We spent our first week in Istanbul soaking up our immediate neighborhood. Beyoglu is sometimes referred to as the Soho of Istanbul. It’s the perfect base to explore tiny cafes, drink international wines or local raki, listen to live music and watch independent theater. Living hear reminds us a lot of living in New York’s East Village.
Sandeep needed to do some research on a few home furnishing stores so we decided to combine work and hopefully find some pleasure by breaking away from our area and exploring Istanbul’s most prestigious suburban mall, Istinye Park. We were heading well out of our comfort zone – we are not suburb people and we are not mall people.
Istinyi Park is a great way to observe how Istanbullu families spend their weekends. In a contrast to what we’ve seen in the city, fancy strollers harboring well dressed tots parade around the hallways. The mall has a large rotunda by the food court that is perfect for kids to burn of energy. The enterprising mall management has centered children’s toy and clothing shops, as well as a mesmerizing fountain, around it. As the kids engaged in an instant play date, we enjoyed coffee and caught up on the newest toys and gadgets, including these spiffy kiddie cars.
The mall is more upmarket than any I have been to in The States. It also required us to open our wallets wider. Sandeep and the kids started drooling at the thought of southern fried chicken, so we paid 14 Lira ($8) for a three piece meal. They’d say it was worth every penny and I had to pry the cleaned chicken leg bone out of Kayan’s grasp. In addition to the bill, the kofta place sandwiched between the American fast food joints was our only reminder that we were in Istanbul and not a ritzy suburb back home.
I passed on the chicken fest but found my happy place in the mall’s vast food bazaar, with vendors specializing in everything from specialty vegetables to sugar covered almonds in every color.
What did we learn during our day at the mall? Istanbul has a laid back side and a luxury side. The mall had stand alone multi-story buildings for brands Gucci and Louis Vuitton that were bigger than their 5th Avenue flagships. We also learnt that we have been out of touch with what’s new in popular culture. We didn’t recognize any of the new English movies or children’s toys. And our outfits, reflecting what we packed five months ago in New York, were definitely not up to par with Istanbul style.
The luxury of spending time in a city is that we can explore its different faces. We’re loving Beyoglu, which provides many of the comforts of home with a decidedly Turkish flair, but we’ve also been able to glimpse the suburban life, which on the surface took us back to America.