To-Dos in Istanbul’s New District – and Asia

I’ve covered some to-dos in the new district of Istanbul – Dining on the Bosphorus a must. It’s not cheap, but you’re paying for the view, as much as the food. And it’s that cool.

Galata Tower and District – Okay, if you want the view, go to Galata, just across the Golden Horn, at the foot of the bridge. I hope you’re in good shape because the hills are like Lisbon. You’ll walk up a 45 degree hill, see a water station at the corner – laugh to yourself at the water on the folding card table – turn the corner to see … another 45 degree hill. At the top, the Galata Tower. The view from the Tower is pretty cool – don’t worry, they take you up by elevator. The problem is it is crowded. And there’s no system, so a narrow walkway that’s only two deep is jammed with people, trying to go both ways. A simple sign would make it so much better … but the district is cool. It’s filled with small shops with unique items, not the mass produced stuff you see in the tourist markets, but one-of-a-kind gloves, bags, scarves, small restaurants, cafes.

Museum of Innocence in a quiet neighborhood

Similarly, find the Museum of Innocence in the heart of the new district. It’s well-marked – and pricey for a museum – and a fun break from the city. The museum is probably cooler to visit if you’ve read Orhan Pamuk’s novel, but you get the gist and can indulge in the banality of Kemal’s obsession with Fusun. As G asked me, is she a real person? It’s creepy and a testament to the author’s vision and frenetic energy that he not only imagined the museum and sketched out the layout, he built it. The house is on a quiet side street, the kind that would be great to live on, if you’re an Istanbul yuppie.

Another must in the hammam. I admit, we went upscale and so got a not completely authentic experience. Even still, it was pretty unique. I mean, it’s just the two of us in a large bath house, barely covered by towels and it’s our attendants clothed in bathing suits (okay, *that*’s a weird job).

ESPA is in another yuppie neighborhood, where “the real housewives of Istanbul live” explained a friend who had just visited. The spa was amazing and beautifully appointed. Our attendants ushered us each into our respective dressing rooms, then took us in the elevator to the private hammam. We were then wrapped in towels and guided to the steam room. It was amazingly hot – I must have sweated off five pounds. Then we were laid head to foot on the marble slab, sloughed (ouch) with loofas and cleaned off with cold water. It felt good at first, but I must be reading too much about waterboarding because the drench of cold water got to be a bit much for me. Then we were taken back to the steam room and then back onto the slab to be pulled and kneaded, like giant pieces of pita. Then rinsed. The final pouf of scented foam was amazing, light and gentle, a soft, pampered feel to finish off the experience … so decadent …

Istanbul Modern is terrific. I love modern art, and it was so interesting to see the native art tradition. What I found fascinating was that Ataturk pretty much dictated that Turkey would have art because all civilized (Western) nations had art. And so it had art. Some of it was very interesting, variations of schools and techniques.

Surprisingly, I really enjoyed the films. It’s not something I usually view – or like – at other museums. One was a spoof on Don Quixote, with a man and his servant, both in suits, riding a horse and a donkey, across, what I’m going to assume is Anatolia, trying to get to the Tate Modern. Hysterical. The other was two side by side videos of the same Turkish woman talking about her experiences with Greek nationalists and Turkish ones. Sadly, only one of the films had subtitles, so it was difficult to grasp the specifics of her story, although the meaning was clear enough.

Changing of the honor guard at Ataturk’s tomb at Dolmabahce Palace

Dolmabahce Palace on the Bosphorus is another good destination. Unlike Topkapi, this one is furnished. It’s also the final resting place of Ataturk. Downside: everyone is required to join a guided tour. Lots of waiting in lines. And the tour was semi-satisfying at best – I would have been happier with an audio guide or a booklet. And the whole thing was distracting. You had to strain to hear the descriptions, while listening to other tourists who were translating for their fellow tourists …

After a tiring day in Beyoglu, hit the Pera Palas for a drink at the famous bar. The hotel is the Adlon Hotel of Istanbul, where diplomats, spies, authors and other notables mingled “back in the day.” Today, it’s a cozy bar where the bartender makes beautiful fruit concoctions that are as refreshing and delicious as they look.

What else is a must? A day trip to Uskadar (Asian Istanbul). Take the commuter ferry for like $1 and a 15 minute ride. There’s a quiet mosque right near the ferry drop off point, but then it gets tough. The maps aren’t great, and if you’re just wandering around by yourself, it’s hard to get your bearings. We tried to take a taxi to the Tile Mosque – but it was too close? And the drivers didn’t speak much English. So after walking around for a while, we headed back to Europe. Still cool to go to two continents on the same trip …

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