The fabled capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires is a glittering, glorious muddle of influences and impulses
Author Jacqueline Detwiler Photography Jan McGready
DAY THREE You forgot to close your curtains last night, and now the sun, amplified by the Bosporus, is glaring through your porch window. It’s very beautiful, even achingly so. You rouse yourself and stumble downstairs for a fortifying cup of Turkish coffee and a simit (sesame seed bagel) with cheese, which you will require before taking a ferry across the strait to Asian Istanbul.
You’d heard there was supposed to be a subway connecting the two halves of Istanbul by now, but workers keep finding Byzantine relics under the water, halting construction. No matter: The ferry is prettier, and you can soak in the salutary salt breeze on your way. Some 15 minutes later, you dock at the fishing neighborhood of Kadiköy on the Asian coast. Here, trawling nets form makeshift canopies over trays of fruits, vegetables, mezes and glittering fish, gills splayed to demonstrate freshness. You buy a handful of the sour green plums you’ve seen locals eating and explore the shops, wincing with each tart bite.
Your wandering ends around lunchtime, so you opt to take one of the more harrowing components of Istanbul’s delightfully perplexing public transportation system— a speedy, lawless shared cab known as a dolmus, the Turkish word for “stuffed”—to Casita, just off the busy Bagdat Caddesi. The restaurant specializes in manti, little fried pouches of dough filled with meat and topped with yogurt that are popular throughout Anatolia, as the Asian portion of Turkey is known. After consuming a large bowl of them, you’re feeling pretty dolmus yourself.
A visit to Istanbul would be not be complete without a trip to a hammam, so you spend your afternoon back at the opulent Çiragan Palace Spa reclining on a warm marble slab and being scrubbed to within an inch of your life. By dinnertime, you are so clean as to be practically squeaking.
Having changed into something a little sleeker, you squeak down the stairs to join the city’s vehicular squeeze along Çiragan Caddesi to the waterfront bars and clubs just north of Ortaköy. Your destination is Sortie, a ritzy open-air club containing seven restaurants, a dedicated yacht dock and space for 6,000. Seated on a plush couch and picking at sashimi hors d’oeuvres, you watch stylish Istanbullus dance and sing along to Turkish pop and international techno while a waiter continually replaces your half-empty champagne glass with a fresh, frost-covered one. “You really don’t have to do that,” you say, but he insists that he does. He is also, apparently, compelled to offer you a ride on the Bosporus in Sortie’s own speedboat.
And who are you, in a town like this, to decline?
Hemispheres senior editor JACQUELINE DETWILER kindly requests that someone bring her a fish already.
AREA, IN SQUARE MILES
% POPULATION GROWTH SINCE 1900
NUMBER OF YEARS IN THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE
NUMBER OF YEARS THAT THE TÜNEL, THE WORLD’S SECOND OLDEST UNDERGROUND RAIL SYSTEM, HAS BEEN IN OPERATION
NUMBER OF SHOPS IN THE GRAND BAZAAR
NUMBER OF PEOPLE A DOLMUŞ (SHARED TAXI) CAN HOLD
WEIGHT OF THE BIGGEST CHANDELIER IN DOLMABAHÇE PALACE (ONCE HOME TO MUSTAFA KEMAL ATATÜRK, TURKEY’S FIRST PRESIDENT)