way out the door. 

“Evet,” he said, glancing in appreciation at the poster. “Çok guzel. Çok şik.”

Read more on Lost Coast Outpost: Letter from Istanbul: Observations on Style

Prague and Istanbul’s Eastern Delights

For thousands of years Prague and Istanbul have been at the centre of European history, culture and religion. Any trip to one of these wonderful cities won’t be complete without taking in (certain) historical sights...

The Maiden’s Tower sits on a fortified island at the entrance to the Bosphorus and has acted as a lighthouse, watchtower and quarantine station during its long and varied history. Today it is home to a restaurant and bar with outstanding views over the city. Photograph: Ayhan Altun/Getty Images

Read more on The Guardian: Prague and Istanbul’s Eastern Delights

August 19, 2014

Iconic Images in Istanbul

After touring the Hagia Sophia, many visitors assume they have seen the best Byzantine art in Istanbul. They have not. What may be the most impressive collection of medieval mosaics and frescoes in the world is displayed in the “Chora Church” in western Istanbul. 

The “Church of Christ the Savior in Chora” derives its name from a fourth-century monastery in the same location, which was outside the walls of Constantinople and therefore in “chora,” Greek for “the countryside.” Byzantine Emperor Justinian built a church on the site in the sixth century, apparently because it was near his summer palace. After additions and improvements, the building became associated with the Greek Orthodox Church after its split from the Roman Catholic Church in the Great Schism of 1054. The church attained most of its current configuration in about 1081. 

Read more at Current In Zionsville: Iconic Images in Istanbul

Istanbul Rediscovers 1920s American Dance Lindy Hop

Being a top travel destination in 2014, İstanbul is offering many thrilling and energizing experiences, both to residents and visitors. Beginning in the 2000s with the efforts of a number of enthusiastic young people, the swing music and dance scene is one of the most relaxed and joyous in the city, welcoming anyone interested in having fun. 

Pollution Threatens Iconic Istanbul Waterways

Istanbul is surrounded by water on all sides, including the Marmara Sea to the south, home to important fishing grounds and sailing competitions. The Bosphorus Strait splits the city into its European and Asian districts, and is the passage through which dozens of fish species annually migrate north to the Black Sea to spawn. 

A clean and healthy water system is crucial to Istanbul's tourism industry. The city was the world's sixth most-visited last year, with visitors contributing $8.6bn to the local economy. Tourists come to spot dolphins and view ancient ruins on boat trips along the Bosphorus, while the image of dozens of fishermen lining the Galata Bridge is one of Istanbul's most defining scenes. 

But pollution of Istanbul's waterways could pose a serious threat to this historic city's lifeblood. With the population exploding in recent decades - from 1.5 million in 1960 to around 14 million today - future visitors may see more sewage and litter along the city's waterways, experts say.

August 14, 2014

Istanbul: New York City's Twin to the East

There is a parallel New York to the east. 

Istanbul, distinct as is it, bears striking similarities to the Big Apple beginning with its 212-area code. It is also traffic-choked, mesmerizing and love-hated by its residents who tolerate its madness in exchange for its considerable charms -- many of which are tucked into neighborhoods hidden from the guidebook-toting masses. 

The sheer size of the city (which actually tops New York in both area and population) can be intimidating enough to keep visitors from venturing off its tourist circuit. Yet failing to do so is a bit like visiting just midtown and chalking that up to a full New York City vacation. Yes, trips to the Grand Bazaar and Hagia Sophia are as obligatory (and worthwhile) as an out-of-towner's visit to the Statue of Liberty, but a couple days should be set aside for a taste of Istanbul's vibrant downtown and "outer-borough" scene. Some things might even feel a bit like home. 

Last Jewish Merchant on Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue

Known in the 19th century as the Grand Rue de Pera, Istiklal Avenue had its own merchant culture. Business owners and their clients built friendships, enjoyed tea and coffee together and looked after each other. No man dared show himself on Istiklal unless he was wearing a suit and tie; women were reluctant to be seen in anything but their best dresses and hats. Istiklal’s heyday came to a sudden end, however, on Sept. 6, 1955. In one night, the avenue’s minority shops were reduced to rubble and many Greek homes were invaded and damaged. Afterward, Greeks emigrated en masse. Many of Istanbul’s Jews, also affected by the pogrom, followed. The grand avenue and its beautiful Ottoman-era buildings crumbled, but a few stubborn old-time shopkeepers continued operating in their landmark locations until very recently. Now only Kelebek Corset Shop remains. 

Read more on Al Monitor: Last Jewish Merchant on Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue

Dreaming in Istanbul

What is it about certain cities that makes you want to come back before you have even left? Some cities barely register as you pass through, clutching your Lonely Planet. Some assault your senses, some make you want to leave as soon as you can and then there are some that leave you slightly breathless, wondering why it took you so long to get there — Istanbul falls squarely into the last category.

The Capital of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, a city across two continents, City on Seven Hills, Cradle of two religions, Istanbul wears its many labels lightly. Modern day Istanbul is a buzzing metropolis.

Istiklal Caddessi, the Champs Elysee of Istanbul, is the modern face of Istanbul — a vibrant street, lined with fashionable boutiques, trendy cafes, music stores and hip new restaurants.

A short trip on the very efficient metro will deposit you in Sultanhamet, the historical part of Istanbul. This is the Istanbul of post-cards and movies.

Read more on New India Express: Dreaming in Istanbul

August 09, 2014

Sabancı Museum to Host New Miró Exhibition

İstanbul’s Sakıp Sabancı Museum (SSM) will open an exhibition of work by Catalan artist Joan Miró next month, marking the first time genuine works by the surrealist will be displayed in Turkey in a major exhibition after a six-year break. 

Set to run from Sept. 23 through Feb. 1, 2015, “Joan Miró. Kadınlar, Kuşlar, Yıldızlar” (Joan Miró. Women, Birds, Stars) will feature Miró’s paintings and sculptures as well as ceramic works and prints, according to a press release issued by Sabancı Holding on Friday. 

The exhibition will be a joint effort between the SSM, the Barcelona-based Joan Miró Foundation, the Successió Miró S.L. — a company formed by the heirs to the estate of Miró to administer the rights of the artist’s works — and the Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation in Mallorca. 

As its title suggests, the exhibition will focus on the themes of women, birds and stars, which are particularly important to “understand the symbolism of Miró, who was heavily inspired by his observations on the Mediterranean geography and people throughout his career,” according to the museum. 

Read more on Istanbul Hides: Sabancı Museum to Host New Miró Exhibition

Escape from Istanbul: The Tiny Islands Where A Chaotic City Unwinds

So it is in Istanbul, on the cusp of Europe and Asia, where a serene skyline of domes and minarets looks down on streets teeming with traffic, traders and tourists. 

While it seems as if every inch of the city is consumed by the tumult, there are oases of calm. The Prince islands are, for most Istanbul residents, the ultimate weekend getaway, offering an escape where, crucially for anyone who's ever endured they city's motoring snarl-ups, cars are banned. 

A boat ride away in the Sea of Marmara, the islands offer a soothing natural environment, sightseeing and cycle rides. 

And because this is still Istanbul, there's also great food. 

There are nine Prince Islands, of which Buyukada and Heybeliada are the two of the largest and most popular. 

Here's what to do look out for: 

Istanbul’s Iconic 119-Year-Old Cream&Honey Store Faces Eviction Threat

One of Istanbul’s oldest businesses and breakfast junkies’ heaven, Pando Kaymak, which specializes in a local type of buttery clotted cream, is losing its struggle against the skyrocketing rent prices and faces the threat of eviction.

Located at the heart of the Beşiktaş neighborhood in Istanbul, the small, but iconic shop is ran by 92-year-old Pandelli Shestakof, whose grumpiness is as legendary as the taste of his trademark kaymak with honey, and has been owned by the family since 1895, the year of its foundation.

Taking advantage of a new law that gives landlords the right to evict any tenant of more than 10 years without any justification, the shop owner sent a release form last month with an eviction deadline of Aug. 15.

But as the news, which quickly spread on social, has stirred outcry on social media, “Uncle Pando” can now count on solidarity from all of his loyal customers who are in the habit of stopping by for a delicious breakfast, learning to catch some affection to his temperament. Famous people such as the Beşiktaş Football Team, Süleyman Seba, Hakkı Yeten and Sabri Ülker used to have breakfasts in Pando Kaymak, too. 

From Hick to Uber Hip: Istanbul is the Coolest Place to Be

In the last decade, a once squalid Istanbul quarter has become the place to be.

I'm sitting at an outside table at a cafe called Unter, halfway through an organic omelette with a side of smoked salmon, when a hipster - no helmet, skinny jeans - pulls into the laneway and parks his black Vespa opposite me. A girl comes over and they kiss, one side then the other.

Berlin? Paris' Left Bank? It's Karakoy, once a rough, tough waterfront district of Istanbul, just across the Golden Horn from the former capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. 

Read more on The Sydney Morning Herald: From Hick to Uber Hip: Istanbul is the Coolest Place to Be

The Jihadi Gift Shop in Istanbul

In Turkey, it’s never easy to arrange interviews. This is especially true in Istanbul, where life is saddled by traffic and the near-constant movement of the city’s roughly 18 million inhabitants. Still, tracking down the owner of a shop selling branded merchandise celebrating the world’s most currently infamous terrorist group proved to be a particularly tall order. 

In the sleepy working-class neighborhood of Bagcilar, nestled just a kilometer away from Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, life moves at a slower pace than in the heart of Istanbul. The central tram line of Istanbul’s European side—the T1—ends in Bagcilar after taking nearly two hours to snake past the city’s grand attractions, such as the Ayasofia and the Blue Mosque. Few passengers were left on the tram by the last stop when I visited few weeks ago. 

It was a particularly humid summer day at the height of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Large tents were set up, where vendors waited patiently for dusk and for thousands of hungry and pious people to break the day’s fast. The tents prominently featured logos of the Turkish aid organization Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the group behind the infamous Mavi Marmara aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip that was stormed by Israeli commandos who killed 10 Turkish activists in 2010. The group has recently been accused of having links to al-Qaida but operates openly in Turkey and maintains high-level support from several senior politicians, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

A few blocks from the square, past several nondescript electronics stores and dozens of kebab stalls, is a modest, one-room shop called Islami Giyim, or Islamic Clothing. At first, the store appears to be nothing more than a depot of a neglected wholesaler: a bare room sparsely populated with a smattering of mannequins featuring niqabs, the black, full-length face and body coverings worn by pious Muslim women. In the center of the room, a well-worn work desk stands buried under a pile of papers, rulers, tape measures, and swatches of fabric. 

The shop would barely perk the interest of an unconcerned passerby if it weren’t for a prominent rack of men’s clothing ranging from T-shirts to sweatshirts to cargo pants placed directly in front of a main display window featuring the logo of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. The Sunni extremist group has captured the world’s attention in the past two months thanks to its rapid territorial gains in Iraq and the brutal brand of Shariah law it enforces in towns it has captured. 

Read more on Roads & Kingdoms: The Jihadi Gift Shop in Istanbul

August 07, 2014


A monorail is the Istanbul municipality's latest bid to relieve the city's heavily congested traffic and will be introduced for the first time in the country. Tentatively called Havaray (air rail), the monorail project will carry 200,000 passengers every day in a city of over 14 million. A tender will be launched in September for a preliminary survey of the land and infrastructure for the project. 

According to the municipality's plans, 10 monorail lines will be installed across the city over time, while the monorail will operate on four lines on the Asian side and four on the European side of the city in its initial stages. The length of monorail lines will be 47.8 kilometers in total. The monorail line will be integrated with other mass transit vehicles including the metrobus and subway, facilitating travel for Istanbulites across the relatively small but heavily populated city. Traveling time between two stops of the monorail is planned to be two minutes. 

Istanbul to Surpass Paris in Number of Tourists

Istanbul will surpass Paris to become the second-most visited city in Europe by 2016, according to MasterCard Eastern European Region General Manager Mete Güney, speaking at a press conference in Izmir on Wednesday. 

Istanbul currently stands behind Paris and London in terms of Europe's most visited cities. It is ranked seventh in the world. Istanbul has seen around a yearly 15 percent increase in tourists in recent years, and that will continue until the city snatches Paris' spot as the second most visited in Europe, said Güney. 

The MasterCard 2014 Global Destination Cities Index, released last month, indicated that it expects 11.6 million people to visit the city of seven hills in 2014, after 9.87 million visitors came to the city last year. 

Read more on Today's Zaman: Istanbul to Surpass Paris in Number of Tourists

Don't Walk the Streets of Istanbul Like A Tourist

Writer Haldun Hürel, an İstanbul aficionado, has written a guidebook for those who don't know how to really see İstanbul. Titled İstanbul Nasıl Gezilir? (How to Visit İstanbul?), this book offers an excellent beginning for those who would like to visit this beautiful metropolitan city in a step-by-step way, beginning with the historical peninsula, Galata, Eyüp, Üsküdar, the islands, Beyoğlu, etc. 

Much-awaited Heavy Rain Hits Istanbul

Heavy raining has hit Istanbul after the General Directorate of Meteorological Service issued a warning for citizens earlier on Aug. 7.

Arrivals and departures at Istanbul's Atatürk Airport have returned to normal after all flights were briefly canceled due to the severe weather conditions. 

A private plane carrying Health Minister Mehmet Müzzinoğlu made an emergency landing in Çorlu Airport around 10 minutes after leaving Istanbul due to the rainy weather. The minister subsequently canceled a meeting in Çanakkale. 

Electricity was cut in some districts of Istanbul due to breakdowns at distribution units in Bahçeşehir and Avcılar. 

Read more on Hürriyet Daily News: Much-awaited Heavy Rain Hits Istanbul

August 06, 2014


With well over 2,000 years of military history to cover, it's no surprise that the Istanbul Military Museum has an enviable amount of exhibits. With the exhibition beginning back in the days of the Turkish people of the Asian steppe, the museum takes you through the years of armies taking on the Great Wall of China, all the way up to the Independence War, and everything in-between. No wonder there are over 55,000 objects in their inventory. 

The huge cannons, including the behemoth that smashed the walls of Constantinople back in 1453, and an intimidating warplane set the tone for military grandeur when you work in through the garden in the Harbiye district of Şişli. 

When one thinks of the military museum, they presume Ottoman history and independence, but the curators are quick to assure you that there is plenty more to Turkish history. 

Read more on Daily Sabah: ISTANBUL'S MILITARY MUSEUM

Former Ottoman Palace in Istanbul Named Best Hotel in Europe

Europe’s best hotel isn’t found in London or Paris, Rome or Zurich. According to travel professionals, that title belongs to the Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul in Turkey, a property that was formerly an Imperial Ottoman palace. 

At the World Travel Awards in Athens, Greece — the event that bills itself as the Oscars of the travel industry — the luxury hotel took the title of Europe’s leading hotel for the second year in a row over the weekend. 

A former Imperial Ottoman palace, the property sits along the Bosphorus coast and harkens the grandeur of the era with ornate Arabic and Middle Eastern decor, columns, arches and lush tropical palm trees. 

August 05, 2014

48 hours in Istanbul, Turkey

A city known for its mix of cultures, rich history and exotic wares, Istanbul is fast becoming a magnet for travellers who crave both bustling ancient streets and a thriving urban scene. History beckons at every turn in Istanbul. Take a trip to the Topkapı Palace Museum for a glimpse of dusty relics from Turkey’s distant past or wander through various bazaars to find a plethora of tempting souvenirs. You might need more than 48 hours… 

Read more on Women's Agenda: 48 hours in Istanbul, Turkey

Greek Daily in Istanbul Closes After 89 Years

The Greek daily newspaper “Apoyevmatini,” published in Istanbul since 1925, will close because of financial woes. 

The newspaper, published in Greek, intended to keep the language alive among Greeks in Turkey and inform the small community of all important news. 

Read more on Greek Reporter: Greek Daily in Istanbul Closes After 89 Years

New Concert Series in İstanbul to Offer Jazz on the Bosporus

Summer jazz festivals in İstanbul may have already ended their 2014 editions and jazz clubs in the city are closed for the season, but a new concert series beginning this week looks set to keep İstanbul’s jazz lovers happy with a program featuring some of the best jazz musicians in town combined with a Bosporus tour. 

August 04, 2014

Checking Out Istanbul's Knockoff Marketplace While It Lasts

Walking through Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar reveals a treasure trove of counterfeit goods: fake luxury watches, poorly stitched designer underwear, plastic headphones labeled "Beats by DJ Eric," and a few boxes of counterfeit Cialis are all available and much more. 

I recently caught up with some vendors to find out about their sales technique. 

A 22-year-old ring leader and his two compadres stood on a street corner just south of Taksim square, the epicenter of downtown Istanbul. Gaudy necklaces, tchotchke bracelets, and oversize rings were laid out on tables in front of them. The technique consists of yelling at tourists as they pass by. 

“Beautiful jewelry, best price.” 

Before long, blue and red lights flashed on the horizon, and the oldest of the group signaled to the other two with some head movements that it was time to beat it. They quickly picked up the tables and crab-walked around the corner, hiding in the shadows until the cops passed. I followed them. 

The ring leader cobbled together a little bit of English to explain his actions: “I’m too poor for an education. I wanted to do something fun, and I like selling things.” 

He looked over his shoulder and saw that the cops were gone. He waved farewell to me and went back to making sales. I resumed my shopping. 

August 03, 2014

Many Layers and Faces of Istanbul

Rick Steves - I first visited Istanbul in the 1970s. Some of my most vivid memories of that trip are of the colorful locals. Scruffy kids sold cherry juice, and old men would grab huge cucumbers from wheeled carts, then peel, quarter, and salt them, selling them for pennies. While the 1970s magic in many places has been plowed under by modern affluence, today's Istanbul is every bit as rich and rewarding as it was back then. 

For thousands of years, Istanbul has marked the point where East meets West, a crossroads of civilizations. The city, so layered with rich history, was officially named Istanbul in 1923 with the founding of the modern Turkish Republic. Before that it was called Constantinople. Around A.D. 330, as ancient Rome was falling, Emperor Constantine moved the capital to the less chaotic east. It was named Constantinople in his honor. Then, in 476, Rome and the Western Empire fell to invading barbarians. Traces of the Roman capital remain in Istanbul. The Hippodrome was a racetrack, like Rome's Circus Maximus. Built in the fourth century, this square was Constantinople's primary venue for chariot races. Its centerpiece, a 3,500-year-old Egyptian obelisk, was originally carved to honor a pharaoh. What you see today is only the upper third of the original massive stone tower. 

Church to mosque 

The best look at ancient Constantinople is the Hagia Sophia, considered one of the greatest houses of worship in both the Christian and Muslim worlds (today it's a museum). Built in the sixth century, this church marked the pinnacle of the Byzantine glory days, boasting the biggest dome until Florence's cathedral was finished 900 years later. After the Byzantine Empire collapsed in the 15th century, the Ottomans turned it into a mosque, adding minarets and plastering over Christian mosaics. 

The prayer niche was shifted a bit off-center so it would point toward Mecca, rather than Jerusalem. Facing the Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque. The area between is the historic and touristic center of Istanbul, with blossoming trees, refreshing fountains and a mix of strolling tourists and locals. On my last visit I had to just sit on a bench and marvel at the almost Parisian elegance of the scene. 

Architecturally, with its six minarets, the Blue Mosque rivaled the great mosque in Mecca, the holiest in Islam. Countless beautiful tiles fill the interior of this 17th century mosque with exquisite floral and geometric motifs. As with all mosques, you park your shoes at the door and women cover their heads. If you don't have a scarf, loaners are at the door. Services are segregated by gender: The main hall is reserved for men, while the women's section is in back. While some may view this as demeaning, Muslims see it as a practical matter. Women would rather have the option of performing the physical act of praying in private. One time I visited in the evening, when once again it was the neighborhood mosque in action - not a tourist in sight. A window was open for ventilation. I peeked through to find it was the ladies' prayer zone. I drew back, suddenly feeling a twinge of Peeping Tom guilt. 

City of neighbourhoods 

To get a full appreciation for today's Istanbul, you must leave the sightseeing core and explore the lively, more cosmopolitan neighborhoods. Istanbul's contemporary heart is Taksim Square, circled by endless traffic and highlighted by a statue commemorating the father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The square marks the start of bustling Istiklal Street, lined with shops and eateries. 

Istiklal offers an enticing parade of taste treats. Carts and hole-in-the-wall restaurants sell traditional foods like simit (sesame seed bread rings) and doner kebab (meat grilled on a revolving spit and served in flatbread). Windows display towers of honey-soaked baklava and Turkish delight, a sweet, gooey treat. At stalls, you can sample a local favorite: kokorec, sheep intestines, grilled and served with tomatoes, green peppers and fresh herbs. 

An ever-changing joy 

Strolling this mostly pedestrian boulevard from one end to the other is a joyful ritual for me, and it changes with each visit. As Turkey becomes more affluent and Western, the action becomes more vibrant. This is today's Turkey: a melting pot of 20 or so ethnic groups (Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian, Jewish, Greek, etc.) and styles from traditional to modern. The city is a huge draw for visitors, still a crossroads of humanity. And, according to the Turkish proverb, every guest is a gift from God. 

Rick Steves writes European travel guide books and hosts travel shows on public television. E-mail: 

Read more on SFGate: Many Layers and Faces of Istanbul

İstiklal Avenue Flooded as Heavy Rains Hit Istanbul

Torrential rains hit Turkey’s biggest city Istanbul on Aug. 2, disrupting daily life and causing floods across the city, including the iconic İstiklal Avenue. 

Photographs shared on the social media showed shopkeepers trying to keep the water away from their shops, while pedestrians had difficulty walking through the shopping and entertainment district. 

Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality has recently carried out works on İstiklal Street, replacing the cobblestone parts of the street with asphalt paving, drawing the ire of the citizens. Many people have blamed the municipality’s work for the flooding of the street. 

Elsewhere in Istanbul, a tornado was observed in Kasımpaşa neighborhood on the European side with no casualties or major damage reported. Floods also hit the Asian side of the city, disrupting traffic in Üsküdar neighbourhood. 

At least three people were injured in traffic accidents across the city caused by the rains and floods. 

Meteorology experts have warned that heavy rains are expected in western Turkey throughout the weekend. 

Read more on Hürriyet Daily News: İstiklal Avenue Flooded as Heavy Rains Hit Istanbul

August 01, 2014

Parks of Istanbul

Summer is when the grass is greener, the birds chirp louder and flowers make everything look brighter. Istanbul has some amazing parks to escape the city's hustle and bustle. 

It is perfectly true that living in a big city has its disadvantages as well as advantages. If you live in a metropolis, you may get sick of the dense population, traffic jams, pollution and so on. But you can easily throw yourself into a nearby park, a green space that can put all the metropolitan chaos behind you. 

New Yorkers have Central Park, Parisians have Bois de Boulogne, Londoners have Hyde Park and Tokyoites have Ueno Park. What about the folk of Istanbul? Istanbul boasts many large and small parks, some date back to the Ottoman Empire era. Here is a sample of interesting parks and gardens in Istanbul. 

  Read more on Daily Sabah: Parks of Istanbul

Istanbul Exhibition Reveals Modest Musings on ‘An Innocent City’

“The handkerchief in box 9 is Füsun’s white childhood handkerchief with embroidery on the corner.” Füsun, referred to here, is one half of the love story in Nobel prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk’s 2008 novel “The Museum of Innocence.” Those familiar with the novel know that Füsun and Kemal’s story, and the objects central to the narrative, have been brought to real life with the subsequent actual Museum of Innocence in Istanbul’s Cihangir neighbourhood.

While “The Museum of Innocence” was brought to life with the museum, which displays in wooden cabinets some 70 objects, collected and curated by Pamuk himself, a new exhibition “An Innocent City: Modest Musings on Everyday Istanbul” at Koç University’s Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (RCAC) breathes new life into the novel and the museum, once again recreating an Istanbul through everyday objects.

“Füsun’s white childhood handkerchief” is the inspiration for another handkerchief in the exhibition, one of the 12 object displayed through story, photography, cartography and graphic design, as well as informal, temporary loans from members of the local community. Some of the other objects are a hairpin, a key, a cologne bottle, and a glass of the alcoholic drink rakı, each inspired by the Museum of Innocence and selected by graduate students from Koç University, who searched the streets of Istanbul in an attempt to find the real-life counterpoints of these objects. 

By following the lives of everyday things, the students encountered alternative perspectives on the cultural heritage of Istanbul. Each student has created a narration of Istanbul unique to them, pondering over everyday objects such as a key or a bottle of the popular fizzy drink “gazoz.” The stories are of multiple Istanbuls - of today, of the recent past, and of one shrouded in nostalgia. 

The Big Read: Amazing Istanbul

Istanbul, where the continents are divided by the Bosphorus, is further divided into old Istanbul, with the mosques and museums and narrow streets and no building more than four stories high, and new Istanbul, with the massive shopping squares and off-shoot thoroughfares that resemble Henry St on Christmas Eve every day. 

If you take the Travel Department package to Istanbul you have three full days and nights in the new Constantinople. But if you are young, or young at heart, you can snatch an extra night. This is one of those cities that never sleeps. 

Hop on the tram — the last one leaves around midnight, but you can get a cab back — and head to Taksim Square, where all humanity is heaving and having fun, locals and tourists off the several cruise ships that call into port every day. 

You won’t have any trouble waking up in the morning because the Imams from the several mosques will have you out of bed at first light as they call the Muslim faithful to prayer. And if you fall back to sleep after that, the muezzin will reprise it — five times a day, in fact. It is a strange sound, but after a while it grows on you and you find yourself looking forward to its mysticism and musicality. 

Read more on The Independent Ireland: The Big Read: Amazing Istanbul

Living in: Istanbul

As a city that spans two continents and has more than 14 million residents, Istanbul offers so much variety that, residents say, you can always find a spot fit for your mood. “You can walk from the most vibrant party scene to a completely different laid-back, serene atmosphere,” said Huma Gruaz, founder and CEO of Alpaytac Marketing Communications and Public Relations Agency, who was born and raised in Istanbul and now represents the Turkish Embassy in the US. 

Take the neighbourhood of Kurucesme, located 10km north of the city centre. It is the place to go for a hopping party scene along the Bosphorus, the strait that separates the city and continents – yet, Gruaz said, walk 100m north from Reina, one of the city’s most popular nightclubs, and you can be at Mavi Balik, a tranquil restaurant serving up fresh seafood and views of the Asian continent. 

Read more on BBC: Living in: Istanbul

Buying a Luxury Home in Booming Istanbul

For centuries the skyline of Istanbul has been dominated by the domes of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Today these religious landmarks are being joined by high-rise shrines dedicated to luxury living. 

This rapidly growing, transcontinental city, which covers more than 2,000 square miles and straddles the border of Europe and Asia, is having something of a moment. Buyers are pouring in from the Middle East and Europe, attracted by rising yet comparatively affordable prices, and by Turkey's relative stability compared with neighbors that include Syria and Iraq. 

Read more on The Wall Street Journal: Buying a Luxury Home in Booming Istanbul

Loud, anarchic, quirky: My love affair with Istanbul

Ivan Watson - My love affair with Istanbul began at first sight. The urban romance blossomed moments after I arrived here for the first time 12 years ago, during the taxi ride from the airport into the city. As the yellow cab sped down the coast road, I turned my gaze from the sparkling blue waters of the Marmara Sea on the right, to the crumbling, thousand-year-old fortifications of ancient Constantinople on the left. I was smitten. Never before had I seen such an enchanting combination of geography and history.

Somehow, I instantly realized this would be my home for years to come. Of course, this was far more than a magical city of domes and minarets, Ottoman palaces and Byzantine chapels built along the banks of the Bosphorus Strait. Istanbul was also a simmering cauldron of urban energy: loud, anarchic and quirky as hell. 

Beyoglu, the district on the European side of my adopted home, had once been a neighborhood of embassies and grand houses constructed by Istanbul's once largely non-Muslim bourgeoisie. Discriminatory postwar policies drove out most of the indigenous Greeks, leading to massive demographic change over the last half century. 

By the time I showed up in 2002, the ground floors of many of these old Beyoglu mansions were occupied by an eclectic mix of carpenters, dive bars, used-book stores and secondhand furniture shops. Along Bank Street (Bankalar Caddesi), some of the stately buildings that once housed Ottoman financial institutions now served as depots selling light bulbs and electrical adaptors. 

In the mornings, children in rumpled school uniforms raced down cobblestone streets past vendors who patrolled the alleyways, loudly hawking simit (Turkey's staple sesame breakfast food). 

Elderly women smoked out of their windows, while lowering baskets by rope to wait for deliveries of newspapers, bread and milk from the street below. Herds of well-fed street cats lounged and prowled ... many of them fed by the ladies of the neighbourhood. 

Because Beyoglu has long been Istanbul's main nightlife district, an evening out could easily turn into a voyage of discovery. The neighborhood was a warren of hundreds of tightly packed bars and nightclubs, each one home to its own eclectic subculture. 

For me, a night out could easily migrate from a traditional meyhane restaurant where diners down grilled octopus and eggplant with milky glasses of iced raki, to a grungy metal club where teenage guitar players scream accented Metallica lyrics. 

An Irish saloon full of immigrants from West Africa sat a few minutes' walk from a bar where Turks danced in 9/8 time to the squealing clarinet of the now-deceased Roma clarinetist Selim Sesler. (Rest in peace, maestro.) 

Down one alley, stocky transgender prostitutes could be seen haggling over prices with shy young men. A different turn would find Turkish football fans bellowing at a flatscreen TV over enormous tankards of Efes beer. 

An Urbanist's Guide to Istanbul

I live in the historical Beyoğlu District of Istanbul, the centre of my poly-centred megacity. In any given day, 2 million visitors pass within one kilometre of my home. Taksim Square and Gezi Park are approximately 700m from my front door. My office, from where I work on urbanism-related projects, is also within walking distance of my home. 

Living and working in such a central area has a lot of merits, yet it also has its drawbacks. The major problem is the intense level of commercialisation and threat of forced eviction. The tourism industry and real estate developers are extremely interested in buying and converting residential buildings and local businesses into hotels or short-term rentals. For exactly this reason I was evicted from my previous house, which is not far from where I live now, two years ago – and I can see the encroachment of the tourism related spaces upon my existing neighbourhood. 

Read more on The Guardian: An Urbanist's Guide to Istanbul

Historic Istanbul Palace to Host Contemporary Art Show

Istanbul will host a brand new contemporary art event this autumn, the First Üsküdar Art Biennale, a seven-day international exhibition to run from Sept. 1-7 in a historic palace on the Bosporus coast. 

Also referred to by its organizers as “Artquake İstanbul 2014,” the exhibition will be put together by the International Forum of the Arts -- İstanbul (USF), an organization based in İstanbul and composed of international artists, collectors, curators and art lovers. 

Beylerbeyi Palace on the city's Asian side will be hosting the week-long show, which will showcase the “creative talents of emerging and established artists worldwide,” according to a recent statement from the USF. 

Swedes Fall in Love with Istanbul

The city of Istanbul attracts Swedish tourists thanks to both its historic beauty and hectic life. Scandinavian people generally spend their holidays in Turkey's southern parts, yet they have shown a growing interest in Istanbul in recent years. Certain tourism agencies reported that flights from Stockholm to Istanbul are getting fuller. An increasing number of Swedish tourists prefer Istanbul to do their shopping, where almost everything is available. They, apparently, consider Istanbul a mega city with a population higher than their own country. 

Sweden's high circulation newspaper Expressen is publishing more news about Istanbul's attractions due to the growing interest. An article suggests people should visit the Princess Islands for relaxation or stay in the city center to experience hectic city life. It went on to say that Turkish baths, Pierre Loti Hill, the Grand Bazaar and the Bosphorus and the pearl of the world, are the most preferred locations. Moreover, some of Europe's best night clubs, bars and restaurants are located in Istanbul for those wondering about Istanbul's night life. The news further stated there are two different worlds in Istanbul, one of which reflects the old nostalgic life while the other offers a modern environment with shopping malls where tourists can find renowned clothing brands. "It is even difficult for Europe's biggest cities like London and Paris to compete with Istanbul. 

Read more on Daily Sabah: Swedes Fall in Love with Istanbul

Foam Truths in Istanbul

I AM in Istanbul, fully rubbed and scrubbed, covered in soap and suds. My wet hair is plastered to my scalp and runny mascara has formed panda circles under my eyes. Here we go again — the young and vigorous Leyla is coming at me for about the fourth time with another gold-plated bowl brimming with water. “Plenty hot for you, lady!” she announces in a rejoicing voice. More sluicing and shrieking and general jiggling. Did I mention I am starkers? 

Welcome to a Turkish hamami (hamam), where modesty has no place. After being assigned a locker at the two-storey vestibule of Ayasofya hamam and donning a fine cotton purple pestamel sarong and blue plastic flip-flops, my hand is taken by Leyla and she leads me through to the main chamber, where she promptly whips off my covering. Leyla and her fellow attendants are draped in (soon to be thoroughly soaked) towels. 

The rituals of the bath-house are time-honoured and simple. It’s all about stripping off for the most comprehensive cleansing imaginable. 

Read more on The Australian: Foam Truths in Istanbul