In­sider’s Is­tan­bul

Be­yond the tourist trail in Turkey’s most fas­ci­nat­ing city

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - OWEN MATTHEWS

YOU have done the sights — the Ha­gia Sofia and the great im­pe­rial mosques, the Top­kapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar, the Bospho­rus cruise and Basil­ica Cis­tern. With the tourist boxes ticked and the past squared away, it’s time to start ex­plor­ing the real, liv­ing city.

You may have had enough of mu­se­ums, but Orhan Pa­muk’s new Mu­seum of In­no­cence in the bo­hemian neigh­bour­hood of Ci­hangir is worth a visit, if only for the abid­ing odd­ness of the con­cept as much as any­thing in the ex­hibits. The mu­seum and Pa­muk’s epony­mous novel were con­ceived at the same time, and as Turkey’s No­bel Prize-win­ning au­thor wrote the book about love and ob­ses­sion set in 1970s Is­tan­bul, he also col­lected arte­facts.

The re­sult is a charm­ing con­fec­tion of the para­pher­na­lia of bour­geois Turk­ish life, from a col­lec­tion of cig­a­rette butts sup­pos­edly smoked by the novel’s hero­ine to toys, cin­ema posters and Vic­to­rian-era fam­ily pho­tos. It is a mon­u­ment to whimsy, a great lit­er­ary project and a van­ished era all at the same time.

Is­tan­bul is one of the gourmet cap­i­tals of the world, but you have to dig a lit­tle to find its most in­ter­est­ing ver­nac­u­lar food. To really get to grips with the au­then­tic tastes of the city, spend a half hour or so brows­ing is­tan­buleats.com — a site and, for the old-fash­ioned, a book com­piled by passionate con­nois­seurs of Is­tan­bul’s water­side fish-grilling joints, its rau­cous raki-and-mezze restau­rants (known as mey­hanes) and its end­less va­ri­eties of street food.

You can trace the so­cial his­tory of the city through its restau­rants, or take a gas­tro­nomic tour of the rest of Turkey and even the old em­pire, with its Balkan, Mid­dle East­ern and Cau­casian in­flu­ences. Ana­to­lian soul food restau­rant Ciya is def­i­nitely worth a trip to the Asian side of the city, while the newish bread-and-stew restau­rant Datli Maya is as bril­liant and tiny as its owner, culi­nary wizard Di­lara Er­bay.

Those com­mit­ted to ex­plor­ing Is­tan­bul’s gas­tro­nomic un­der­belly can even find di­rec­tions to a fa­mous pair of ri­val sheep’s-head restau­rants lo­cated on op­po­site cor­ners of a cross­roads. One sells the heads boiled, the other roasted (coun­ter­in­tu­itively, boiled is bet­ter).

Of an evening, don’t get stuck in the Old City, which is a ghetto of touristy restau­rants and pushy car­pet ped­lars. Is­tan­bul’s real life is else­where, in the mile-long strip of pedes­tri­anised streets around the old Grande Rue de Pera, the heart of the Euro­pean quar­ter now known as Beyo­glu.

Start at the House Cafe by the Tunel fu­nic­u­lar and work your way down Istik­lal Av­enue though back­streets crowded with ta­bles and rev­ellers. One can go high-low, lit­er­ally and metaphor­i­cally, from flashy so­cialite-packed rooftop bars such as 360 to grungy live mu­sic venues such as Hay­mat­los, con­cealed in a crum­bling Ot­toman of­fice build­ing.

A full tour of all the hid­den bars and restau­rants would take about eight years. At 2am you’ll find Istik­lal Av­enue still packed from end to end, a sight that beats even Barcelona’s La Ram­bla into a cocked hat.

Af­ter a heavy night in the city you may wish to es­cape to the Princes’ Is­lands, an ar­chi­pel­ago in the Sea of Mar­mara where the Byzan­tines ex­iled their sur­plus roy­als and the Le­van­tine bour­geoisie of the late 19th cen­tury built large wooden sum­mer vil­las. But one has to be smart about plan­ning a visit, be­cause on hot sum­mer days they are also the equiv­a­lent of New York’s Coney Is­land — a place where ev­ery lo­cal who can’t af­ford to go any­where else crowds on to packed fer­ries.

If you’re rich, take a 10-per­son sea taxi from cen­tral Is­tan­bul. Or take the pub­lic ferry from Ka­batas, but on a week­day. On Buyukada, the largest of the is­lands, avoid the rip-off tourist restau­rants on the sea­side strip and hike (or bike) up the moun­tain to the monastery of Aya Yorgi, with its charm­ing open-air restau­rant and breath­tak­ing views of the whole gi­ant city of 15 mil­lion souls, now spread at your feet, dis­tant and silent. ma­sumiyet­muzesi.org ciya.com.tr datli­maya.com the­house­cafe.com 360is­tan­bul.com deniz­taksi.com

ALAMY

Buyukada, the largest of the Princes’ Is­lands, an ar­chi­pel­ago in the Sea of Mar­mara

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