Visiting the Asian Side

kız kulesi 2

Istanbul is the only city in the world to be built on two continents. There is no doubt that the presence of the “Asian side” beyond the Bosphorus appeals powerfully to the European collective imagination.

Sometimes this prerogative may give rise to strange doubts and unrealistic expectations.

The strange doubts are condensed in the question that sometimes comes to us via e-mail and to which we hope to answer once and for all: No, you do not need a passport to go to the Asian side of Istanbul…

Unrealistic expectations can be, instead, glimpsed on the faces of groups of tourists that we happen to see every now and then getting off from the ferry at Üsküdar. The eyes and ears which have imagined to savour the East collide with chaotic traffic and the huge construction site of the Marmaray Tünel. Few minutes later some even get back on the same ferry to return to Sultanahmet, sadly bewildered and disappointed.

The reality of Istanbul is very complex; we will never be tired of reminding it. The city is a collection of many cities, the architectural landscape and the social context change quickly and radically, within a few feet and/or a few months. It is enough to just move a few meters from Taksim to Kasımpaşa or from Sultanahmet to Kadırga to bump into very different realities. It is thus not necessary to cross the Bosphorus to search for the more oriental, the more Muslim, the poorer and the truest part (?). These classifications are meaningless in Istanbul.

In the European as in the Asian side there are more conservative districts (Fatih and Ümraniye) and more modern ones (Beyoğlu and Kadıköy), areas full of history (Sultanahmet and Üsküdar) and areas voted to shopping (Nisantasi and Bağdat Caddesi), neighbourhoods with an interesting religious mixture (Fener /Balat and Kuzguncuk /Yeldeğirmeni) and pretty villages on the Bosphorus (Arnavutköy and Çengelköy).

Our advice is, therefore, to give a chance to the Asian side, without preconceptions and in a more informed manner.

For a long time we have received requests from people really curious about this part of the city. However, we were intimidated by the thought of how to enclose in a few hours its major points of interest, especially because we did not know what the latter were exactly, given that no printed travel guide speaks extensively of these zones (indeed they are often excluded even from the map).

For this reason, from March 2012 we have studied and put into practice an itinerary which includes the three most representative quarters of the Asian side of Istanbul (Kuzguncuk, Üsküdar and Kadıköy), providing within 5-6 hours a view as comprehensive as possible of the area, showing its historical, social and artistic complexity. The experience gained through the itinerary already existing, of Fatih, Fener and Balat, by now operative for two years and for which we keep receiving hundreds of positive comments and emails of gratitude, has pushed and motivated us to create this new tour, which offers a more complete and less stereotypical image of the beautiful city we live in.

Üsküdar is one of the oldest districts of the Ottoman Istanbul; a residential district from the start as it continues to be nowadays.

There are more than 180 mosques in the district. Some of them date back to before the Ottoman conquest, thus, among the oldest ones in Istanbul. The largest mosques are those of Mihrimah and Yeni Valide, while the most interesting are the smaller ones, Şemsi Pasha, Kaptan Paşa, Çinili.

The history of Üsküdar has its roots well back in time, long before the Ottoman conquest in the 14th century and also the founding of the city of Byzantium by Greek settlers in the 7th century B.C. During the excavations for the Bosphorus tunnel were in fact found many ruins of the ancient Chrysopolis.

Besides the historical importance of the mosques and the beauty of the district in itself, one must indubitably take a walk to Salacak and arrive in front of the Kız Kulesi, a legendary tower which stands on an islet situated where the Bosphorus and the Marmara Sea finally meet. The Kiz Kulesi with the historical peninsula as background delivers one of the most striking spectacles of Istanbul.

Not far from Üsküdar is Kuzguncuk, a neighbourhood inhabited since the early 16th century by the Jewish population, which later also welcomed Greeks and Armenians. Kuzguncuk is absolutely one of our favorite spots: it is basically a long and narrow valley, with both sides descending steeply to the Bosphorus. The placidity transmitted by its old wooden houses and the green of its plane trees makes this neighbourhood a really special place.

It is only here that one can see a mosque next to an Armenian church and a synagogue side by side with an Orthodox church. It is no exaggeration to take this small neighbourhood as a symbol of the tolerance and harmony present in the Istanbul of the Ottoman Empire. Kuzguncuk also still preserves the atmosphere of a fishing village, a place for the soul that has inspired and continues to inspire artists, poets, filmmakers, architects and dreamers.

Its points of interest are many: the synagogue of Beth Yakov, the Orthodox church of Ayios Panteleimon and the Armenian one of Surp Krikor Lusavoriç, not to mention the beautiful Fethi Paşa Park which offers fascinating views of the Bosphorus.

The last area that our Asian itinerary touches is Kadıköy, the ancient and famous Chalcedon, founded actually 20 years before Byzantium by Greek settlers from Megara. Kadıköy’s very ancient history remains in the background of what is now in effect one of the most modern and lively districts of Istanbul.

From the beginning of the 19th century that which in the Ottoman era was just a residential area for wealthy nobles turns, thanks to the construction of the Haydarpaşa Train Station, in a neighbourhood extremely diverse in terms of ethnic identities and social groups. At the beginning of the 20th century the population of the district was made up of Jews, Greeks, Armenians, Albanians, Bulgarians, Persians, Italians, Germans and French. It is in this district that the first modern “apartments” made of stone and marble were built in Istanbul.

A walk through the suburb of Yeldeğirmeni will hence bring us back to mind a period not long ago when German engineers and Italian stonemasons worked together, both as immigrants, in the cosmopolitan Istanbul of the early 20th century.

Kadıköy is a modern district, considerable in size and densely populated (more than half a million inhabitants), with a great variety of atmospheres and architectural styles. A longer tour would lead you up to Bagdat Caddesi, a 14 km boulevard along the Marmara Sea, dotted with malls and shops of the most famous international brands. If one substitutes the plane trees with palms, it would really seem to be in Los Angeles.

However, it is in the centre of Kadıköy that we recommend travelers to spend a few pleasant hours. The Central Market is one of the most interesting and picturesque of the city, is a very suitable place for a mini-culinary tour. Among the many kiosks there are countless specialties to try, which each retailer will let you taste with a smile on his face. Either lovers of savouries and sweets will be satisfied: in fact, it is here that they will find some of the most historic and famous pastry shops.

A trip to Istanbul without visiting the Asian side would definitely leave a sense of incompleteness; however, it could be even more disappointing if one will arrive on the Asian side with the wrong expectations. We, therefore, hope that this article has provided the traveler with a clearer picture of an area of the city so important, although so often overlooked by the printed travel guides.

If you are interested in making a guided tour with us of these neighbourhoods, please, do not hesitate to contact us via email or leave a comment below.

We started 5 years ago to make guided tours with italian groups and you can read hundreds of feedback on our italian version of the blog and on tripadvisor. Now we can do it also in english!


Visiting Fatih, Fener and Balat

Fener

Of the whole Istanbul, the areas of Fatih, Fener and Balat are certainly the richest in history, the most fascinating and characteristic. For these reasons they have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Even so, less than 1% of the tourists in Istanbul visit these sites. How is that possible?

The reasons are many; however, the main culprit is surely the so-called “tourism industry”, which simplifies everything and conveys an artificial image of the city, in order to maximize its profits. A stereotyped image of the city is promoted and substitutes the more heterogeneous existing one and, unfortunately, it is only the former that is visited by almost all tourists.

Along our lines of thought, we are opposed to all this and we hope that people will have the curiosity and the desire to discover the real beauties of Istanbul.

Hence, it is our intention to introduce three neighbourhoods really central for the full understanding of the history and culture of this city. In these areas different communities and religions have converged and mingled in the course of time, bestowing us up to the present day with an extraordinary wealth of architecture, religious monuments, colours and gastronomic delicacies. The three districts are located within the old city walls, to the west of Eminönü, and overlook the Golden Horn. Unless accompanied by people who know the surroundings, these areas could be difficult to visit, not because they are dangerous, but just because they are totally off the tourist beaten track and it could be easy to lose one’s bearings through the maze of houses, consequently missing the monuments one is looking for.

Fatih is considered one of the most “conservative” districts of Istanbul, is the most observant area from a religious point of view, with at its centre the monumental complex of the Fatih Mosque. Walking through its streets, in the area of Malta Çarşı, the zone of the market, is an experience that cannot leave one blase’. Nowadays in Fatih are living mostly immigrants coming from the Eastern Anatolia region, so people here respect more the dictates of religion, but also preserve their extraordinary regional culinary traditions. It is in fact precisely for this reason that the district is now accepted as the gastronomic centre of the city. It is here, therefore, that one must come to experience the authentic flavours of Turkish cuisine: restaurants or small shops are specialized in kebabs, pide, sarma, köfte, all delicious and at very low prices. After lunch or a snack, you could then visit the beautiful Zeyrek Mosque, which was once the Byzantine Monastery of Christ Pantokrator, after Aya Sofia the second largest building of the Byzantine period still existing in Istanbul. The area of Zeyrek, with its Ottoman wooden houses 200 years old, is one of the most picturesque ones of the whole Istanbul. Leaving behind Fatih and heading towards Fener, one will pass through the Çarşamba neighbourhood. Here lies one of the most famous Byzantine churches of Istanbul, the Church of Theotokos Pammakaristos, now known as Fethiye Camii, since presently it is half mosque and half museum

Once entered in the quarter of Fener, the historic Greek neighbourhood, the roads will start to get narrower and labyrinthine, the slopes will get more steep, and the risk of losing the way higher and higher. It is on these centenarian cobblestones, among coloured Ottoman houses, some superbly restored, others irremediably ruined, that one can feel the history of Istanbul. Devout Byzantine priests, coarse Crusaders, proud Ottoman Paşas with their bevy of servants, Armenian traders, Jewish shopkeepers and gypsy fortune tellers have populated, over the centuries, often at the same time, these areas of the city, giving rise to the cultural wealth we can still admire today. Walking among houses of bizarre colours and shapes, among children playing soccer in the streets, one will arrive in front of Rum Lisesi, the Greek Orthodox College, the magnificent and peculiar red-brick building that dominates the hill of Fener. Climbing up a picturesque staircase one will then reach the top of the hill, where once the ancient walls of Constantinople ran, and it is precisely here that in the 13th century was built a church unknown to most, but of fundamental importance in the history of the city. This is the graceful Church of St. Mary of the Mongols, also known as the Red Church. Its history is so beautiful and charming that should deserve a book, but unfortunately there are no related publications and it almost seems forgotten by everyone.

Moreover, in the neighborhood of Fener is situated one of the most important locus for Christianity: the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. It is for the Orthodox believers the equivalent of St. Peter in Rome for the Catholics. The historic and symbolic importance of this place is huge. It is one of the five main centres of Christianity: in fact, in order of hierarchy, the Patriarchate of Constantinople is the second after Rome and precedes Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. The visit of the Cathedral of St. George should therefore be a “must” for a tourist in Istanbul, although I think less than 1% of the tourists actually visit it, since probably ignoring even its existence.

On the banks of the Golden Horn, acting as a watershed between Fener and Balat, one finds the Sveti Stefan Kilisesi (the Bulgarian Church of St. Stephen), famous for being built entirely of iron and for its rich interior ornaments.

Balat is the historic Jewish Quarter: it had been so for a long time, during the Byzantine period as well as during the Ottoman period, this to demonstrate the atmosphere of inter-religious coexistence that has always characterized Istanbul. The Jews began to leave the area only after the strong earthquake of 1894, moving to the neighbourhood of Galata and, partly, emigrating to Israel. After 1960 the remaining wealthy Jewish minority of Balat moved to the district of Şişli and the result was a complete transformation of the neighbourhood. From an extremely rich area it quickly became a zone populated by immigrants of the lowest social classes. As a consequence, Balat had been greatly neglected until just lately when the neighbourhood has eventually been the focus of an ambitious redevelopment project sponsored by UNESCO. The fine line between grandeur and degradation in Balat produces a dazzling contrast. The area, where there are as many as three synagogues (including the beautiful Arhida Synagogue, still functioning and open to visitors prior contact with the rabbi), remains still nowadays a real gem. Arriving then at the top of Balat one will enter a park from where it is possible to enjoy a breathtaking view of the Golden Horn.

Continuing on foot and with the risk, always real, to get lost, one can afterwards reach the famous church of Holy Saviour in Chora, now known as Kariye Müzesi. Its magnificent mosaics and frescoes have nothing to envy to those of Aya Sofia, rather they are objectively much more beautiful. It is, without a doubt, one of the most important historical monuments of Istanbul, an extraordinary example of Byzantine stylistic perfection.

Exploring Fatih, Fener and Balat is challenging, but does indeed offer unique emotions, even to those who like us are by now accustomed to visit these places. We would like to remind that visiting these areas by oneself is not easy, often the names of the streets on the maps are incorrect or are not reported: one might end up walking around to no avail and thus wasting a lot of time. The percentage of people who speak English in these areas is close to zero and, therefore, it is impossible to ask for information. We have to admit that the first few times we also got lost, although we can ask information in Turkish!

If you are interested in making a guided tour with us of these neighbourhoods, please, do not hesitate to contact us via email or leave a comment below.

We started 5 years ago to make guided tours with italian groups and you can read hundreds of feedback on our italian version of the blog and on tripadvisorWe organize tours almost every day in english, italian and spanish.


Istanbul on a Cruise

Istanbul Cruise

The majority of tourists that decide to visit Istanbul arrive by airplane. However, it is also possible to reach İstanbul by car, train (passing through Greece) or by ferry.

Lately, more and more people are choosing to visit the Mediterranean with a cruise company, thanks to their very affordable prices.

Costa CruisesMSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, Aida Cruises, Carnival Vista and Holland America Line, in recent times, have developed and given increasing importance to the routes of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Depending on the offer available, but, generally, spending between 600 and 1000 euros per person, one can enjoy the experience of a 7 day cruise on a luxurious and beautiful ship (for example: MSC Poesia, Island Princess, Celebrity Reflection, Norwegian Spirit). These ships depart normally from Venice or from Rome and touch the coasts of southern Italy, Greece (Katakolon-Olympia, Athens or some beuatiful islands in the Aegean Sea), Izmir (Smyrna), Kusadasi, Dubrovnik in Croatia, Malta or Tunis, some of them will continue until the Black Sea touching Bulgarian and Romanian coasts.

Obviously, 7 days of cruise with all the meals included and various entertainments available on the ship represent an attractive and convenient option. Nonetheless, when the cruise ship stops in a city as enthralling to see as it is İstanbul, few are not driven by the desire to visit it!

Unfortunately, the time on hand to visit the city is very little, because usually the cruises dock at around 7.30 in the morning and depart the same day at around 17 in the afternoon. The cruise companies use this short time available as an excuse to sell off shore excursions, which are very expensive (at least 120 euros for 7 hours of tour) and, eventually, quite disappointing. In fact, first of all, an identification number is assigned to the excursionists, who are then taken in crammed coaches to few places of interest; for lunch time, they are led to a restaurant passed off as ‘typical’ (but that is not) and, finally, their visit will be ended in a carpet shop in the Gran Bazaar, where a commission on sold items had been already agreed between the shop owner and the tourist guide. In our opinion, these types of tours provide the visitor with a distorted image of the city, which cannot thus be truly appreciated. It is a vision of tourism to which we are strongly against.

It would be much better then, for whom is really interested in the city, to visit it autonomously. However, since the time available is indeed little, it is advisable to organise oneself in advance about the sights one may be keen to visit and the way to get there. So not to waste precious time!

This blog has been conceived precisely to give accurate information to whom has an interest to participate in the life of İstanbul in an intelligent manner, even if only for one day. It is full of tips that will allow you to organise an autonomous day excursion. On the other hand, if you yet prefer to be guided around the city by a knowledgeable inhabitant of Istanbul, we can study together a personalised visit of the city and accompany you. That will also give you the privilege to skip the long queues that are formed at the entrances of the famous monuments.

We are a licensed official tourism agency based in Istanbul. We started our career organizing guided tours in Italian with Italian groups and you can read hundreds of feedback on the italian version of our blog and also on Trip Advisor. Now we can do it also in English and we would like to provide the same quality service also to English speaking visitors.


The real whirling dervishes

whirling dervishes

First of all we need to clarify the basis of Sufism, to understand what we’re talking about. Sufism, in Arabic “tasavvuf”, is a general term used to refer esoteric aspect of Islam. The Mevlevi order, in turkish “mevlevilik”, is one of the many “tarikat” sufiste, founded in the thirteenth century by Celaleddin-i Rumi and is spread widely in Syria and Anatolia. The term “tarikat” means brotherhood, and the brotherhoods sufiste, just like those of monks and nuns in the Catholic religion, have different founders, different “rules”, but they fit entirely within the Muslim religion, accepting all theories of the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad. this event

Yenikapi mevlevihane 2 Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi (born in today’s Afghanistan), strongly influenced by his father, became a university professor in the Madrasa of the Anatolian city of Konya, where his family was finally established after having wandered in several eastern cities. His life was totally dedicated to the search for religious enlightenment and reunification with the love of God. The day of his death is called Seb-i Arus and is commemorated on December 17 in Turkey with various events, the most important of them takes place in Konya, where ‘marriage’ (as this event is called) lasts 17 days. Mevlana left a huge number of works in prose and poetry, and a brotherhood that has arrived to the present day. His descendants still live in fact in Turkey, where they formed an organization in order to protect this great tradition. To learn about this discipline, always fascinating but very complex, the board is just one: read a lot …

Once you are in Istanbul, though, you’ll definitely have some more chance to get a visual experience of the so-called whirling dervishes. Istanbul was one of the cities in which Sufism took root more than others, and it is for this reason that there are several “Mevlevihane” (special places where Sufis practice their rituals) within the city.

The advice I give is to have a clear idea of what you want to see. If you want to attend a “show” you will be spoiled for choice, because now there are many who take advantage of the popularity of Sufism and to present it as a show (for a fee of course) in some places absolutely not relevant, such as in a Sultanahmet cafe or at the Sirkeci train station.

Even at some famous tekke, such as the Galata Tekke, the ceremony took on the connotation of the show, and despite everything takes place in a serious order and in a fascinating location, it is quite clear the commercialization of the product.

If you want to attend a real “ceremony” you’ll have to reckon with more effort, both to reach tekkes found in remote areas of the city, moreover in true religious ceremonies the dance of the dervishes is only a marginal part of a rite involving prayers, songs, live music that lasts almost three hours. To attend a ceremony of this type (for example at the Tekke of Karagumruk) is certainly a great privilege, especially because community members welcome visitors warmly. They ‘must, however, have the utmost respect, starting from clothes, and they need to turn off cameras and mobile phones, also men and women must sit in separate areas. Remember it’s a ritual, not a show, consequently for those who are not really interested may easily get bored. We therefore recommend the participation only people really interested.

If your desire is just to see the famous dance of the dervishes and not lose too much time we would absolutely recommend a ceremony demonstration with an admission fee.

Here is a list of the main places in which you can attend ceremonies or events (as of October 2015, we are not responsible for any changes in time and / or day that can happen at certain times of the year):

Yenikapı Mevlevihanesi: Restored in 2010 was initially given under direct management to the Mevlana Foundation, chaired by Faruk Çelebi Hemdem (22nd grandson of Mevlana Rumi). The complex is entered later in the possession of the University of Fatih, and inside there are regular classes for students. But the ceremonies are held the first and the third Thursday of the month and every last Friday of the month, starting at 19. Admission is free but booking is required by phone, which can be done from your hotel, at the following number: 0090 212 5829070 or through the convenient online form. Address: Mevlevihane Caddesi # 25, Merkez Efendi Mah, Zeytinburnu. Management by the Mevlana Foundation.

Silivrikapı Mevlevihanesi: here ceremonies are held every Thursday, from 19.30 to 23. The price is 35 Turkish lira, no reservation required. Address: Yeni Tavanlı Çeşme Sokak No # 8, Mevlânakapı Mahallesi, Silivrikapı. Management by the EMAV.

Tekke of Karagümrük (Nurettin Cerrahi Tekkesi): This is the home of the order of Sufis Cerrahi. An old building where the typical ceremon of this order takes place, during which they practice the whirling along wth the religious hymns accompanied with music.. The ceremonies are held every Monday night at 21. Admission free, booking is not possible. Address: Canfeda Cami Sokak, Derviş Ali Mah Fatih

Zawie (small Tekke) of Fatih: Part of the Cerrahi order, this is a real academy of Sema. Every Sunday the ceremony is performed based on the tradition of the founder of the order, Jalal ad-Din Rumi. It is much smaller and less impressive than the tekke Karagümrük as venue, but the Master is a terrific host and not let you go without sharing a typical Sufi meal. The meeting is on Sunday at the end of the sunset prayer in the courtyard of the Fatih Mosque, where someone will escort you to Zawie.

Galata Mevlevihanesi: Ceremonies are held every Sunday at 17 and replication at 18. The price is 50 Turkish Liras. You can not book but you can buy the ticket from Saturday morning. Address: Galip Dede Caddesi No. 15, Sahkulu Mahallesi, Beyoğlu. Management by the Mekder Association.

Cultural Centre Hodjapasha: Entertainment center in a well restored ancient Hamam situated in Sirkeci, in care of the cultural center Hocapaşa. Tickets for the show of dervishes (daily at 19 except Mondays and Fridays) costs 60 Liras. Reservations are required, we are available for this purpose. The cultural center also organizes performances of folk dances including belly dancing.


The weather and forecast in Istanbul

Neve a Istanbul

The climate of Istanbul is among the most common questions we get asked via e-mail. Especially with an approaching departure, travelers get caught in a kind of panic: “Will it be hot or cold?” “How should I dress?” “Just need a light jacket or a winter coat?”

It’s true… getting caught off guard by the weather is not pleasant. We can imagine your justified and frantic internet searches to find the most reliable weather portal.

Let’s start by saying that Istanbul is on the same parallel as Naples, therefore one might expect the mild climate of coastal areas similar to the cities of southern Italy. In fact this is true only in part. Istanbul is exposed to north currents without any geographic protection, so the climate is half Mediterranean and half mainland.

The winter is usually not particularly harsh and temperatures hardly drop below freezing, although the sensation of cold can be amplified by the wind. Nevertheless, snow is not uncommon; it makes its appearance every year. The small snow storms are linked to episodes of sudden icy waves that come from Russia, and invigorated by the presence of the Black Sea, generally last 3 -4 days. During each winter, there are at least two or three waves of cold. The rest of the season is typical winter; rainy days and cloudy skies alternating with sunny days. The coldest months are January and February.

Spring is definitely the best time to visit Istanbul, pleasant temperatures combined with the explosion of colors of the many varieties of flowers (especially tulips), make the months of April and May perfect for enjoying the city . March may suffer the backlash of winter, but last year was such a spring month in all respects, that by the middle of the month the vegetative awakening was already advanced. June is a wonderful month…the days are long, the heat is stifling, and you can already put together a 3-4 day stay in Istanbul with a visit to the beach in the south of Turkey (Bodrum and Fethiye to Antalya) because in those areas the swimming season starts early.

Summer is hot and muggy. The high humidity during the day is fortunately mitigated by the night breeze. In July and August the temperatures exceed 30 degrees celsius easily, and rainy days are virtually absent. The influx of tourists, especially in August, is very high. If you have the opportunity to choose between the two summer months, then July is definitely preferable to August.

The beauty of September is comparable to June. It is mild and sunny until later in the month, and is still considered summer in all respects, but it is more windy and less crowded. Autumn makes its appearance in October, with the first rains commence and continue through December. Autumn is also a good time for visiting the city. It isn’t too rainy (more or less like Rome) and most of the cultural festivals (such as the Biennale) are held at this time.

A fundamental characteristic of the climate of Istanbul is the presence of the wind, which is equally as pleasant in summer as it is scathing in the winter. The names of the winds that come into the city vary according to their origin. There are at least eight, the most famous are the Poyraz (from the northeast and mitigates the heat/disperses moisture in the summer) and the Lodos (a hot wind from the south- west which usually causes storms).

The presence of the Black Sea to the north and the Sea of Marmara to the south causes the weather to be very changeable. The currents can change quickly, so weather predictions are frequently unreliable. It is not uncommon to observe wrong predictions for the following day, so our advice is to not pay attention to the predictions made 7 days away on international weather portals. Whether you are planning to go to museums or spend a day in the park, it is best to stay flexible enough to rearrange your itinerary if necessary. In addition, the symbol “rain” often does not mean that it will rain all day. Given the variability and the size of the city, a few drops could fall in the morning and then clear up for the rest of the day, or it could pour in Goztepe and stay sunny in Beşiktaş.

The most popular weather portals are weather.com, wunderground.com, accuweather.com e freemeteo.com. They are generated by automatic weather patterns on a large scale, so the level of detail they provide cannot be considered accurate and we recommend that you not take them too seriously.

The most accurate site for the weather forecast in Istanbul is from the national weather service: in the english version there are 5-day forecasts for all major cities, If you want to take a look at the turkish version service is even more precise with detailed forecasts hour by hour and even by neighborhood.


Bosphorus Tour

Among the most popular and famous tourist attractions of Istanbul, a place of honor should certainly be attributed to “Bosphorus Tour”. But, it would be wrong to consider these tours as something simply touristic.

The Bosphorus is always attractive, even for the inhabitants of Istanbul. While living here is really hard, it is always easy to get used to this wonderful show here on Bosphorus. A famous Turkish saying reads: “Life may not be so bad if I can still walk on the shore of the Bosphorus in the end.”

Every now and then, in the hot summer days, we would love to spend a few hours feeding our eyes with the beauty of the palaces and mansion houses (called “yalı” in Turkish) accompanied by the intense blue color surrounding us, the scent of the sea, dolphins and seagulls, and everything.

As you can understand, it is an experience that we highly recommend. However, we would like to give you some advice.

Avoid all the private tours organized by various travel agencies around Sultanahmet. They are generally over-charged and don’t offer anything more than the tours organized by the best-known companies listed below in the article.

That being said, let’s move to the various options available. We have summarized these options into 3 categories for convenience:

1) Short Bosphorus Tours lasting around 2 hours:

It is a certainly preferable option for those coming to Istanbul for the first time in their lives and have only 3-4 days in the city. It lasts 2 hours at the maximum with no stops included. The boats go all the way to the second bridge over the Bosphrous along the European side and turn back along the Asian side. There are many companies organize this kind of short tours. Here they are:

– Şehir Hatları, the ferry company of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, has been organizing Short Bosphorus Cruise starting from 1 April 2013. The tours depart from Eminönü every day at 14.30 with a stopover in Ortaköy at 14.50, returning to Eminönü at 16.30. In the winter time, the tour is done only on weekends. It costs 10 lira, but you can also rent audio guides in Italian by paying 7.50 lira extra.

Turyol, is another famous ferry company that also operates ferries and therefore they have an agreement with the municipality. You can take a short Bosphorus tour from Eminönü every hour of everday from 10 am until 19 pm with a stopover in Üsküdar. During the winter, departures are only up to 17.00. It costs 12 lira. Great option to take a relaxing tour in the late afternoon after having spent the day discovering the city especially in summer time.

Dentur Avrasya, is another known company that also operates ferries. Try starting with a short Bosphorus tour every day from Kabataş at 10:30 to 12:45 – 14:45 to 16:45, with a stopover in Beşiktaş. Departures are limited during the winter (there are only two guaranteed tours at 10.30 and 14.45). Costs 12.50 lira.

Ortur/Kumsal, is a small private company that performs short Bosphorus tours departing from Ortaköy daily every hour starting at 14:20 until 19:20. The tours last just over an hour and are suitable for those who have little time or desire to visit this pleasant and characteristic neighborhood of Ortaköy. Just like Dentur Avrasya tours, departures have a limited number during the winter (guaranteed only until 17:20, but also depends on the weather conditions).

2) Long Bosphorus Tours lasting around 6 hours:

This option is more challenging and it’s recommended only for those who have more days available or for those who are coming to Istanbul for the second or third time. This type of tours arrive at Black Sea entrance up to Anadolu Kavagi (on the Asian side) after 90 minutes. They stop there for about 3 hours and then ride back to the opposite direction. The total duration of the tour is about 6 hours which means you are pretty much spending your day on board. To tell you the truth, there is only a few fish restaurants and a little to see in Anadolu Kavagi. If you like, you can go on a hike to the hills to get an incredible view of Black Sea and Bosphorus. There are two companies running this kind of tours:

– Şehir Hatları performs the Full Bosphorus Tour with two daily departures from Eminönü at 10:35 and at 13:35. The tour lasts around six hours including three hours of stay at Anadolu Kavagi. You can choose to get a one-way ticket for 15 lira or a return ticket for 25 lira, or you can always get off at any stops in between. In the winter period, there is only one guaranteed departure at 10.35.

– Dentur Avrasya runs a long Bosphorus tour along with a departure at 11.15 every day from Kabataş, returning at 16.00 from Anadolu Kavagi. It costs 25 lira.

3) Bosphorus Night Tour

– By 2010 summer, Şehir Hatları started a Bosphorus night tour (Osmanli Gezisi) which is held on Saturdays. It costs 20 lira and departs from Eminönü at 18:25 and arrives at Anadolu Kavagi at 20.00 after 4 intermediate stops on the way. The departure from Anadolu Kavagi is at 22:30 and the return to Eminönü is scheduled for midnight. This tour is highly recommended especially during the nights of the full moon. It is usually functional from the first week of June until mid-September.


The Istanbul Biennial

For the first time ever, this year’s 13th edition Istanbul Biennal, will take on connotations strongly related to current events and social and political phenomena that have been occuring throughout Turkey. For Istanbul, it would be impossible to separate art from politics, especially in the wake of the summer of fire that followed the protests in Gezi Park.

Curator Fulya Erdemci announced January 8th at a press conference which was held at the Campus of the University ITU Istanbul Maçka, the title of the 13th Istanbul Biennial will be: “Mom, am I a barbarian?” Referring to the book of the same name written by poet Lale Müldür. (This is seemingly suspicious , even if the reference does reflect on the fact that civil society has long been harboring malaise towards the government for continuing to abuse both their own power and their citizens).

At a press conference earlier this year, curator Fulya Erdemci said that the theme of the Biennale would have been the concept of public space intended as a political forum. This idea, which is strongly challenged by authoritarian government will, in the words of the curator, “form a matrix to generate ideas and develop practices that call into question the contemporary forms of democracy, challenge current models of economic policy, and highlight the role of art in this context”.

Questioning the concept of ” barbarian” is more relevant than ever before, since the Prime Minister used the word ” çapulcu ” (hooligan/vandal/robber) to identify people who protested for the protection of Gezi Park. Interstingly, the same word is now used by the demonstrators who have contributed their creative force to the Biennale to represent both irony and defiance. It is a general rule but especially relevant to Turkey and notable to the visitors of this year’s Biennale: Art must be able to provide space for new subjectivities, even ifand especially when they conflict with more dominant powers. Art must give a voice to those who do not have one… the odd, the deviant, the weak, the crazy. The thirteenth Istanbul Biennial aims to do this. For this reason, among the 88 guest artists of the Biennale, the majority will be from less privileged geographical realities, such as South America, North Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, etc.

As declared by the curator on June 9th, ” The resistance movement that began with the uprooting of a tree on May 27, resulting in the brutal attack by police and the gun fire into the crowds of activists, is evolving at a national level. A great demonstration of solidarity. This peaceful youth movement that is visionary, strives for change, and has an open and honest view of the world, is a movement that should be an example for all of us. The artists are learning and will continue to learn from this protest. ”

In accordance with the basic concept of the Biennale, initially the idea was to use buildings and public spaces as venues: courts, schools, military facilities, post offices, railway stations, former industrial sites, warehouses, shipyards, squares and parks. However, following the events of June, it was decided that there would be a change in direction. In fact, the curators did not want to ask permission for the use of public spaces from the very authorities who suppressed dissent in defense of those same public spaces with violence.

Therefore, there will only be five places to host the Biennale: Antrepo no.3 in Tophane, the Greek Elementary School, Galata and SALT galleries ARTER Istiklal, the gallery in 5533 Unkapani. The list of the 88 participating artists will be announced only during the opening ceremony, to emphasize the integrity of exposure and to prevent from only spotlighting the most celebrated artists.

The Istanbul Biennial has taken place since 1987 and is regarded as one of the most prestigious biennials. It is aligned in prestige to that of Venice, Sao Paolo and Sydney. It promotes an exhibition model that allows a dialogue between artists and the public through the work of artists, rather than a national model of representation. The Istanbul Biennial is ‘organized by the foundation IKSV and is sponsored by Koç Holding.

Importantly, attendance is totally free. The project aims to remain faithful to a vision of public space that allows maximum accessibility to all. For further information please consult the official website.


Hamam, The Turkish Bath

Hamam

As always, before considering the details of the topic and analyze the current status and offers of Hamams in Istanbul today, we will take a step back and try to explain briefly what the tradition is.

One of the duties of Islam is cleanliness, sometimes almost an obsession, starting from the ritual ablution (washing) in order to purify themselves before the prayers. In this “cleanliness” context, there are also customs such as taking of the shoes or not having pets in the houses.

The tradition of building public toilets within the city dates back to ancient Rome as a combination of advanced engineering knowledge and developed taste for comfort. The Ottomans preserved this tradition by combining it with their culture’s distinctive features and that is how come they were ended up calling “Turkish”. The Hamam historians remark that they all have the same structure in the central dome, with a marble platform at the base which was meant for relaxing and enjoying the massage.

In the Medieval Age of Europe, spa tradition was in sharp decline while it remained very much alive at the Ottoman Empire for the reasons stated above. In fact, it still remained alive until a few years ago, because until the ’50s and ’60s houses were not all equipped with private bathrooms with running water, so the hamams carried their main cleaning function. The common people from all social classes would go to hamams mainly for washing. But not only that reason. The Hamam also had important social functions as a meeting and entertainment point. In the past, it was also common to eat inside, and also organize pre-wedding ceremonies.

Nowadays hygiene habits have changed considerably at homes. All bathrooms surely have running water, so it was inevitable that the tradition gradually died out until disappearing. In fact, there are still sixty active Hamams in Istanbul, but they are divided into two categories. Except for the four or five “historical hamams” which unfortunately have become real tourist traps, and in which a local would never dream of entering, the other small neighborhood hamams are almost always desolately empty and often having suspicious hygienic conditions. Inevitably, these small hamams will be forced to shut down in the close future. They will not be able to reinvent themselves and have a leading role in the market. Local people who want to get a good Turkish bath treatment and massage go to Spas in large hotels chains nowadays. In fact, they offer excellent quality services (certainly much higher than the services offered by the historical hamams) at affordable prices.

Read More