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The Historic Arcades of İstiklal Caddesi

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I’m beginning to think that we could have dedicated 91 days to just Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district. In fact, a blog devoted entirely to the city’s main shopping street isn’t inconceivable. İstiklal Caddesi For 91 Days. The number of bars, restaurants, shops, theaters and galleries along “Independence Street” is overwhelming. We spent an entire day exploring just its historic arcades. What follows are short descriptions of our favorites, with links to their exact locations.


The most famous of İstiklal’s arcades is the Çiçek Pasajı, or the Flower Passage. This is one of the prettiest locations in Beyoğlu, and among the most popular with tourists. As such, its prior function as a home for florists has long since vanished, and the passage is now monopolized by expensive restaurants. [Location | More Pics]


The Atlas Pasajı dates from 1871 and centers around a cinema of the same name, where we attended a screening during the Istanbul Film Festival. Apart from the excellent theater, the arcade is a good place to shop for affordable alternative clothing. [Location | More Pics]


The Avrupa Pasajı (Europe Passage) is ornamented by classical statues and topped with a round roof that allows in plenty of light. Most of the stores here today focus on jewelry and upscale souvenirs. This arcade runs parallel to İstiklal Caddesi and is a little difficult to pinpoint without assistance. [Location | More Pics]


Perhaps our favorite spot of the day was in the courtyard found at the back of the narrow Hazzopulo Pasajı, which was packed with students drinking tea and playing backgammon. As soon as we emerged into this very cool corner of the city, we felt ourselves leveling up. Drinking tea in Hazzopulo advances you from Istanbul Level 3 (beginner) to Level 4 (novice). [Location | More Pics]


The hardest arcade to find was the Aslıhan Pasajı, but it was worth the effort. This long, narrow, multi-floor passage is dedicated entirely to second-hand books and comics. I enjoy comics, and especially browsing through stacks of old, used copies. I’ve noticed that, in Istanbul, the most popular comic by far is Conan the Barbarian. Do Turks have a thing for Conan? [Location | More Pics]


Found at the southern end of İstiklal Caddesi, the Cité de Syrie was built in 1908. Hidden within this arcade’s basement is an incredible second-hand clothing and costume store called By Retro. Otherwise, besides a single sofa sitting alone in the hallway, this beautiful arcade is almost entirely empty. [Location | More Pics]

Other arcades we visited on İstiklal Caddesi were more forgettable, but still fun to hunt down. Rumeli has a great cafe called Mona Lisa, decorated with posters of old film stars. Aleppo is home to another cool theater, and Aznavur feels very dated and has shops selling handmade trinkets. Pasaj Markiz was our least favorite of the day; behind a lovely facade, it’s occupied entirely by a Sears-like department store called “Darty”.

High Res Travel Photos From Istanbul

More pictures from the Çiçek Pasajı and 1 video


More pictures from the Atlas Passage


More pictures from the Avrupa Pasajı


More pictures from the Hazzopulo Pasajı


More pictures from the Aslıhan Pasajı


More pictures from the Cité de Syrie

Pictures from the Rumeli Passage
Pictures from the Aznavur Passage

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May 6, 2013 at 3:10 pm Comments (2)

Merhaba Istanbul!

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Istanbul, one of the world’s great cities, was going to be our home for the next 91 days. Minarets, mosques, harems, hamams, kebab, coffee, Turkish delights, towers, castles, islands, whirling dervishes, Greeks and Ottomans, hills, ferries, markets and music… it’s enough to make the experience-hungry traveler delirious. We knew we’d have to hit the ground running, because there was going to be a lot to do.

Taxi Art Istanbul

It was a Tuesday evening when we arrived at our apartment in Cihangir, a hip neighborhood in the Beyoğlu district which is popular with artists and foreigners. After the long day of travel, we should have been content with an evening on the couch and an early bedtime but, eager to explore, we bundled up and went out into the streets. In Cihangir Square, we settled down at a cafe to do some people watching.

Trendy scenesters with tasseled scarves had occupied the table to our left, while a group of effusive American students were to our right. A couple guys were plastering posters for a rock concert onto a nearby wall, and the decidedly non-Turkish sounds of Depeche Mode were wafting out of the bar behind us. Everyone was smoking, and the liquor store across the street was doing steady business. Were we in the right country? All the preconceptions I had carefully constructed about Istanbul were lying in shards at my feet. (One of these broken shards, for example, was reflecting a man with a bushy mustache and a fez; embarrassed, I kicked it underneath the table before anyone could see it).

But as the sun set, the calls to prayer sounded from the minarets which, I suddenly realized, were surrounding us. Along the sidewalk, a group of women in headscarves pushed impatiently by another, older group of women in headscarves. We were sipping on strong Turkish coffee, and eating rich pastries of honey and pistachio. The kebab-seller on the corner had whittled his döner stick down to the last nibbles. Alright, were were definitely in Turkey… just not quite the Turkey I had been expecting.

Istanbul has always held a special allure to me. The fascinating history, unique culture and world-class food are irresistible draws, and it was just a matter of time before Jürgen and I ended up here. We spent the weeks leading up to our trip dutifully reading about Istanbul and learning stock Turkish phrases (teşekkür ederim!), and I felt prepared. Confident, even! But once we arrived… once we had seen Istanbul’s size and density first-hand, and could feel the enormous weight of its past… only then could we begin to understand how completely overmatched we were. Istanbul in 91 days? Please. We wouldn’t even scratch the surface.

But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t try. By the end of our three months, our fingernails were chipped, and our fingertips bruised and bleeding from all the frantic scratching at Istanbul’s surface. We would meet some Turks, visit both the big sights and less well-known neighborhoods, eat a lot of incredible food, and learn about the city’s complex history and vibrant present. It was going to be a busy 91 days.

Rent An Apartment In Istanbul

Cihangir Square Night Istanbul

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March 7, 2013 at 6:08 pm Comments (14)