Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Istiklal Caddesi: Istanbul's Famous Pedestrian Thoroughfare

Istiklal Caddesi (ist-tick-clowl ja-des-ee) is a wide pedestrian shopping street stretching for about a mile and a half through the heart of Istanbul’s most European neighborhood, Beyolou. A top site of the city, it is always crowded with shoppers, diners, protestors and those just looking for a stroll away from the all-present automobile traffic of Istanbul.  If you want to pay near-Western prices for clothes and shoes, this is the place to come. Electronics are one of the few items in Turkey that are more expensive here than at home, and Istiklal has lots to offer. There are many stores with familiar names, including an upcoming Virgin Megastore. Missing American coffee? There are several Starbucks and Gloria Jeans here.

But to judge Istikal by the number of Western shops lining the thoroughfare would be to miss the genuine personality of this historic avenue. While we are not huge shoppers, we often we find ourselves walking along its length, peering down all the little side streets that branch off of this main artery. One narrow, slopping lane has the best cup of Turkish coffee we have ever tasted. A decorative iron arch naming Balik Pazari marks the street where we eat midya dolma, the cinnamon-spiced-rice-stuffed mussels that we love. Wander past the midya dolma restaurants just a little further and come to the un-touristed and fabulous Cumhurriyet, the meyhane where we celebrated Shane’s fortieth birthday. Take another turn and come to our favorite dessert spot, where we are already old friends with the owner. Istiklal is home to the chocolate fountain, another sweet treat favorite, the strange “wet burger” (we have yet to try,) and many red pushcarts roasting chestnuts. Our favorite food guide, Istanbul Eats, concentrates a lot on the neighborhoods around Istiklal, and reading the mouth-watering descriptions in its pages has prompted several trips to the area.

Istiklal is more than food and fashion, though. It is lined with consulates, schools and galleries. The best bookstores in the city are here. We saw the Harry Potter movie in a strange little screening room off of Istiklal, and got haircuts in one of the many salons.

Over the weekend, we were delighted to see all the holiday lights of Istiklal. Christmas is (sort of) celebrated here after all. The idea that holiday decorations and carols can make an appearance for a mere week is fantastic - all the magic without becoming tiresome. Happy holidays from Istiklal Caddesi.

A normal day on Istiklal Caddesi. Flags in the middle of the crowd mark a group of protestors.

Taxsim Square, the upper end of Istiklal Caddesi

"Happy New Year" decorations over the street, and a garlanded trolley embedded in the mass of humanity.

The historic red trolley is (almost) the only vehicular traffic on Istiklal.


The little antennaed Turkcell guys that usually light the street have company this week.

Christmas arrived this week on Istiklal Caddesi

Here is something you wouldn't see in the Grand Bazaar: posted prices. (Pashminas they have.)

One of the chestnut roasting push-carts to be found all over the city, especially along Istiklal.

Lovely display of roasted chestnuts, ready to be weighed and sold in little paper bags. 

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