Istiklal Caddesi

Istiklal Caddesi in Istanbul is one of the most popular, well known and busiest streets in Turkey. Around 3 million people a day walk along the pedestrianised street – in comparison, Oxford Street in London has less than a million visitors a day!

Renamed ‘Istiklal’ (independence) avenue after victory in the war of Independence in October 1923, the road is 1.4km long and stretches from Galata to Taksim Square. It’s bustling with people and is lined with hundreds of buildings, shops and even entire multi storey shopping centres. There are clothes shops, sports shops, book stores, cinemas, galleries, hotels, cafes, clubs, bars, restaurants, patisseries, coffee shops, Turkish delight shops, the list is endless! There are familiar names like Sketchers, Marks & Spencer, Krispy Kreme Donuts, Starbucks, Caffé Nero, Decathlon and Sephora.
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Apparently, it used to be known as the ‘Paris of the East’ – I’ve not been to Paris but it reminded me a little of New York. Modern shops and hotels are mixed in with historical gems – like St Antione’s Church which I wrote about previously, or Çiçek Pasajı which opened in 1876 and is so named because in the 1940’s it had a lot of flower shops and stalls -now it’s a galleria of restaurants and cafes.
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Towards one end of the street I came across the most beautifully located Starbucks, sat behind a water fountain. To the left of that, an ice-cream shop called Hans & Gretel which looked like a lot of fun with fun decorations inside and out – if it wasn’t a cold morning I definitely would have gone in there!
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We strolled along the street twice – once at 10am on a sunny Saturday January morning from Galata towards Taksim, and once on the Sunday night, around 8pm in the opposite direction, Taksim all the way to Galata. Early in the morning the street wasn’t busy at all, but Sunday night it came alive and there were thousands and thousands of people.
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I preferred it at night, the atmosphere was just brilliant. My favourite part was sitting inside a little patisserie by the window on the 2nd floor, looking down on people walking along, families and friends, young and old – a real mix of people. We had a little sweet treat – Berkay had Künefe and I had a delicious cake, beautifully presented! Opposite us on the other side of the street there was a coffee shop inside the Demiroren shopping centre, with tables outside on a tiny balcony which was covered in fairy lights – I thought it was the cutest thing ever and next time I’m definitely finding that place again and stopping by for a coffee up there!
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I also loved the fact that the buildings lining the street still had Christmas (or New Year) decorations up.  A hotel had a beautiful display of flowers and teddy bears above its sign, and other buildings had garlands, baubles and twinkly lights everywhere. Lights were hung along the street, above people’s heads, wishing them ‘yeni yılınız kutlu olsun’ – a happy new year.
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Aside from the shops and the historical buildings, the other ‘must see’ is the nostalgic 19th century tram, running along the road from Tünel to Taksim. They started running around 100 years ago, but in the 1960’s were taken out of service. After the pedestrianisation and regeneration of Istiklal Street in the 1990’s, the tram was reinstalled and is now the only vehicle other than official state cars, police etc, that is allowed to drive along the road. The red trams are a major symbol of Istanbul and are popular with tourists and locals – it’s rare to see one that doesn’t have someone hanging onto the pole on the back, posing for a photo (whether its stationery or not!) They apparently still take around 6000 people a day along for a ride, though the inside is tiny with only a few single seats and not much room at all – people must get very crammed in! I like hearing the bell, warning you to get out of the way, as they drive down busy street – I expect it’s frustrating for the driver, and it’s probably quicker to walk!
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P.S As always, please click the images to enlarge them.

A final note – When I was writing this post, the Coronavirus Pandemic was just starting here in Europe – in the 2 weeks it took me to finish writing and editing this, the world looks a lot different. It’s sad that we won’t see the streets of Turkey, or UK, busy and bustling like my photos here anytime soon – but one day it will all be over, and we can get back to visiting and experiencing everything these places have to offer – it’ll be waiting for us, as soon as it is safe to do so. (:

Taksim Square & the Islak burger/wet burger..

When we booked to go to Istanbul we were both really excited about trying it’s famous street food – top of the list thanks to friend recommendations, was the Islak Burger – I had seen people post about it online and it had never really looked appealing to me but I’m open to new things so I stuck it on the list!

Once unique to Taksim square, islak burgers have started to spread across to other areas, and when Berkay went back to Fethiye after our trip he even managed to find somewhere there selling them! They aren’t really as popular elsewhere though, and to get the authentic experience, you have to go to the home of the islak burger – the top of Istiklal street, on the corner of Taksim Square.
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Taksim square itself is well known for being the central point of demonstrations, riots and protests but when we went, on a sunny, cold Saturday lunchtime it was peaceful and relatively empty. There is a monument in the middle of the square, made in 1928, commemorating the founders of the Republic of Turkey – showing Ataturk in his military uniform on one side, representing the war of independence, and in his ‘normal’ clothes on the other side, representing the modern Turkish Republic.

By night, the area is bustling with thousands of people frequenting its many restaurants, bars and nightclubs – at the end of a good night, they all need something to soak up the alcohol and that’s where the islak burger comes in!
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‘Islak’ is the Turkish word for ‘wet’, so as the name suggests, it is essentially a soggy burger.  A thin, small beef patty, bun and a special garlicky tomato sauce is all they consist of. Once the burgers are cooked and made up, they are put in a glass box on a metal plate – underneath the plate boiling water creates steam which rises up and creates condensation – basically the burgers are treated to their own little sweaty Turkish Hammam experience! It may not sound the most appealing in the cold light of day, but after a heavy night out, you can imagine the appeal!
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As we were in the area at lunchtime, I had my burger earlier in the day than most people! At 5tl each, I can see why people are tempted to have more than one! Berkay didn’t fancy it so he had a doner instead from the same little cafe.

If you get the chance, you should definitely try an Islak burger, don’t be put off by the fact it looks soggy – it’s delicious, especially the way the sauce is soaked into the bread!
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Hazev – Delicious Turkish food in London.

It was our 2nd wedding anniversary last week, so we went to a Turkish restaurant to celebrate.

The name of the restaurant is Hazev, a cross between the words ‘haz’ meaning ‘enjoyment’, and ‘ev’ meaning ‘home’. It’s near Canary Wharf, between South Quay and Heron Quay DLR stations, right on the waterside with outdoor and indoor seating, I bet it’s lovely to sit outside in summer!

We have eaten here once before, and was really impressed. The waiters recognised us from before and showed us to a table, right next to the window. Berkay had met me at the station after work, armed with a bunch of flowers, bless him, so they were an added table decoration!

Almost as soon as we sat down we were given complimentary bread, olives and a garlic yogurt dip which were very yummy.
 

Then came the hard part of choosing what to order! I’d been looking at the menu whilst at work, trying to decide what to chose, there are SO many options I just couldn’t narrow it down! 3 courses or 2, starter or dessert, chicken or red meat… so many delicious dishes on offer (and a very pretty menu with a whirling dervish on!).

We settled on sharing two starters, karides tava (fried king prawns with garlic dip), and borek (pastry triangles filled with spinach and feta cheese) with salad. Both were delicious but a little overpriced for what they were, I think. The prawns were around £6 and the borek £7.
  
For the main course, I had Iskender, which I’d never had before, not even in Turkey! This looked different to photos I’d seen of a traditional Iskender kebab though, they always look a bit of a sloppy mess! It consisted of a mixed grill of meats covered in tomato sauce and yogurt, on fried bread cubes and served with red cabbage.
 
Berkay had the ‘havez special’ – oven cooked lamb chunks, served on grilled aubergine puree, mixed with cheese, with red cabbage, peppers and tomato salad. I tried a bit of his and it was nice, especially the smokey aubergine puree, my favourite! I think my dish had more meat than his, and I couldn’t finish it so we swapped bowls and he finished mine as well!

When our plates were cleared, we didn’t even need time to think about what to order for dessert….Berkay’s favourite, Kunefe! Kunefe is a popular, authentic Turkish dessert. It’s made from kadayıf (dried shredded dough which looks like shredded wheat) and cheese. It is covered in syrup and eaten straight out of the oven when hot, so the cheese is stringy and gooey but the pastry is crispy. It’s served with crushed pistachios and is delicious, even though it sounds like a weird mixture! Of course we had a glass of Turkish tea to accompany it.
  
Hazev serves delicious food, although it is a little more fancy and perhaps less traditional. Considering the quality of the food the prices are reasonable, although there was a story a few years ago about it selling an extra special, most expensive kebab in the world, at £900! (You can read about that and watch a video here https://www.standard.co.uk/go/london/restaurants/pricey-pitta-1000-kebab-goes-on-sale-in-london-a3215546.html )

Hazev isn’t just a restaurant – it’s like 3 separate parts, divided by floor length curtains. The restaurant is in the middle section, with a bar through to the left, and a cafe/deli on the right, which also has a little shop section selling some of our favourite Turkish treats, including sucuk, yummy!

It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in London.

Village breakfast at Pınarbaşı restaurant – Bozüyük

On our way back from Denizli to Fethiye last year, Berkay said he really wanted to take a detour and visit the village of Güzelköy / Bozüyük – while there we stopped at a well known restaurant called ‘Pınarbaşı’ for some late brunch!
 
 
Apparently the restaurant has been featured in a few Turkish tv shows filmed in the local village, so it’s quite popular! Berkay wanted to try their lunch menu, but they hadn’t started serving it at the time we got there, so we had to settle for a traditional village breakfast instead, which was actually just what we needed after a couple of hours of driving.

The food was really good, a typical Turkish ‘köy kahvaltısı’ – cheese, olives, tomato & cucumber, peppers, walnuts, eggs and sucuk, jams and spreads, honey & kaymak, fresh bread and a big pot of çay. Really yummy! We could have sat there for ages just eating and enjoying the surroundings.
  
The best part for me wasn’t actually the food, it was the location. There were trees and gardens all around, along with natural streams of water. We chose a table that was actually sat in the water. They had normal tables and an inside restaurant area, and then little bridges and platforms over the streams leading to tables sat in it. It was mid-September and really warm so it was nice to sit in the shade of the trees with our feet in the cold water, although we were the only ones who chose to do that, I bet it’s really popular in the height of summer. I love the fact they had ducks swimming around the tables and your feet, they definitely benefited from some of our leftover food too! They were so cute.
   
There’s also an ancient 800 year old tree, which is really beautiful to look at! Apparently, in the absence of modern medicine, it used to be used for its healing powers, with ointments and antidotes made from it’s roots. It’s also thought to have granted wishes to those passing through! The tree started to rot and has been protected for the last 20 years with the hope of keeping it alive in it’s full glory. It’s really interesting how the shapes have formed, it’s gigantic!
 
From what I can remember, the breakfast was a bit more expensive than normal, but I would go back and visit again because it was a really relaxing place and Berkay still wants to try their main menu! It’s around 2 hours from Calis/Fethiye, past Mugla city centre towards Aydin, so an ideal stop-off point if you’re on a long journey along that road – definitely worth a visit!
 

 

A Brief glimpse of Istanbul..Aqua Florya Alışveriş Merkezi

 
I have wanted to visit Istanbul for ages, but never had the time or the opportunity really – we are creatures of habit and love going back to Calis and Fethiye. Although I would be happy to go elsewhere for a change, Berkay just is a real Fethiye boy at heart. I’m hoping for a little city break in Istanbul one day, but the closest thing I’ve had to seeing Istanbul so far, is from inside Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.

However, when we were on our journey back to London Gatwick in September , we had a 4 hour stopover at Ataturk airport and we took the opportunity to have a mini adventure. We exited the domestic terminal and stood in the taxi rank area, we planned to go straight to the International terminal and just sit around and wait, but seeing all the taxi’s made us reconsider! We had 4 hours to spare, and decided as long as we were back at the airport 2 hours before our flight we would be fine. It was a bit manic, taxi’s everywhere, people trying to find empty ones, but Berkay managed to speak to someone who suggested we go to the nearby Aqua florya, so we hopped in a taxi with our hand luggage and that’s what we did.
 
The shopping centre was about 15 minutes away from the airport, so we arrived there quickly. I felt a bit suspicious walking around with my mini suitcase hand luggage, especially as security was pretty high, they searched the taxi as it approached and scanned us and our bags on entry to the shopping centre – the level of security is quite reassuring though.

Aqua Florya Shopping centre is huge, it has multiple floors of shops, a food court, cinema, sea-side cafes and restaurants and even an aquarium, which is the main theme throughout, hence the name ‘aqua’. There are fish-themed decorations hanging in the centre too, it looks really pretty. When we went it was completely empty, but it was around 11am, so quite early. It was also midweek, I bet it’s really busy at weekends. The shops looked quite expensive, big fashion names, but we didn’t walk around too much so didn’t go in any or see much of it.
 
We saw a sign for the terrace and stepped outside, the view was absolutely stunning. We walked down the wooden steps to a little cafe with a sea view, we only had a glass of tea though. While sitting there, we could watch the planes fly in over the sea on their way to land at the nearby Ataturk airport, where we had just come from. They were very frequent, every few minutes, as it’s a very busy airport!  

We were really conscious of the time, and although we had around 3 hours until our flight, we didn’t want to be in a rush, so we only stayed around 45 minutes. On our way out of the shopping centre we tested out the massage chairs, just for a couple of minutes of fun! If we had longer between flights we would have gone into the aquarium because I’ve heard it is very good.

When we left, we found the taxi rank and jumped in one back to the airport, where we experienced a bit of Istanbul traffic! The journey which took us 15 minutes on the way there, took us 50 minutes on the way back, so it’s a good job we left in plenty of time!! Finally we got back to the airport, through security and passport control and waited for our flight, with plenty of time to spare without getting bored!
 
Even though we had the briefest glimpse of Istanbul, it was a nice little mini adventure to break up the wait between flights and we enjoyed the change of scenery and beautiful sea views. I really want to explore ‘real’ Istanbul in all it’s glory and hope one day I can convince Berkay to have a proper visit!

30 DAYS, 30 DISHES – DAY 25: Baklava

 
Baklava is a sweet dessert, made from layers of filo pastry and melted butter, and layers of nuts (pistachio or walnut).  It’s cut into rectangle, diamond or triangle shapes then baked. Once baked, a syrup is poured over, making it sticky and sweet. The thin, crispy filo pastry is softened by the syrup as it penetrates through every layer. It’s often served with ice cream or cream and sometimes has more pistachio nuts finely ground on top.

So naughty, but so nice!!

30 DAYS, 30 DISHES – DAY 24: LAHMACUN


Lahmacun is a very thin round flatbread. The dough is rolled thin and topped with a minced meat mixture – lamb or beef mixed with very finely chopped tomatoes, onions, parsley and spices.

It’s served with salad and lemon. You squeeze the lemon on to the Lahmacun, put some salad on it then roll it up and eat it! So delicious, and because it’s so thin it’s not too unhealthy!

 

30 DAYS, 30 DISHES – DAY 21: Kuzu şiş


Kuzu şiş (lamb shish) is a simple kebab dish, but delicious. Marinated cubes of lamb on skewers, cooked perfectly and served with special flat bread (which is hiding some of the meat in my photo above), rice, grilled peppers, onions and tomatoes, and raw onion salad with sumac sprinkled on top. Perfect when the meat is tender! My photo above was taken at Mozaik Bahçe in Fethiye, their presentation is especially impressive.

I always feel like ordering lamb or chicken shish kebab is so boring when eating out, but it’s so tasty I can never resist!

30 DAYS, 30 DISHES – DAY 19: Konya Etli Ekmek

Konya Etli Ekmek is a cross between pide and lahmacun. A thin, flat bread topped with ground beef and peppers, cooked in a stone oven. We had this in Fethiye and aside from the taste, the most impressive thing was the size of the etli ekmek – 1.5meters long!! Served with spicy acılı ezme and salad and all for 10tl (although this was 2 years ago, it may have increased in price since). Despite being so long, it’s quite light since it’s thin. Delicious!

30 DAYS, 30 DISHES – DAY 18: MANTI

Manti are tiny little dumplings, filled with ground meat, similar to ravioli. Sheets of dough are rolled thinly and cut into small squares, then a small amount of filling is added and the sides pinched together, to form little dumpling parcels. The manti is then boiled and served covered in garlic yogurt with a spicy sauce, made from oil or butter and chili flakes.

Making it from scratch is a lot of effort, so when they decide to make it, women in Turkish villages invite each other around and they’ll sit in a group forming a little production line, gossiping whilst making hundreds of manti for their families.

I like it, as long as it’s not too soggy, but I still struggle with the concept of yogurt on dinner foods!