I’ve been in Istanbul for a month now, and I still feel like I’ve barely scraped the surface of this city’s life and culture.
Some places I visit, and even after a week I feel like I can get a good impression of what the city’s like, but Istanbul gives me new surprises everyday. The city is so gigantic, filled with mahalle (neighborhood) after mahalle, after mahalle!
Living on Koç campus can make exploring difficult, because it is on the northern edge of Istanbul, but at the same time it is a great way to start your explorations of the city. The closest city center is named Sarıyer, which is a cute little agglomeration with a main road leading right up to the Bosporus (this seems to be a recurring theme of Istanbul’s urban structure). When I first arrived in Istanbul I felt so dwarfed by its size, but then I got to Sarıyer and immediately felt as if I were at a home. The great thing about Istanbul’s massive size is that there is always a smaller community to wander into and immerse yourself in.
Sarıyer has the smaller, quainter feel of a fishing town while still managing to feel very urban. I may have passed my honey-moon phase, with Sarıyer as this mystical village where fish leaped out of the water and onto your dinner plate and houses and apartment blocks sprung out of the hillsides like some childhood pop-up book into some magical hilltop forests; however, it is still a wonderful place to grab dinner, relax by the Bosporus Strait, or maybe have some coffee and nargile (hookah!). Furthermore, it was a great place to take my first steps into the jungle.
Other mahalles sprinkle the city, with practically every turn along the Bosporus bringing you to a new one. Even after a month, I only starting to remember which one is where and what each has to offer me in my quest to fully experience the city. I’m honestly still not sure between colloquial and more official uses how large mahalles can be.
Sarıyer is in the north, so all my travels have been south (except those to the Black Sea); Istinye has a huge shopping mall, further south Ortaköy can be found (in Beşiktaş District), which has lots of cool shops and buildings along the water and uphill. Ortaköy also has some of the best clubs in Istanbul, according to my Turkish friends here. There, I had the pleasure of finally eating kumpir, which is a delicious (and probably heart-attack inducing) baked potato that you can fill with corn, peas, meat, carrots, or practically anything you’d want. Further south is the heart of Beşiktaş, one of the most famous neighborhoods of Istanbul. Further south still and you get to Beyoğlu distric, which contains all of Istanbul’s “downtown” areas and landmarks such as Taksim and Istiklal Street, the Galata Tower, Pera, etc. Between Beyoğlu and Sarıyer and west of Beşiktaş is Şişli, which contains Europe’s largest shopping mall in one of its mahalles. After all of this, you definitely can’t forget there is still the Asian side, with the beautiful mahalle of Kadıköy just a dolmuş or ferry ride away from Beyoğlu or Beşiktaş.
I could go on and on about these, and I’m sure that you’re all completely confused by it as well. The point of my ramblings, I suppose, is that you don’t have to tackle the city all at once (and also that Koç’s campus puts you at a good place to start, in my opinion). I got to feeling stressed about making it to every place, seeing everything in the city, eating at all the restaurants, and so on; however this experience isn’t supposed to be about stress, but about having a magnificent experience in a new and beautiful land and culture.
Take your time, enjoy the parts that you are experiencing, and go out frequently! After all, with a city like Istanbul, you could spend a lifetime there and still not know it’s truly complete nature; that limitless nature is one of its biggest charms.