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Istanbul and the cities of the world

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Posted 01 September 2004 - 11:39

Mehmet Yasin is the general manager of Dogan Books and a well-known magazine and newspaper journalist. But he also is an intrepid traveller, putting mere 'backpackers' or 'tourists' to shame with his globetrotting adventures. Tellingly, his latest book, entitled 'Uzaknâme', is dedicated to the lure of distant lands. Nevertheless, Istanbul remains his first love, his home base. We met him in Bebek on a beautiful Istanbul morning before setting off on a guided tour of his favourite haunts.

Mehmet Yasin at Bebek.
From Istanbul to Patagonia
We began our conversation by asking Yasin which city reminded him most of Istanbul. "Rio's hills, bays and greenery are reminiscent of Istanbul. New York has a similarly fast pace of life. But Istanbul is unique as the only city on two continents. Patagonia's countryside is lovely, as are Norway's fjords. But they aren't cities. I love everything about Istanbul: its way of life, its crowds, its excitement. It is a city filled with surprises."

The Judas trees of Kandilli
Over 50 years of living in Istanbul, Yasin has explored every corner of the city. From the humblest neighbourhood coffee shop to the most elegant restaurant, Yasin shares with us his tried-and-tested Istanbul hit list. "For the tastiest, cheapest breakfast with the best Bosphorus view, head to the Tarihi Sariyer Borekcisi in Sarıyer near the Black Sea. They make delicious 'borek' (phyllo dough savoury pastries). Buy your borek and eat it on a bench in Kirecburnu with a glass of tea bought from a street vendor. Kirecburnu is also home to the Ali Baba seafood restaurant, one of the oldest restaurants on the Bosphorus. The fish is fresh and the prices are reasonable'not to mention the view. Take a walk in the shady lanes of Emirgan Park and then stop for tea at one of its historic shoreline teahouses. My favourite "kahve" (traditional Turkish coffee shop) is next to Rumeli Hisar. I am also a big fan of Bebek Kahve. I come here early in the morning before work on weekdays to read my paper over a glass of tea. In the evenings, I like to have a drink at the Bebek Hotel bar. It has a wonderful view of the flowering Judas trees in Kandilli forest at sunset."
Grilled fish sandwiches in Eminonu
"I spent a lot of time in Ortakoy as a child. I still love to go there for a cup of coffee next to the Ortakoy mosque. But nothing beats the flavour of a simple, cheap grilled fish sandwich in Eminonu. From here, head to the Spice Market filled with honey, cheese and fragrant spices from all over Turkey. Of course, no tour of Istanbul is complete without a visit to the Blue Mosque, Haghia Sophia and Topkapi Palace. If you get hungry, go to the Sultanahmet Koftecisi for some "kofte" (traditional Turkish meatballs) followed by "irmik helvası" (semolina halva). For something rather more upmarket, have a drink at the Four Season Hotel, formerly a prison but now one of the most elegant hotels in the world. Or, head to the garden of the Yesil Ev hotel for a drink or a bite to eat."

And now for some fun...
"The area between Ortakoy and Kurucesme is filled with world-class entertainment venues. This is the only place in the world where the music from the bars is drowned out by the sound of the waves. Zihni Bar has a great view, especially by moonlight. Reina is one of Istanbul's classiest restaurant, bar and nightclub complexes. You could call it the modern face of Istanbul's nightlife."
At the end of our gastronomic and cultural tour of the city, we found ourselves in Rumeli Hisar, near the second bridge. We asked Yasin what his travels had taught him about bridging cultures. "I believe that all the conflicts in the world are created by politicians and arms traders. In all my travels, I have never been victimised for being a Turk. I have never been insulted or refused a meal. In fact, people rarely ask me where I come from. I have sat down and broken bread with people from all over the world. The peoples of the world are united. If you ask me, people are all the same. We share the same value systems. If I didn't feel this way, I'd be too afraid to travel!"

By The Gate Magazine

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