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Archive for June, 2012

An Ode to Istiklal

Istiklal Caddesi.  What a street it is.    This past weekend, whilst strolling down the street, giddy on a couple of glasses of Pino Grigio and  full to the brim with Thai food, it struck me that in ten years, it has been the setting for some pretty significant  phases of my life.  In each of those phases, my perspective of it changed  though the street remained constant in its’ lively indifference towards me.

My first memory of this grand street is from my first trip to Turkey, the trip that set everything in motion.  I remember walking down the busy street, marveling at its’  European feel.  I remember thinking, “Ya, I could live here.”

Fast forward 10 months after a move half way across the world, to the night my friends and I met up with this guy named Koray for dinner.  We met at a cool wine bar (now a trendy shoe shop) just next to the balik pazari.  Nervous and electrically charged, we meandered down the busy street to the meyhane meal that sealed the deal.  My next trip to the street was arm in arm with Koray as he showed me his favorite places in and around Istiklal.  One of them which happens to be the islak burger, a small burger doused in garlicky tomato sauce, something Koray indulges in whenever we find ourselves there.

Our wedding dinner was here as well.  Giddy and newly married with childhood friend in tow, we ambled down the busy street just past Starbucks where a restaurant full of guests, candle light, bubbles, music and applause welcomed us.

For a couple of years after that we strolled Istiklal whenever the mood struck us, not bothered by the teeming crowds of people and noise.  But the arrival of our baby boys put a stop to our Istiklal excursions for a good solid year. When we finally crawled out of the intense and sometimes dark cave of twin parenthood, Istiklal looked different to us.  Our cool, urban hipster days were over and the street seemed overwhelming and overstimulating to us.  With little ones and lots of little-one paraphernalia, the place we once frequented regularly had became something we avoided like the plague. So Istiklal was put on the back burner  for a couple of years while we took refuge in the calm, safe, green surroundings of the school’s campus.

Then one New Year’s Day morning, we were up bright and early while the rest of Istanbul slept.  Missing our old haunt,  we decided to  venture in to the grand avenue hoping it would be quiet and peaceful in the aftermath of December 31st party goers. Empty and somehow bigger and wider, we were able to look up and drink in the towering, beautiful architecture dating from the Pera era.  With baby boys strapped to our backs, we enjoyed the quiet and calmness that eventually faded into noise and chaos, our signal to escape for our home in the suburbs.

And now we enter a new phase.  Equipped with six-year- old boys on their own feet, navigating the crowds has become much easier and Istiklal is now back in vogue at the Ozsarac house.  Ali and Omer enjoy the sights and people watching. They are also quite keen on the various buskers that dot the avenue who draw crowds of onlookers and other music aficionados. Urban hipster revival?  Not quite, but we are back out there and it feels good to share this part of the city with the boys.

Last Saturday back on said street, sitting alone with a book and coffee in a cafe with a view of the Galata Tower, I enjoyed the sights the played out before me. Even when the skies opened up and drenched Istanbul with an unforgiving rain shower, the ambiance and charm of Istiklal remained. In fact, the cafe became just a little bit cozier.  I gathered my things, bundled up and ran for the Metro on to my next adventure. But I know I will be back.

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