The art of Keyif

Roughly translatable as ‘a pleasurable state of idle relaxation’, keyif has been honed down to an art-form by us Turks.

The pursuit of idle pleasure is a national pastime in Turkey. We call it keyif. Originally an Arabic term signifying ‘mood, contentment, intoxication’, the word has become truly international, with variations of it found in Russian, Persian, Turkish, Hebrew, Kurdish, Urdu, Hindi, and various Central Asian languages. It's even used as a slang word in English, particularly among bohemian druggies, from confessed opium addicts of the Thomas de Quincey vein to millennium hippie EasyJet-setters and even chi chi citizen-of-the-world sophistonauts who feature the word in a formidable vocabulary pastiche alongside an armory of recondite Sufi, Hindu and Aboriginal terms with which to impress each other over soya half-caff lattes. Back in Turkey, however, the indulgence in keyif is taken so seriously that it has become an integral part of day-to-day life, having assumed a variety of ritualized forms, with Istanbul as the undisputed national capital of keyif.

Our lackadaisical passion for languor shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, of course, considering our predilection for always seeking the easy approach in every endeavor we undertake. If there’s a ten-step flight of stairs, we’ll cram on to the escalator to avoid every single one of those steps like it was a minefield; if we can SMS a girl we just met instead of engaging in a phone conversation, we’ll type away like horny autistic Casanovas; if we can watch a movie instead of read a book, we’ll snuggle into our cushy little cinema seats eating popcorn and telling ourselves it’s a ‘cultural experience’; if someone’s working on a job, we’ll say ‘kolay gelsin’ – ‘may it be easy for you’ – which basically means we value personal convenience more than we do excellence or quality (we even say ‘kolay gelsin’ to people working out at the gym!); if we can find the love of our life by sitting in front of a computer all day instead of actually meeting real people in real life, then we’ll all register online to a convenient website by the millions to create a dyslexic pun for a username and upload a photo taken five years ago in which we look really good/thin as we utilize thousands of dollars worth of state-of-the-art communications technology so as to send electronic messages that bravely declare ‘I would like to meet you’. In other words, it’s the land of easy – but, as the French say, it’s really just ‘bon pour l’Orient’.

So if there’s one thing we know, it’s our keyif comfort zone, probably thanks to this pathological estimation of ours for all things easy. After all, there’s a certain easy-does-it ritual to the way we eat our breakfast, prepare our tea and read our newspaper; or stroll along the Bosphorus on a Sunday; or the way we share precious moments with good friends over food, coffee, drinks, or just plain chit chat. So here’s ten ways of experiencing keyif the Turkish way… nice and easy.

1. Breakfast (Kahvaltı Sefası)
Here’s how to do it: you put on the unsexiest grandpa slippers and bathrobe imaginable, go to the front door to fetch the morning paper and fresh bread, and then you sit down at the breakfast table without having even washed your face, and proceed to slowly pick at an assortment of black olives, tea, bread, white cheese, sucuk (spicy sausage, pronounced "soujuk") and eggs over the next three hours. The tea is crucial; it has to be Turkish tea and served in those little curvaceous Turkish tea glasses. So please, no tea-bagging. It’s disgusting.

2. Strolling (Gezme keyfi)

Here’s how it goes: you’re bored at home and looking for people as bored as you are. These people are your friends, who are bored for the same reason you are – they’re not with their friends. Therefore, to lift the dismal weight of alone-time from your collective shoulders (something which can lead to such unsavory habits as thinking, reading and creativity), you and your friends arrange to meet at Taksim (Kadikoy if you’re on the Asian side) and proceed to walk and talk aimlessly until it gets dark and you finally have something to do (i.e. eat dinner). This is in fact what three quarters of the people you see on the street are doing, and it’s highly recommended. You’ll be surprised how relaxing the oriental art of walking around with no destination is.

3. Idle chatter (Geyik muhabbeti)
Here’s the deal: find an ideal moment of shared lethargy with one or two others and say the first thing that comes to your head. Then whenever anyone says anything after that, make jokes about that person, before proceeding on to the next random topic. Interpolate chatter with healthy doses of gossip, football, junk food, gossip and loudly exclaimed ‘UFFFFF’s every time you’re reminded of some pending task that your moment of procrastination is deceivingly keeping you from. When the moment is over and everyone is on their way, wish everyone ‘kolay gelsin’.

4. The Bosphorus (Bogaz keyfi)

A distinctly Istanbul pastime, the stroll along the Bosphorus has a place of its own. This is such keyif that songs and poems are written about it, and pretty much every Turkish film from the 60s and 70s always has at least one scene of a Bosphorus stroll. It doesn’t have to be a stroll either, it could be sitting and staring out emptily while smoking a cigarette, it could be fishing, it could be swimming, it could (and at least once a month, should) be a late lunch at a fish restaurant, it could be a little repast in a park, it could be a drive, or a tea with simit (kind of a sesame covered Turkish bagel), or just a ferry ride. The Bosphorus is in fact its own keyif altogether.

5. Raki and meze at a meyhane (Meyhane keyfi)
Slurping raki, gorging on seafood and mezes, smoking a cigarette between dishes, getting up and dancing around to some raucous Gypsy tunes, clinking glasses, toasting old friends, drunken bonding, slurring and fighting and making up, declaring eternal love for your fellow humans, wondering (out loud) what the meaning of life is, all in the space of three or four hours before the bill comes and the fun’s over. Those are a good three or four hours.

6. Outdoor grill (Mangal keyfi)
The poor man’s fish-restaurant-by-the-Bosphorus is a mangal (barbeque) on any little bit of open-air greenery you can find on a sunny day. We often even set up a mangal right next to the road, for that superb exhaust-dust-and-roadkill marination that gives such added flavor to sucuk, grilled vegetables, chicken, and lamb chops. Other accessories include football, three or four kids, a loud radio playing depressing music, a bike, tongs, a thermos of tea, and lots of trash and plastic bags to leave behind for that proud and unmistakable ‘Humans were here!’ effect.

7. Tea party (Çay keyfi)
This is like all Turkish housewives’ national hobby: going to their friends and neighbors for tea, cake, and cookies, comparing each other’s children and their generously-garnished accomplishments, gossiping about anyone they know who isn’t there, exchanging recipes, complaining about their husbands, reading coffee fortunes, and between them consuming about 15 kilos of flour, eggs and sugar that’s been baked and molded into various shapes, forms and sizes. Although the Tea Party is more of an obligatory ritual that’s used for bonding and hierarchization within a close-knit local community (working and lower middle classes) or a broader social circle (upper middle classes), it’s also a rare therapeutic occasion for mommy to relax and share her problems with people who’ll listen, before having to rush home and cook dinner for hubby and kids.

8. TV (Televizyon keyfi)
Here’s some keyif that the whole family can enjoy. Daddy has his Digiturk and Lig TV, the kids have their cartoons and music channels and Playstation, mommy has her dizis and Brazilian soap operas, and all of it can be done while ironing or cooking or just sitting in tracksuit pants rolling the lint from between your toes. Not the noblest of pastimes, but definitely a step up from shadow puppets.

9. Smoking (Sigara keyfi)
Smokers know there are few pleasures in life that are as satisfying as lighting up after a good meal, when the taste buds are all stimulated and the pores in your mouth are all dilated. Obviously it must be that good if we’re going to risk cancer, heart disease, an early death, and higher insurance premiums, not to mention the ongoing wrath of the surgeon general, and surgeons in general. Although cigarettes are our smokes of choice, there’s now an epidemic of Egyptian shishahs with soft, dainty, fruit-flavored tobacco inundating our cafes, accompanying our sahlep and backgammon sessions, and thereby offering an alternative to traditional Turkish nargiles in which you literally smoke a stack of wet tobacco leaves, go dizzy, and vomit, all within 30 minutes. Thanks to the Egyptians, smoking just got more pleasant… if somewhat more effeminate.

10. The greatest keyif ever
Ironicalically, the greatest pleasure that Istanbul has to offer us Istanbullus can only be experienced when one is away from Istanbul. And what is that, I rhetorically hear you hypothetically ask? It’s coming back to the most beautiful city in the world, of course. We call that Istanbul Keyfi.


Hangover heaven - top 20 things to do on a hangover in Istanbul

This is a great city to be hungover after a night of sloppy binge drinking, and here’s why…

You’re stupid. You go out – again. Get drunk – again. Say you’ll never get drunk again – again. And now you’re whining and crying, incapable of constructing a single coherent sentence beyond ‘my hed herts’. Well don’t panic, because we have some suggestions for riding out your hangover in Istanbul – even though you don’t deserve it, dumbass.

1. Order food from Yemeksepeti.com
Instead of pointlessly searching for wherever the hell your keys, wallet and IQ went the night before, why not just stay home and let food come to you? This website has everything delivered to your door, thus being perfectly catered to the lazy convenience whore you become when hungover. Just log on, register for free, pick what you want, and they’ll be at your door within 20 minutes. You’ll still have to find your wallet though.

2. Take a trip to Kadıköy
This is the best option. Walk down to Karaköy, catch a ferry to Kadıköy, walk through Kadıköy Pazarı drinking pickle juice, have lunch at Çiya Sofrası (0216-330 31 90, Güneşlibahçe Sokak. 43, in market), select cheap pirated DVDs at The End (Sokullu street, off Bahariye Avenue, opposite Aya Triada Greek Church), have a beer at Karga (0216-449 1726, Kadife Sokak 16, a.k.a. ‘Barlar sokağı’), and then hop back on the ferry to Karaköy at sunset. In fact, make this a monthly ritual.

3. Guzzle on a Big Mac
We all know that the best food in the world is McDonalds. The Big Mac is arguably the greatest invention of the twentieth century, followed closely by penicillin, the microchip, and Eric Cartman. Turkish McDonalds’ have the best Big Macs. If you live around Cihangir or Beyoğlu, order a happy meal delivery from Taksim. Phone 336 35 35.
McDonalds (0212-336 3535), Cumhuriyet caddesi 5, Taksim

4. Get drunk again
Forget aspirin, we all know that the best cure for a hangover is a few beers, and maybe even getting drunk again the next day. I’m no doctor or anything, but it’s probably really good for you too. What better place to do it than on Sofyalı street in Asmalımescit in the cosy, cheap and friendly Pasific? Yes, that’s how it’s spelt.
Pasific (0212-292 7642), Sofyalı Sokak 8-6, Asmalımescit-Beyoğlu

5. Eat a Taksim burger… or two
Admittedly this option is best before you’ve crashed, when you’ve still got your buzz on, slurring at strangers at 4am, trying to stumble home. However, those who get that craving for grease and a little garlic would do well to consider the famous Taksim burgers the next day as well. Traditionally, the best are at Kızılkayalar.
Kızılkayalar, Taksim (corner of Istiklal and Sıraselviler Avenue)

6. Explore the Fish Market
If you’re one of those people who can deal with the sensory overload of people, sounds and pungent smells on a hangover, then the fish market in the heart of Beyoğlu is a great option. Check out the delis, butchers, pickle shops, fishmongers, meyhanes, and of course the delicacy that is kokoreç. Golden, Şampiyon and Mercan make the best.
Balık Pazarı, off Istiklal Caddesi, Galatasaray-Beyoğlu.

7. Surf the Internet
Naturally, when hungover, you’d rather have the world come to you than vice versa. Be informed with BBC, entertained by The Onion, connected through Gmail, desensitised by babesinbikinis.com, and download music on Limewire. A cable connection is all you need. A limitless 256 kbps ADSL connection costs 139 YTL a month (plus 60 YTL installation fee) at your nearest Turk Telekom.

8. Movie-surf at AFM Fitaş
Movie-surfing can only be achieved in multiplex cinemas, where you can go from movie to movie and see maybe three in a row, all as you gorge on popcorn and soda, safe in the cosy comfort of darkness and anonymity, protected from the big bad world outside. No brain twisters at AFM Fitaş either – just pure Hollywood schlock. Perfect.
AFM Fitaş (0212-251 2020), Istiklal Caddesi 24-26, Beyoğlu.

9. Go on a book hunt
A good way to get over hangover guilt is to immerse yourself in a bookstore where, ensconced in great literature, you feel cleansed of the shame of having treated your body like a compost processor for the past 12 hours. Finger through Robinson Crusoe’s (0212-293 6968, Istiklal Avenue 389), take a seat and read downstairs or out back at Homer (0212-249 5902, Yeni Carşı Avenue 28/A, Galatasaray, off Istiklal), or go second-hand book hunting in Aslıhan Pasajı (off the Fish Market), all in Beyoğlu.

10. Peruse some modern art
When brain-dead on a hangover, there’s nothing like visual stimulation. What better place than Istanbul Modern? The view and location is breathtaking, the building itself is a treat, and the art’s ok too. Works from the Venice Bienale were recently exhibited. Don’t forget to have a coffee or lunch at Loft afterwards.
Istanbul Modern Art Museum (0212-334 7300), Meclis-i Mebusan Caddesi, Liman Işletmeleri Sahası, Antrepo 4, Karaköy.

11. Have brunch at House Café
Some people hanker for bacon when they’re hungover. The House Café in Tünel has Eggs Benedict with real good bacon, and you can order an extra portion of bacon on the side. Welcome to hog heaven. All the other food is great too, and so is the location. Grab a newspaper, spread out, and eat and read all afternoon, you fat pig.
The House Café (0212-245 9515), Sümbül Sokak 9/1-2, Tünel-Asmalımescit.

12. Enjoy tea and simit in Ortaköy
This is best done with a significant other who shares your hangover. Sit on one of the waterfront benches with a view of the bridge, the baroque Ortaköy mosque and the Bosphorus, feed the pigeons and let life just roll on by around you. A simitçi is usually right there, and just get a tea to go from one of the cafes in Ortaköy square.

13. Drive to Belgrade Forest
The perfect day trip if you’re into stuff like nature and trees and fresh air. Take the TEM highway to Kemerburgaz, have a walk, a bike ride, a barbeque, a picnic, or a jog. Good place to rid yourself of those poisonous toxins you mistook for happiness from the night before.

14. Find a friend with a terrace
Everyone should have a friend more fortunate than them, someone with a car and a terrace and a house twice the size of yours that you can party in and mess up without having to clean up the next day. And when you’re on the hangover, what better than a nice big view and a fresh breeze, sharing a brew… or two?
[Insert name and address of friend with terrace here]

16. Veg out at home
Let’s face it, this is the one we all end up doing 99 percent of the time. We wake up, stumble over a few cans of half-full beer (I’m an optimist), get dizzy, fall on the couch, and wish there was a waiter in the house, or a nurse to look after us. You watch CSI, eat anything that fits between two slices of stale bread, and miss your mommy.
[Insert your name and address here]

17. Be visceral
Some hanker pork, some hanker bacon, some hanker burgers (see above). But then there are the true hangover connoisseurs who know that there’s really only one food that satisfies your craving for an artery-hardening, vein-clogging, aorta-popping cholesterol overload: liver. At Canım Ciğerim you get a big spread with assorted veggies and pig-out on skewered liver, all for 10 YTL. They also have beef and chicken for wimps.
Canım Ciğerim (0212-252 6060), Minare Sokak 1, corner of Asmalımescit street, Asmalımescit-Beyoğlu.

18. Join a health spa or a gym
We don’t usually condone going to the gym. Loud music, fluorescent Lycra-clad aerobics instructors, musclehead beefcakes – not to mention the fungal jungle they call a bathroom – are all a little too much for the hungover moron. But if your hangover is relatively forgiving, then become a member of a gym. The high end is Planet Health Club in Kuruçeşme, the low end is Flash gym in Beyoğlu (100 YTL a month) – whatever suits your budget. Maybe you can cash in those beer bottles sitting on your kitchen counter.
Planet Health Club (0212-257 2636), Muallim Naci Cad. 170, Kuruçeşme.
Flash Gym (0212-249 5347), Istiklal Caddesi Aznavur Pasajı 4, Beyoğlu.

19. Maraud in a mall
Hangovers are great for vanity spending as you try to perk up your ego with some guilt-driven shopping and food-court bingeing… all of which is expensive. So what better way to prevent that than going to a shopping mall where you can’t afford anything anyway? Incipit Kanyon! Gorge yourself on the architecture and luxury boutiques of this paragon of modern design, gawking at all the pretty shiny things you wish you could buy. Don’t take off your sunglasses. And don’t step in the pool either, you buffoon.
Kanyon, Levent

20. Order a Hangover Waiter
Sometimes when you’re hungover you get brilliantly stupid ideas. For example, how about a ‘Hangover Waiter’ service? You can call them up the night before, anticipating your soon-to-be sorry state, and a Hangover Waiter shows up next morning to take care of you all day! They could also have an emergency service for a little extra fee, in case you went out the night before thinking you’d just have ‘one or two drinks’.


Footie loopy - a beginner's guide to Turkish football

No knowledge of Turkey would be complete without an introduction to our greatest national obsession: Futbol!

We have a saying that only three things matter to us Turks: horses, women and guns. The guns and women still hold true, cars can be substituted for horses, but a fourth factor must be thrown in: football. Here are twenty things you should know about us and our football:

1. The numbers
A worldwide multi-billion dollar business that enables billions of TV viewers in hundreds of millions of households to watch on as tens of thousands of fans, hundreds of journalists, scores of club officials, and dozens of sponsors encourage 22 grown men to kick a bouncing ball around a field for 90 minutes.

2. The clubs
Football clubs are old-boys’ networks where freemasons and shady contractors with Peter Pan syndromes and cigar fetishes extend their profiteering cronyism to the lucrative flesh trade of buying and selling grade-A athletes. There are two types of clubs in Turkey: the three Istanbul clubs (Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe, Besiktas), and the rest (the ones that mostly end in ‘-spor’). The former compete for the Turkish league title each year, while the latter compete for fourth place and below.

3. The fans
An agglomeration of sloganeering primates who seek to vicariously experience success, triumph and joy through their team’s performance on the pitch, and who regularly declare that they are willing to die and/or kill for their club. Unfortunately, the players on the pitch actually playing for the fans and the club are generally NOT willing to die and/or kill for their club, leading to a permanent discrepancy between the zealous expectations of the former and the overpaid complacency of the latter.

4. The stadiums
Referred to as ‘stadia’ by smug smartypants who also say ‘octopi’, stadiums are Apollonian edifices that act as congregating arenas for aforementioned fans to satisfy their Dionysian urges as they scream, shout, fight, hug, cry, insult, praise, curse, and chant in a sustained dithyrambic frenzy for 90 minutes, all while collectively consuming about a ton of sunflowers seeds and a hundred cartons of cigarettes amongst them. The main stadiums are Inönü (Besiktas), Ali Sami Yen (Galatasaray) and Sükrü Saracoglu (Fenerbahce).

5. The players…
…are beasts of burden that are bought and sold as potential cash cows on a regulated market dominated by a plutocratic web of managers, lawyers, club officials, and shady businessmen. They occupy one of four main positions – goalkeeper, defender, midfielder or forward – and are expected to eat, play, do, and say as they’re told by their owners.

6. The uniforms
The outfits are shiny identical garments with easily identifiable colours that help players and fans alike keep track of who ‘us’ is and who ‘them’ are so that the players can know which way to kick the ball during the match and the fans can know who to beat up before and after it. Galatasaray is red/yellow, Fenerbahçe blue/yellow, Besiktas black/white, Trabzonspor maroon/blue, while the other teams’ colours are who/cares? It’s interesting to note that before the advent of colour TV everyone was a Besiktas supporter, mainly because nobody liked the dark grey/light grey colours of their opponents.

7. The referee
This is the most important person on the pitch in Turkish football. He’s the one you try to trick into giving you a foul, the one you constantly argue with even though you (should) know it’s futile, the one you blame when your team loses, and the one you praise for having refereed ‘exceptionally and objectively well’ when your team wins. As a result, referees come in two types, depending on whether your team has won or lost: balanced and fair arbiters OR evil satanic warlocks plotting the destruction of your entire universe and everything you hold dear.

8. The offside
A very simple rule which states that a player with possession of the ball cannot pass the ball to a fellow team player if that receiving player happens to be behind the back-most player of the opposing team at the moment that the player in possession first makes contact with the ball with the purpose of passing it unless it is clear that the pass is not intended for the player who happens to be offside at the moment of contact but to another fellow team player who is onside instead. Could I be any clearer? While some think this rule has been introduced for the sake of bettering the game, it has actually been designed to keep women confused about the game, and thus disinterested, thereby granting married men some valuable alone-time once or twice a week when their team’s game is on TV.

9. The mascots
Many clubs have recourse to totemic animal mascots which indicates a residual vestige of cult worship that has been passed down to modern times. Galatasaray’s is a lion, Besiktas has an eagle, Denizlispor and Bursaspor have a rooster and a crocodile respectively… and then there’s Fenerbahçe, which is represented by a proud, tough, fearsome… yellow canary. Seriously.

10. The defence
Turkish league football has one characteristic that defines the general poor quality of the game: terrible defense. Be it the desultory and inconsistent manner of marking opposing players, the chronic inability to deal with side-angle free-kicks, the sloppy manner of holding a linear defensive line, the lack of good goalkeepers, or the gaping chasm that makes feeding the ball from defense to midfield such a Herculean task for Turkish defenders, this unfortunate fact makes for a league full of low-quality goals and a national team devoid of any experienced and permanent defensive players.

11. The business
Turkish football reflects the economic disparity between Istanbul and Anatolia. Here’s how it works: An Anatolian club puts together a good team before the big three rich Istanbul clubs muscle in and buy out the star players. This leads to a glut of talent in the Istanbul clubs where those newly acquired players who could otherwise gain the experience and consistent match-play needed to develop at a lesser club, instead find themselves rotting away on the reserve bench. After succumbing to Istanbul’s temptations and the stress of success posed by overzealous fans and a vitriolic press, the players lose spirit, fall out of form, and are sold back to Anatolian clubs for less money than they were bought for, which the big clubs can afford for the sake of the few young stars who do manage to make it through and who can be sold on to bigger European clubs. So everybody wins… except Turkish Football.

12. The politics
We Turks aren’t actually interested in the sports, we’re interested in the politics of it, of the war of words between club bosses, coaches, players, referees and journalists, the fights, the taunting of rival fans, the defeating – nay, the sadistic humiliation – of the Other and the feeling of empowerment this brings. All these factors appeal more to our Byzantine character than do the aesthetics, camaraderie, sportsmanship, or strategy of the game itself. That’s why on every sports program you’ll see very little actual football and a whole lot of old men in suits talking about football instead.

13. The talk
We love talking about football because it’s the easiest thing to sound erudite about. That’s because football is full of could’ves and would’ves. E.g: “Terim should have started with a 4-5-1 line-up with Tugay as sweeper and Hakan sole striker, then switched to a 4-4-2 formation by bringing in Ümit in the second half and replacing the sweeper with an attacking midfielder like Emre.” That sort of postgnosticating sounds impressive because nobody knows if it would’ve worked or not. Women can meet and instantly talk about love and relationships, whereas men can meet and instantly lapse into discussion over the finer points of guys in shorts chasing a ball around a pitch. Basically, football is like horoscopes for men.

14. The identification
At a conscious level, the cult of football provides a solidly identifiable ‘us’ and ‘them’, replete with respective emblems, colours, uniforms, flags, heroes and villains with which to define ourselves both ‘with’ and ‘against’ others. At an unconscious level, it provides a solidly identifiable ‘Us’ that emerges as a sort of dialectical super-identity, which is synthetically defined by the process of differentiation at the conscious level. Thus, merely interacting within the discourse of difference that defines ‘us’ and ‘them’ (i.e. affiliating with a specific team) creates the unconscious feeling of an ‘Us’ on a higher level as ‘Men’ or as ‘Turks’… or as prats like me who use terms like ‘dialectical’ to describe football.

15. The impatience
We want success and we want it NOW. This impatience is another major reason why the quality of Turkish football remains low. It takes time and a lot of match play for a group of players to form a solid team. Instead of learning from past long-term projects (such as the Turkish Football Federation’s excellent youth program in the early 90s which produced two European youth titles and formed the core of the Galatasaray and Turkish national teams that won the UEFA Cup and gained third-place at the 2002 World Cup respectively), our clubs often change nearly half their teams every year and fire coaches like they’re matchsticks.

16. Galatasaray
The most successful Turkish team by far. Although they’re one Turkish league victory short of Fenerbahce, they’ve competed in the Champion’s League nine times (with a quarterfinal result in 2001) and they’re the only ones to have won European Cups – the UEFA Cup and the Super Cup in 2000-2001. They were actually the top ranked club in the world that same year, with Real Madrid in second place. Everything went downhill after that due to the chronic incompetence of their club’s management. They sold all their star players and have been in debt ever since. They still play in a rickety neolithic stadium and have notorious trouble paying their players’ salaries.

17. Fenerbahce
They have the most supporters, the best stadium, the best finances, and usually the best players. In fact the only thing Fenerbahce lacks is success. They have never won anything except Turkish league titles. They haven’t even won the secondary Turkish Federation Cup in twenty years. But it’s the enmity with Galatasaray that defines the essence of being a Fenerbahce supporter. It’s a rivalry that borders on hatred. A derby match between the two is one worth seeing simply for the level of tension and competitiveness that it evokes, even though it usually makes for bad football for pretty much the same reason.

18. Besiktas
With fewer league titles than their other two rivals, Besiktas nevertheless has a solid fan base. It’s generally the most respected Turkish club in terms of its tradition as a solid middle-class team with a history of sportsmanship, camaraderie, and good management (which has only recently been marred by their ultra-radical Çarşı group of supporters). Nevertheless, they remain famous for their legendary line-ups of the ’80s in which the teamwork, sportsmanship and quality of their players both on and off the pitch earned them the respect of all. It’s important to note that despite their lesser success, Besiktas is in fact the best club in Turkey, because they’re my club.

19. Trabzonspor
The only team besides the Istanbul triumvirate to have ever won the Turkish title, Trabzonspor have a fearsome reputation both for the consistent quality of their team and also for the fanaticism and volatility of their supporters, who do not shy from threatening their own players and setting their own stadium on fire if things aren’t going their way. They have won six league championships, and are the only team to have won four in a row. That said, they haven’t posed a serious challenge since the ’90s.

20. The National Team
The unpredictability of our national team is famous. Back in the ’50s we were one of the only teams to have beaten the legendary Hungarians, and despite only playing the World Cup Finals twice, we have one of the best win-loss records in them, notching a third-place in the 2002 finals. But then we lost to Latvia to be knocked out of the European Cup the following year! We’re currently top of our Euro 2008 qualification group with important matches coming up against Norway and Greece.


Top 20 - Recyclable Istanbul

In Turkey little things gain little notice. The idea of, say, contributing to saving the planet through small day-to-day practices like separating trash for the sake of recycling paper and glass, or conserving electricity and water, all seems trivial to us. So if we want to encourage awareness for recycling, we have to think big, ostentatious, vulgar, and not necessarily practical. Let’s start with huge projects to get this whole recycling thing noticed so we can rely on an eventual trickle down effect. Here are 20 things in Istanbul that we’d like to see recycled… big time.

1 Underfoot aquariums
Everybody knows that advertising is evil corporate voodoo that only works on bourgeois zombies with no soul, so we propose transforming all that nifty underfoot glass-enclosed advertising space along our Beyoğlu sidewalks into diaphanous aquariums, thus liberating it from the sinister hands of advertising witch doctors. They’ll be like little dewdrops of organic hope amidst all the dirt, concrete and steel, offering a delicious contrast that might make us stop and think enough to appreciate the fragile absurdity of life… until the fish are all stolen, killed and eaten by magandas.

2 Sundeck ferry
Before they replace all the old ferries, they should take one of them and recycle it into a floating sundeck that just moseys up and down the Bosphorus. People could take their shirts off and kick back a bit. It’ll be like the end scene from ‘Los Lunes al Sol’, but for everyone – and legal.

3 Bosphorus wax museum
How about recycling one of those exorbitant pretentious obnoxious Bosphorus nightclubs like Laila, Anjelique, Sortie or Sapphire into a wax museum full of fake people? Oh wait, they already are.

4 Piyer Loti artificial ski track
We know this little summit at the end of the Golden Horn is a favourite of docile tea lovers, but frankly Piyer Loti is a bit of a bummer with the cemetery and the touristiness and everything, so we propose that it be transformed into a year-round artificial ski and snowboard track. We already have the cable-car in place and we could use the cemetery gravestones as a slalom/obstacle course… but respectfully.

5 Miniaturk demolition derby
Ok, picture this: Miniaturk… but with mini dune buggies. The Miniaturk museum could serially produce a few hundred copies each of all their model edifices out of recyclable wood, paper mache or hemp, so for a fee you get to go on a crash course demolition derby smashing in and out of them, or pretending you’re Godzilla, or King Kong, or just a giant angry baseball player. Actually, they’re probably already doing this in Japan somewhere, so let’s go bigger yet…

6 Byzantine wall war reenactments
Is it just me or have you ever wanted to play ‘Turks and Greeks’ along the renovated portions of the historic Byzantine Walls, so you can rent out various costumes of different ranks of Ottoman Turks and Byzantine Greeks and you can either be the ones defending (Greeks) or attacking (Turks), replete with fake swordplay, bows and arrows, cannons, grandiloquent soliloquies, and even Greek Fire where you get to run around fake screaming trying to put out fake fire on your fake military uniform? No? Just me then?

7 Underground cistern tripping
The Underground Cisterns, with its cool lighting, ambient music, surreal pools, pillars and walkways (and that eerie Medusa head) is not only suitable but absolutely ideal for only one thing: tripping. All the inane tour guiding, fashion shows and musical concerts are lame. It should just be rented out purely for psychedelic hallucinogenic sessions in which guests can pick from a variety of pharmacopoeia, before wandering off into the deep dark recesses of this magical space – and, like, their own minds… Whoa.

8 Baron Bomburst’s Haydarpaşa castle
How about if we transformed Haydarpaşa Train Station into the private castle of the notorious Baron Bomburst, supreme ruler of Vulgaria and abductor of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which sits all lonely and sad until a lovable family comes singing and dancing its way into the palace, swinging gaily from ropes, rescuing the car we all love, and giving the castle of the evil baron back into the hands of the local children? Sorry, I’m still thinking about the Underground Cisterns.

9 Topkapi paintball
This is a winner: paintball fights in the coolest maze-like palace ever. There could even be theme plots like ‘Assassinating the Sultan’ where you have to avoid the janissaries and eunuchs with your buddies and get to the Sultan’s bedroom to pop one between his eyes; or one where you and your friends have to avoid being strangled by silk-thread wielding mutes. The possibilities are endless, and maybe even not that historically inaccurate, thus lending it an added ‘educational reenactment’ dimension… but with paintball guns.

10 Istanbul Modern skating arena
Hire some rollerblades or bring your skateboard and fulfill your fantasy a la ‘L.A. Story’ (or ‘Suicidal Tendencies’, whichever you identify with more) and roll through the galleries, enjoying the ramps and the ample space and smooth floors. I guess they can keep the paintings hanging on the walls too if they must, especially for that awesome colors-bleeding-into-one effect when you skate by real fast.

11 Archaeology Museum body painting
The ancients used to do this too. All those white marble statues of gods and emperors were painted in a bunch of colors. So why not bring the practice back into vogue? Visitors can be given paint and brushes along with a statue each to work on. You could paint a funny face and eyeglasses on Zeus and then pretend you’re Hera pointing and laughing at him for being so shortsighted that he slept with a cow.

12 Mısır Apartmanı 24-hour party palace
Enough with the galleries and the private flats and the mediocre restaurants on the lower floors. It’s time the whole Mısır building got 360-fied and turned into a 24-Hour Party Palace with a different themed party raging on each floor – sort of like Dante’s Inferno, but with more music and better ventilation. If you padded out the stairwell you could even have a bungee business going, but we don’t want to be responsible for that idea.

13 Shopping Mall rollercoaster
How about a rollercoaster ride in a shopping mall! And, like, a giant clock, the biggest in the world! And then, um, the highest escalators you ever saw, but safe, you know, not like death traps or anything that a little child can fall from – let alone two. Just kidding! Why don’t we just build a massive theme mall called Gaudyland, boast that it’s the biggest Gaudyland in Europe, and the second-biggest Gaudyland in the world, and fill it with gaudy gimmicks to amuse vacant-eyed shoppers? Imagine if someone actually carried out that horrible idea and stuck it in the middle of, say, Şişli.

14 Galata Tower tourist dump
They should recycle this place into a giant opportunistic tourist coin slot machine. Oh wait, they already did. I know: they should recycle it back into a dignified edifice that offers something mildly inspiring, instead of, say, belly dancing and trinkets.

15 Kanyon Death Star
This super-cool shopping mall is the perfect place to play Star Wars. A group of you occupy the Death Star dressed as imperial troopers, then others dress up as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and Chewbacca, and you all run around firing toy laser guns while two lucky friends get the chance to play Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader having a toy lightsaber fight on the walkway over the pool in the ground floor atrium. You’ll be pissing yourselves with laughter even after the security guards finally catch you and kick you out.

16 French Street theme ride
Actually we should keep the French Street the way it is but just add a Disneyesque ‘It’s a Small World Afterall’ ride that takes us on a magical musical trip down the street without us having to stop and spend lots of money on mediocre food that’s priced on a gimmick in any one of those restaurants, all of which’s names mercifully escape me.

17 Workout buses
Buses are boring, but what if you had special workout buses where you could have a bunch of bars with which to do chin-ups, horizontal pull-ups and dips, and all the while use the natural g-force on those speeding turns by psychotic bus drivers to your own benefit? Shut up, I’m running out of ideas.

18 Towering Süzer Plaza inferno
Maybe we could convert the barn on top into a glass aviary, or a full-on menagerie with monkeys in a little self-enclosed biosphere. No, no, I’ve got it: they should film the sequel to ‘Towering Inferno’ at Süzer Plaza and make it as realistic as possible. No CGI.

19 Willy Wonka’s Dolmabahçe Palace
It’s time to put the palace back into the hands of an eccentric paranoid billionaire who can do justice to this massive surreal marvel of a monument to fantastic flights of fancy. Our eccentric billionaire can bring in exotic beasts to lounge around the grounds, and have regular dress-up parties with characters in strange costumes in a glass tea room surrounded by clocks. Basically, recycle it into what it used to be under the late Ottoman ‘Abdul’ sultans – but also keep an able accountant to keep track of finances this time, and not let our eccentric billionaire’s tastes, say, BANKRUPT THE ENTIRE COUNTRY?

20 Hagia Sophia waterslide
We’ve all been so shortsightedly debating whether this place should be a church or a mosque or a museum, that we’ve lost sight of the best option of all: a giant kick-ass waterslide! Instead of all those divisive and fractious options, why not turn it into the one thing everybody can agree to love. I mean, who doesn’t love a waterslide? Psychopaths and rabid dogs maybe, but do you really want to share a slippery ride with them anyway? Here’s how it works: it starts on the dome outside, twirls around the dome before leading inside through the emperor’s gateway (what an entrance!), and then spirals around the interior of the dome and through the various upper and lower galleries before shooting you out into the outdoor museum area – which will of course have been turned into a swimming pool. Could there be a more symbolic and refreshing way of bridging the gap between East and West? I think not.


The Tao of Istanbul

You may think that a city as noisy, crowded and chaotic as Istanbul would offer little in the way of any Zen-like moments in which to ‘be the Tao’, but you’d be mistaken. The Chinese word ‘Tao’ is a fundamental part of the Turkish language, in the form of ‘doğru’ (similar to Mongolian ‘töv’ and Japanese/Korean ‘do’), meaning straight, true, or right, and is further related to the words ‘doğa’ (nature) and ‘doğuş’ (birth) all of which suggests that, at least on a subliminal semantic level, we appreciate there’s a mysterious underlying harmonious ‘way’ that guides life, nature, ethics and existence, and is more primordial than religion, philosophy, or even consciousness. And although we may seem too noisy, querulous and herd-oriented to appreciate a fine moment of oneness with the universe, we too have our little Tao-Zen spots hidden amidst the superficial cacophony that surrounds us. Here are twenty places – and moments – worthy of simply ‘being in’…

1. The Haghia Sophia
There’s a trick to it: Go to the upstairs gallery, turn left, proceed to the very end until you’re in sort of a mini-chamber, wait until the camera-clickers are out, get in, rest your elbows on the marble balustrade, extend your head out just enough to block out any faces around you, plug in your earphones and play Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom on your MP3 player as you gaze at the floating dome above until you get to the Cherubim’s Hymn. Make sure to kick a tour guide in the nuts on the way out.
Haghia Sophia Museum (0212-522 09 89 / 522 17 50), Sultanahmet Square. Open daily (except Mondays) 9:30am-5pm.

2. The French Consulate courtyard
An oasis of tranquility located in the proverbial eye of the Taksim storm, this little Borgesian dreamscape comes alive like a Garden of Forking Paths as the sun on your face, the chirping birds, the murmur of voices, and the sound of people’s feet treading rhythmically over pebbles transforms your day into a mesmerizing moment that briefly hints at infinity before the muscular ezan from the ad hoc mosque with the tin minaret next door sweeps it all away in one fell stroke.
Fransız Kültür Merkezi (0212-249 07 76 / 252 02 62 / 244 44 95), Istiklal Caddesi 8, Beyoğlu.

3. The Cemetery
We Turks have two places to experience Zen: mosques and cemeteries. If you find any other place that’s Zen-worthy, we’ll set up a barbeque and a tape player and kick around a football while listening to depressing fatalistic music instead. But sanctity is something we’ll respect, and the cemetery is one of the most peaceful sanctuaries in the city. The Karacaahmet Cemetery in Üsküdar is the oldest in Istanbul and the second-biggest cemetery in the world. For extra ambience, play Radiohead’s ‘How to Disappear Completely’ on your MP3 pretending you’re a ghost walking amongst the graves – or better yet, play The Misfits’ ‘Zombies from Mars’ and pretend you’re a… um… Martian zombie?
Karacaahmet Mezarlığı, Üsküdar.

4. Dolmabahçe Palace
Never mind the palace itself, just go into the gardens on a sunny day, grab a bench looking out to sea and wait till a pod of dolphins crosses your path… Or go around back and watch jasmine leaves float in the pond in myriad patterns guided by invisible forces as peacocks stare eerily at the back of your head.
Dolmabahçe Sarayı, Beşiktaş.

5. “What the bleep do we know?”
What if the entire universe is, like, one massive atom in another universe that’s, like, one massive atom in another universe that’s, like… oh no, I lost my train of Zen thought. This film should clear it up though – or not – so go check it out at the film festival this month. The ‘bleep’ is of course a euphemism for ‘I’m too lazy to read A Brief History of Time, do you have something I can just watch instead please?’ The film even features a medium who channels the voice of a 35,000 year-old priest of Atlantis, but thanks to a serious face-lift, the priest doesn’t look a day over 34,960 years-old.
AFM Fitas, Taksim.

6. Gypsies selling flowers
Sit somewhere near Gypsies for twenty minutes and watch them – it could be by the Kadıköy wharf or on Valikonağı avenue in Nişantaşı. While everything around them whirls about in a bustling sprawl of busyness and ambition, they’re wise enough to know that the only thing that matters is a song, a dance, and pretty colorful things like flowers. They’ve got ‘not-giving-a-shit’ down to a Zen art.

7. Ataköy tennis courts
Head over to the Emlakbank tennis courts in Ataköy and step into the linear symmetry poised defiantly beneath the wild swirling sky above, as the rolling clouds clash and contrast with the lazy sounds of suburbia around you and time seems to stand still on the court. Once you get in the zone with your game you’ll feel like you’ve been playing tennis on that court, beneath that sky, all your life. BE the ball. PAY ten lira an hour.
Emlakbank Spor Tesisleri (0216 455 0153), Ataköy.

8. Bebek Park
Sit back and watch the sunlight glisten off the tiny ripples of the Bosphorus, from amidst the anchored yachts and rustic fishing launches, with the verdant hills, the seaside mansions, the mighty bridge, the Rumeli Hisarı fortress, and the far shores of Asia all captured in one majestic scope…
Bebek, next to the mosque and, unfortunately, McDonalds.

9. Ataturk Airport
People-watch in the best place ever: an airport. People in transit are out of their element, estranged and uncomfortable, making it the perfect place to watch so many of them in such a vulnerable state without being upbraided for staring. We recommend you only do this when you yourself are in transit, otherwise you seriously need to get a life.
Ataturk International Airport

10. Inönü Stadium
Lose yourself in a crowd of fanatics, hypnotized by the melodic chanting of tens of thousands of voices hollering in unison like a pagan ritual, fierce, loud and sanguine, forming a Leviathan-like being that fills the stadium like a protean mass before draining back out into the streets and dissipating after the final whistle. We are of course talking about football.
İnönü Stadium, Beşiktaş.

11. The Süleymaniye Mosque
This most splendid of Ottoman mosques has an aura of other-worldly mystery and serenity that envelopes you as soon as you walk into the couryard surrounding it, and amplifies ten-fold once you’re inside. Go alone and enter from the northwest gate.
Beyazıt Square, behind Istanbul University.

12. The Forest
There’s a picnic area near a small reservoir deep in the Belgrade forest that you might accidentally come across while mountain biking. Do this during the week and you’ll be completely alone, standing before surreal utilitarian shapes of stone slab tables that stand like remnants of a Dada art exhibit deliberately abandoned in a wilderness of trees, as if waiting for you to stumble across them.
Belgrade Forest

13. The Archaeology Museum
The aesthetic juxtaposition of architectural linearity with curvaceous stone-carved Greek and Roman statues, of prurient physical muscularity within an ordered, white, pristine sterility, all make this the perfect place to glide through and appreciate the vivid contrasts amid the silent gaze of dozens of ancient petrified eyes. Best museum in Istanbul.
Arkeoloji Müzesi (0212 520 7740/41), Topkapı Sarayı, Sultanahmet.

14. Ferry ride
The sun, the sea breeze, the waves, the seagulls, yadda yadda. Zen purists may scoff, but if you have an MP3, play Chopin’s prelude number eight in F sharp minor, Opus 28. Its undulating finale in the last few seconds is the musical definition of Zen and always seems in cadence with the sea around you.

15. Sit on a street curb
Sit on a curb on a small street in any working class neighborhood for twenty minutes. The cats, the children, the housewives, the street vendors, cars and tradesmen will all meld into a kind of chaotic harmony and suddenly you’ll realize that there actually is some sort of invisible order and mad sense to the anarchy around you.

16. Rumeli Hisarı
This ancient fortress should be visited during the week. The mighty walls, the melancholy emptiness and the cutting wind make for a haunting experience. You can hear the ghosts if you cup your hands over your ears… and happen to be insane.
Rumeli Hisarı Müzesi (0212 263 53 05), Yahya Kemal Caddesi 42, Hisarönü.

17. Watch tankers float by
This is Istanbul’s favorite pastime. Get a bag of sunflower seeds, find a solitary spot somewhere between Beşiktaş and Bebek, let your feet dangle above the swirling waters, and chit-chit-chit away as those big majestic ships pass you by.

18. Observe a construction site
If you can find a little opening, look in and watch the little workers toiling away in what looks like a massive ant farm or a giant aquarium. The contrast of depth and distance with that of the tiny human forms that occupy it makes it difficult to look away. Istanbul has a lot of constructions, but a good one to check out is the one in Beşiktaş opposite Polat Tower.

19. Santa Maria Draperis Church courtyard
Get away from the crowds at the St. Antoine Church and slink in off Istiklal Avenue into this sunken courtyard for a brief moment of peace and tranquility. Sit on the steps under the image of the Madonna, or go inside and spend some moments alone with your thoughts on a pew.
Santa Maria Draperis Katolik Kilisesi (0212 244 0243), Istiklal Caddesi 431, Beyoğlu-Tünel. Open daily 10am-12pm and 2-4pm.

20. Café Bunka
The Japanese have such a refined sense of aesthetics that they make everyone else look like complete pigs. Step into Café Bunka in the Japanese Cultural Centre and you’ll immediately feel the big dirty city wash off of you as you partake in a tea ceremony, eat some sushi, and enjoy a long-needed respite from the bustling anarchy outside. There’s something about polished stone and wood together that just makes you feel all light and fluffy inside.
Japon Kültür Merkezi (0212 293 3249), Ana Çeşme Sokak 3, Taksim-Beyoğlu (behind the French Consulate). Open daily 12 midday-11pm.


Animals of Istanbul

It’s a jungle out there. Istanbul wildlife is diverse, ranging from scorpions to cats, from leeches to donkeys, with pretty much everything in between. So whatever your favorite phylum or most frightening phobia, here’s a list of the beasts you’re likely to encounter without even visiting the zoo... which is just as well, because we don't actually have a zoo.

1. Leeches – No, we’re not talking about carpet salesmen but those adorable little animals they sell in jars around Eminönü, and which are thought to have medicinal effects for various ailments – a belief dating back to the enlightened Middle Ages. If you’d rather NOT have a black worm-like creature crawling on your skin, sinking their little teeth in and sucking the blood out of your body, then you could also just take some aspirin, but where’s the fun in that?

2. Spiders – Relax, this isn’t Australia or anything, but there have recently been sensational reports in every major Turkish newspaper of KILLER African spiders of the species Tegeneria Parietina! A cursory search on the Internet reveals that this type of spider IS in fact a ferocious killer… if you happen to be a fly. Here’s what the British Arachnological Society says: “Tegeneria species very rarely bite and if they do it is painless.” There was also a report that another DEADLY species has also been found called Segestria Florentina, or the tube web spider. Here’s what the BBC writes about those: “Tube web spiders are known to have a bite that feels like a bee sting, although it has no lasting effects.” Once again, Turkish journalism comes through with lying colors.

3. Dolphins – These lovable cetaceans have had a precarious existence around the Marmara Sea ever since they were massacred for oil in the 1970s (read Yashar Kemal’s The Sea-Crossed Fisherman), ironically at the same time that Flipper was the most popular kids show on Turkish TV. But they have since made a comeback, and on a still, early morning, before all the sea traffic picks up, you’ll often see pods of them bobbing up and down along the Bosphorus, deftly avoiding giant murderous propeller blades from passing Russian oil tankers.

4. Cats – Few people know that Istanbul is actually owned and run by cats, who have tolerated all the other species, and even made one (humans) their servile minions who are required to obsequy to their every need: i.e. seeing to their medical expenses, preparing their food (either in bowls or as garbage out on the streets), taking care of the heating and upkeep of their homes and/or providing warm bedding in the form of hot car hoods.

5. Dogs – Unfortunately dogs have in turn been enslaved by humans and subjected to the cruelty of breeding and petting, but there are also the lucky ones without collars that roam the streets in packs, having adventures and eating whatever they want. The rest are locked up in carpeted homes, walked in designated areas on the ends of leashes, subjected to canned food and coiffeurs, and taunted with humiliating epithets like “Shnuggums.” Humans mistake their dogs’ tail-wagging for happiness, but some of us suspect it actually means “Please kill me.”

6. Cockroaches – Ok, any species that’s 250 million years old is officially indestructible and deserves our respect. These tough guys will be around way after our species has sucked the life out of the Earth and turned it into a giant planetary garbage dump. In fact they’ll thrive on our folly. They’ll evolve into a master species, creating empires of giant mutant insect warriors that will rule the world... So keep a cat in the house, they love catching these crunchy little bastards.

7. Sheep – You’ll mainly see sheep all herded together for the yearly ovine holocaust that is the sacrificial religious festival (“Kurban Bayramı” in Turkish, or "Eid al Adha" in Arabic). They used to be slaughtered out in the streets, making for ridiculous scenes where you’d see an escaped sheep trot by as an angry man with a big knife chased after it, like it was straight out of an Emir Kusturica film or something. Now they’re mercifully butchered in designated areas, so we don’t have to see screaming mammals getting their throats slit. We already have Al Jazeera for that.

8. Pill Bugs – Also known as woodlice, pill bugs are those tiny gray critters you find in damp places – usually the bathroom – and get their name from the fact that they roll up into a ball when they sense danger. In fact they’re not insects but crustaceans, related to lobsters and crabs. The best part is that they eat their own feces and never urinate. If only all house guests were so considerate. Their main threats are insects, spiders, and three-year-olds who like to flick them around with their chubby little fingers.

9. Camels – Camels make for a very worthy religious sacrifice on special occasions, are always a good tourist draw for rides and photo-ops, and look great with a fez. Plus they’re tasty meat. The reason you don’t see more of them being sacrificed is because they’re also very expensive. One camel would go for the same price as two or three young brides in southeast Turkey. That’s a couple thousand dollars.

10. Pigeons – Also affectionately referred to as flying rats, pigeons serve a useful function in cleaning the city streets of scraps and replacing it with bird shit. Next time you’re in Taksim, buy some birdfeed from one of the old ladies and sit down for a bit to feed the pigeons. You’ll be helping out the old ladies, but you’ll also be surprised how relaxing it is to just sit on a bench and feed pigeons. It’s like looking at a fishpond or a fireplace; you start seeing patterns in random movements as the world rushes by in a mesmerizing trance. I assume so anyway. I've never actually done it.

11. Mosquitos – Not the cutest little animal around, but they are definitely the most satisfying animal to kill EVER. There’s nothing like a full-swing splat of the newspaper with a red streaking blotch of blood left in its wake on the bedroom wall. But you can always just get some repellent at your nearest store, use sleeping pills, or keep a fan on your face at night to at least avoid the dreaded vzzz factor.

12. Horses – Never mind those poor mangy inner-city cart-drawing beasts that Nietzsche would’ve wept over; if you really like the whole clip-clop thing and can tolerate a horse-fart in your face every now and again, go to the Princes Islands where horses roam free… under the whip of a carriage driver, of course.

13. Scorpions – These perfect little killing machines inhabit dank basements and construction sites and have been known to pop out from under people's pillows now and again. These diminutive beasts are such hard-asses that their favorite food is other scorpions, so if you ever find two of them, put them in a jar and enjoy a truly Roman spectacle.

14. Cows – Hera once turned Io into a cow and chased her across the Bosphorus. But myths aside, cows are today a more macabre presence in the city, i.e. they’re mainly encountered chopped up and dangling from meat hooks at butchers or with their viscera on display in liver stores (“ciğerci”). Cow’s brain is a delicacy, so here’s an easy recipe: boil brain for 15 minutes and serve whole on bed of lettuce with lemon, garlic, olive oil and black pepper. I apologize for what you just had to read if you happen to be a vegetarian... or a cow.

15. Donkeys – Although donkeys are the preferred form of transport for many of our city's Gypsies, you’ll mostly see them drawing carts full of produce in out-of-the-way neighborhoods, and just waiting to kick the shit out of you if you get too close. Try pulling around a cart your own weight for 10 hours a day and you’ll know why they’re so irritable. Apparently hundreds of people are killed by donkeys every year, so don’t jump on the back of one screaming “Yee-Haa” unless you’re Chuck Norris or a very experienced Gypsy.

16. Cranes – Enjoy a priceless moment with a cold beer and a panoramic view from a terrace as the sun sets over the majestic Golden Horn and you watch the graceful white cranes flying circles around hot air thermals above you. At least I think those are cranes.

17. Jellyfish – Anyone who’s peered over a bridge will have seen thousands of these little aliens, some of them the size of watermelons. I can’t think of anything else to say about them... I’m serious though, I once saw one as big as a watermelon.

18. Seagulls – There are few sounds more disturbing than that of seagulls mating. Every spring you’ll be awoken by these screeching air-borne rodents as they try to hump anything with a beak and webbed feet. They make for good tourist photo-ops on ferries though, circling around you as you take in a panoramic view with mosques, palaces and water all around, if you like that sort of stuff.

19. Fish – Istanbul’s favorite animal, especially when on a plate. Fish is the staple of every refined Istanbullu’s diet. Just walking along the shore or across a bridge, you’ll see hundreds of people with fishing rods in hand. Best served with lemon and eaten alongside rakı, mezes and arugula salad, fish restaurants (“balıkçı”s) and tavernas (“meyhane”s) are everywhere. For the former, try Kumkapı, for the latter, Beyoğlu-Asmalımescit. Good lord, writing about fish is boring.

20. Humans – This is by far the worst-adapted animal to Istanbul, or any city for that matter. Even they realize they’re no good, which explains why they complain about each other incessantly. They are closely related to chimpanzees, and are thus a volatile lot – at times excessively loving, and at times extremely violent. The rest of the time they mostly sleep. Although a diurnal species, many have developed nocturnal habits which they cater to by congregating in small dark spaces in excessive numbers where they proceed to sweat and rub against each other as they mesmerize themselves with flashing lights and repetitive sounds while performing clumsy mating rituals that involve jumping and shaking movements of varied coordination, and also “small talk” – a uniquely human trait that is roughly the equivalent of butt-sniffing for other animals. Be wary: Tens of thousands of animals die from human attacks every year – many of those victims being humans themselves. When approaching one it’s best to smile, extend your right arm, and hold out an open palm, thereby showing that you bear no weapon. They only fear loneliness and death, so if one of them annoys you, tell them to fuck off and go to hell.


Shall I compare thee to an artichoke? - 16 terrible Istanbul quotes

It seems the ship of fools has docked in Istanbul, and every visiting Tom, Dick and Harry has something to say about its geography, skyline, male brothels and killers who kill. Sometimes hackneyed or hallucinating, other times undersexed or intellectually challenged, the chroniclers of Istanbul range from professional authors to anonymous bloggers to Presidents of the United States. We’ve made a collection of observations that compare the city to everything from vegetables and prostitutes, to parts of the female anatomy. Here’s what we have to say about what they have to say… (By Vanessa Able and Attila Pelit)

East-meets-West, and intricately-woven tapestry clichés

Let’s start by getting over this once and for all: we know from primary school geography class that Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents, and that it lies along the Bosporus strait and encompasses the ‘natural harbour’ of the Golden Horn. Yes, it’s where east meets west, yes it’s a fabulous melting pot of contradiction, yes the bridges are a handy metaphor, yes it’s much like an intricately woven carpet, no there is absolutely no excuse for world-class writers, travel guides or anonymous bloggers to thrash out these clichés for the umpteenth time.

1. “The finest view of Istanbul is not from the shores of Europe, or from the shores of Asia, but from a bridge that unites them, and lets you see both.”
Orhan Pamuk, Turkish novelist (Mr. Pamuk, you're a Nobel laureate, so we know you can do better than that. This is the sort of quote a tour guide could come up with.)

2. “Ah! Where the Golden Horn meets the mighty Bosporus, where the seagulls flitter and dance above, there I sat longing for bygone days of grandeur and…”
Anonymous blog (One extra black mark to any post-Victorian writer who begins a sentence with ‘Ah!’)

3. “Istanbul is like an intricately woven carpet, a subtle blend of eastern and western cultures.”
From the home page of the “Let’s Go Turkey” website (Probably written by a likable yet underpaid web consultant who was told he had to write something on Istanbul by Friday. Clearly he did the bare minimum and pulled the lamest description he could find straight out of that part of his brain where things like pizza delivery numbers and names of characters on Prison Break are stored.)

Who’s been at the wacky baccy?

Turkey was one of the main suppliers of opium to the UK by the end of the 1800s, and it seems that many visitors of that era and since then have associated Istanbul with an intoxication of the senses, both metaphorically and actually. The following quotes can attest to the hazards of narcotics and their effect on human reason: kids, don’t do drugs! And here’s why:

4. “Istanbul is like an artichoke: when you are finished, there is more there than when you started.”
From ‘Sailing the Turquoise Coast’ by Richard Martin (Charting the probable etymology of this idea: “Hmm, let’s see, Istanbul is like a-a-a… carrot! No, that’s stupid. Istanbul is like a-a-a… potato! No, that won’t do. Oh come on, think… Istanbul is like a-a-a… like an onion! Yes! No, no, not quite… it’s more like a… hang on, I’ll think better after another drag on this blunt…”)

5. “Istanbul, oh, beautiful Istanbul! Oh, the faithful, mischievous, cross and beautiful friend of my sorrows, anxieties, madness and excitement, of my dreams and disappointments! Oh, the indispensable, never-ending affair! Oh, the who knows what number kind of love to be returned to its arms!”
Anonymous blog (This Ode to Oh is even funnier if you read it out loud in the voice of Ferris Buehler’s teacher.)

Same blog (I wish we could publish the entire article): “The tense relation in marriage having become dominated by friendship in time, got accustomed to through its sophisticated taste, and of the impossible-without-him-but-so-difficult-with-him-God! Situation... In spite of his Western education and Mediterranean manners, he is actually an Easterner... The best friend of my adulthood, my close friend, Istanbul.” (Ingredients: A sprig of Joyce’s Ulysses, a pinch of Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, a cup of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and a liberal dose of WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?)

Again, same blog (we can’t help it): “Istanbul and New York are similar. Actually, they are not similar at all.” (Yeah, I changed my mind, they’re actually different. But actually, no, they’re sort of the same. I don’t know, whatever, let’s just call it a paradox and move on.)

6. “The climate is delightful in the extremist degree. I am now sitting, this present fourth of January, with the windows open, enjoying the warm shine of the sun, while you are freezing over a sad sea-coal fire...”
Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu, 1763 (Either there’s been some quite drastic climate change in recent centuries, or the lady had partaken of too many smelling salts: early January in Istanbul with windows wide open? Delightful? Where’s she from, Antarctica?)

7. “Istanbul is like a city of ‘eyes’. The blue eye that appears to be designed for tourists and wards off evil; the star-shaped eye gazing from the crescent of the Turkish flag; the blue eyes of skinny cats slyly walking all around the city like protective spirits; and above all, the deep-looking, long-lashed, beautiful, large and black eyes of most Turkish men and women who are not shy to look in a manner that many a reserved Englander would not do...”
Alberto Manguel, Argentinian writer (Sufferer of surveillance paranoia.)

8. “There is a loud breaking of the waves / As the European culture slaps up against the Middle Eastern culture / As Christianity smashes against Islam / As the horse meets the camel.”
‘Hobotraveler’ (As hippie meets recreational drugs, and then smashes against some pen and paper.)

Get thee to a psychoanalyst!

If the skyline of Istanbul does not inspire a psychedelic episode in the visitor, then it could instigate terror of another variety; the sublimated psycho-sexual kind. Where Joe Bloggs sees an inoffensive dome, our depraved authors see giant mammaries; in the place of an attractive minaret or tower, Freud’s deranged patient sees a threatening phallus. The following writers might have done better to stay at home and spend their holidays working through their childhood traumas from the confines of a comfy couch.

9. “Take the skyline of Istanbul - enormous breasts, pathetic little willies... I was so scared I had to crouch in the bottom of the boat when I saw it.”
Angela Carter, English writer and novelist (Whose husband apparently has a lot to live up to.)

10. “We walked through the street of male brothels. I saw bardashes buying sugared almonds, doubtless with bugger-money – the anus thus about to provision the stomach, instead of the usual other way round.”
Gustav Flaubert, French author, 1850 (Flaubert unfortunately left no listing for this particular part of town.)

11. “Istanbul is like a woman who has been conquered often but still retains her charms.”
“Gateways To Turkey” website (What’s their motto? “Gateways To Turkey – A Website By Men, For Men”?)

12. “Istanbul is like a beautiful girl, she needs gentle and beautiful details, not exaggerated accessories, since she is already extremely beautiful without help of the accessories.”
Quote from an on-line forum (…not that accessories would actually make her look worse or anything, but she just doesn’t need them, well, not exaggerated ones anyway, I mean it would just make her look clustered, although earrings could be nice, but not those big loopy ones, maybe just a nice subtle pair of stud earrings, something to bring out her features, but not gold or anything, that’s too flashy… anyway, that's my pithy simile of Istanbul in a nutshell.)

13. “Istanbul is like a gorgeous prostitute that has been raped over and over and over again. But no matter how much they abuse her, no matter how much they fondle her, no matter how much they trash her, she will always be beautiful.”
Another anonymous blog (Okay Travis Bickle! It’s hard to ascertain what’s more disturbing – that whoever wrote this doesn’t mind putting it up on a website for all to see, that he once walked freely in the streets of this city, or that he added an extra ‘over’ to “over and over.” Either way, yuck!)

Who’s using the family brain cell?

So there’s the clichéd, the drugged, the disturbed, and finally there’s the plain daft: these might well be a case of, “If you’ve nothing clever to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

14. “Istanbul is like an Arabian Nights version of San Francisco, skylines out of a fairy tale, prayer calls from mosque towers, water everywhere…”
Richard K. Morgan, English writer (Guess who hasn’t read their compulsory freshman-year Edward Said? By the way, those ‘mosque tower’ thingamajigs are called ‘minarets', but that’s just a detail. And how many of them are there in San Francisco, exactly?)

15. Here's one by Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş, from the official website of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality: “Istanbul is like a black hole, it attracts everything to it...” (…and then crushes it under the weight of a gravitational force so powerful that even time ceases to exist, no light escapes, and all is darkness… much like one of our regular power outages.)

16. “More Muslims have died at the hands of killers than - I say more Muslims - a lot of Muslims have died - I don't know the exact count - at Istanbul. Look at these different places around the world where there's been tremendous death and destruction because killers kill.”
George W. Bush, President of the United States of America (Any comment here is like shooting dead fish floating in a barrel, but we couldn’t resist this one. After much expert interpretation and deconstruction, we think what the president was actually trying to say was, “These heinous attacks in Istanbul are further proof that the main victims of such cowardly deeds are innocent Muslims who are targeted by these murderers.” We do, however, like the creative use of the locative ‘at’ usually reserved for references to battlegrounds: at Waterloo, at Ypres, at Gallipoli, at Istanbul.)


Legends of Istanbul

Living Legends:
While Beyoglu is Istanbul’s infamous refuge for society’s misfits and outcasts, most of the personalities are your plain old run-of-the-mill bums, drunkards and idiots. But we found a couple of characters who have become famous by breaking the mold among already broken molds.

Is it a Bird? Is it a Plane? No, it’s…
…just a scrawny dork in a stupid costume. If you’ve ever joined the vacant-eyed hordes that yo-yo up and down Istiklal Avenue in Beyoglu without a care (or a job) in the world, then at some point you would’ve come across some guy walking around in a Superman outfit, as one might. Although his sallow cheeks, underdeveloped muscles and cigarette-stained fingers may belie his Man-of-Steel reputation at first sight, he nevertheless braves the street urchins tugging at his cape, the sarcastic smiles of youths, and the outraged looks of bourgeois passers-by with a lackadaisical dignity that could only be conjured by a super hero… or perhaps a deranged schizophrenic attention-seeker, take your pick. When I asked him whether he wasn’t pissed off that Spiderman was getting so much more attention than him – and whether he shouldn’t get back into shape as a result – he looked at me like I was hassling him, which I guess I was. I asked him why he wore his underwear over his pants, and whether anyone could recognize him when he wore eyeglasses, at which point he indignantly collected his cape and stomped off shaking his head and murmuring curse words under his breath… Pretty touchy for a guy who looks like he just did a gig at a seven year-old boy’s birthday party.

Well hello there, Dr. Meatballs!
On the same avenue where Superman secures the peace, you’ll find an amiable and polite old man dressed like a doctor, selling… wait for it… meatballs. That’s right, not slimming herbs or miracle ointments or holistic medicines, or even bogus aphrodisiacs… he sells good old greasy, fat, salty, cholesterol-packed meatballs. Oh yes, just what the doctor ordered. Needless to say, they’re delicious. Called Icli Kofte in Turkish, these meatballs are made with herbs, spices, rice and nuts, and coated with bulgur. The old man is known as “Doktor ötker” and has become somewhat of a legendary Beyoglu landmark. He sits behind his little stand called “Sabir Tasi” (Rock of Patience) just next to the street on which are found the SinePop and Emek Cinemas. Apparently he used to be a wealthy man who has since lost his money and is trying to pay off his debts by selling these meatballs. That would explain the name. Waiting to sell enough meatballs to both feed your family and pay off your debts would require the patience of a rock. So pass on by some day after 6 p.m. (around which time he usually sets up his stall) and help the old man out. Enjoy munching on those meatballs!

Legends of the Dead:
The ghosts of the dead who rise from their watery graves to wander the silent seabed of the Bosphorus; skeletons and skulls that inhabit the labyrinthine tunnels under the city… Now imagine all that read out loud by Vincent Price, and you’ve got yourself some ripping yarns.

Ghosts in the Depths Below
The fishermen don’t talk about it easily, but when the topic comes up, they have no dearth of spine-tingling stories of the ghosts they’ve seen out on – and under – the waters of the Bosphorus. Talk to a group of them and they’ll all corroborate (or perhaps just co-exaggerate) each other’s stories until you’re left stroking the goosebumps on the nape of your neck. They speak of a forlorn maiden with raven hair and a flowing white dress who floats amid the white mist that hangs over the still and silent waters as the first rays of the sun touch the surface of the sea. Some tell of the ghost of a janissary whose shining turban can be seen from the surface of the water as his lost soul wanders the melancholy sea floor below, endlessly searching for his massacred comrades. One of them even said he once talked to a ghost, late one night as he was on his way back to shore. He said it was the ghost of an old, powerfully-built man with completely white eyes who climbed aboard his little boat and proceeded to ask over and over if the fisherman had seen his beloved, Minure. He said the ghosts are not frightening, but pitiful, and that they are unfortunate souls who could never reconcile themselves to death, who were once either heroes (Ghazi’s), lovers (Ashik’s), or assassins and executioners (Jellat’s), and whose souls neither heaven nor hell would accept, nor the earth offer final rest. It was all very interesting… but I mean, come on guys, DRINK MORE COFFEE!

Tunnels, Skulls, Skeletons, and other icky things…
It sounds like a job for Indiana Jones: to discover the labyrinth of tunnels that are fabled to run beneath the surface of the city, containing the skeletons of hapless souls who were lost or banished to live in the dark, subterranean depths. The tunnels are thought to have been built over the centuries, secretly commissioned by Byzantine Emperors and Ottoman Sultans. Some of them thought to run beneath the Bosphorus, and even all the way out to the Prince’s Islands. Secret entrances are reputed to exist in the Cistern and also under the Grand Bazaar. Many believe these tunnels exist, and that there are even secret workshops belonging to various guilds (i.e. goldsmiths) who make all who work there or know about it to swear an oath of secrecy upon the Koran. Some say they’ve seen them and been in them, but that the entrances are sometimes changed to maintain the secrecy. There are legends of lost children who live beneath the city in these tunnels and who never see the light of day, of skeletons and skulls of those who’ve lived and died in the tunnels, or who were killed and whose bodies were hidden there (all of which apparently the government and municipality is aware of). Some say the tunnels are exaggerated, but do exist, albeit no more than 10 or 20 meters long – others say that they form a sprawling labyrinth which has been the death of many who have wandered in and been lost, and that it’s home to giant rats, enormous insects and poisonous snakes.

Legends of the Fall
No, Brad Pitt isn’t strutting around in the back streets with golden hair and unkempt stubble. We’re talking about the fall of the city to the Ottoman Turks under Mehmet II (the Conqueror) on May 29, 1453. Two of the most popular legends for Istanbulites have their origins in that most significant of days, and they both involve enough gold and riches to make your mouth water.

The Vanished Priest of Haghia Sophia
A legend that belongs exclusively to the Greek Orthodox community of Istanbul is that of the vanished priest of Haghia Sophia. According to legend, when the Turks had already breached the city’s walls and were crashing down the doors of the Haghia Sophia on the day of the conquest (May 29, 1453) the liturgy which was being given by a priest to the terrified worshippers inside was discontinued and the priest vanished through a door which miraculously appeared and closed behind him as he took with him the gifts and riches which were donated during the liturgy so as not to let them fall into the hands of the conquerors. It’s also believed he took with him the Holy Grail. According to a legend that is still believed by devout Orthodox Christians of the city today, the priest would return through the magic door to complete the unfinished liturgy on the day the city is reconquered and return the riches – and the putative Grail – back to those present on their auspicious day.

Gold, as in Golden Horn
Perhaps one of the most famous legends in Istanbul. Many Istanbulites believe that on the bottom of the Golden Horn is to be found a rich bed of gold, sunk into the silt and soil that has accumulated over the ages. It’s believed that as it became certain that the Turks would capture the city in 1453, the affluent nobles and other citizens decided to throw their gold and riches into the Golden Horn – including, apparently, the entire treasury of the Byzantine Empire! – rather than see it fall into the hands of the Turks. It’s believed the boat laden with the private riches of the emperor also sank as it was trying to flee. And as if that wasn’t enough gold to get you salivating like a chimpanzee at a fruit market, then there’s also the belief that the goldsmiths pour out the gold dust left over from their work into drains that empty out into the historic waterway (although it’s also believed that they have filters made of old carpets that collect the gold dust from those drains so they can use it again – it’s believed they have their own underground tunnels that run down to the shore for the purpose of collecting this gold dust). Before you grab your mask and snorkel there Shylock, try figuring out how you’re going to sift through a few tons of that earthly delight below.


Lights, Camera, Satisfaction…

Maybe the movies aren’t what they used to be, but there are still some gems in the city that capture the magic for cinephiles and romantics alike. So whether you want to lose yourself in the moment or just make out in the back seat, we review the best theaters for it.

Left: Emek Sineması, once (R.I.P.)

Remember the days when people dressed up to go to the movies, where they would be greeted by an elegantly dressed man in a bow tie before being led into a theater with an ornate gold-gilded proscenium, plush velvet seats, red-carpeted aisles, and a sophisticated crowd buzzing in anticipation of the up-coming feature? Neither do I. The last time I went to the movies I had to pass through a beeping metal detector (twice), have a man dressed like a cop pass a radioactive stick over my crotch, walk past cardboard cutouts of a smiling cartoon fish, and then be led by an apathetic teenager into a theater that had all the charm of a warehouse with sticky floors and a strange odor that seemed like a mix of everything but deodorant… I was then forcibly seated behind Mr. Dandruff and his hyperactive cell-phone, which, with its Hurdy Gurdy ring tone, was at least able to wake me up at regular intervals during the inane movie I had chosen to see featuring a star-saturated cast of over-actors in stupid costumes. No, the magic was not there. But don’t despair, because there are still movie theaters in Istanbul that have preserved a sense of quaintness, nostalgia, and – dare I say it – magic, all reminiscent of a bygone era. Almost all of them are in Beyoğlu (with the lavish exception of Süreyya in Kadıköy), and almost all of them are small theaters (with the grand exception of Emek), but they’re none the worse for it. However, before we give you a cinema-by-cinema run down, there are a few idiosyncrasies to Turkish cinema-going that every neophyte should be aware of:

First, unlike in most other countries, you have a seat number on your ticket and are required to sit in your allotted seat. So, if you’re going to do a seat switch, don’t do it until 10 minutes into the main feature, until which time people are usually still coming in. It’s embarrassing to be caught switching seats, because it's really awkward if someone claims your seat. You will only look like a jackass for arguing with anyone out of frustration, and end up feeling like a school kid that’s been reprimanded in front of the whole class. Retracing your sorry steps on the walk of shame back to your old seat amid snickers and mocking glances from those around you will make it all even more annoying... plus you'll miss the funny bit of the film with the sexual-tension-laden witty repartees between Keanu Reeves, say, and Sandra Bullock, for example, before they soon discover they're ironically mismatched soulmates, and you gag and wonder why you spent all that money to see that film.

Secondly, there is a ten-minute intermission during every movie, in every theater, because they still change reels here. Come exactly half-way, the movie is cut with all the delicacy of a guillotine as the first reel ends. It could be in mid-sentence, it could be during a car-chase or a big explosion, but the guy up in the dingy projector room working on minimum wage does not care. Neither does the apathetic management trying to make a few bucks selling crackers and tea at the cafeteria. Even if they don't change reels anymore, they still have a ten-minute intermission to sell aforementioned crackers and tea, I suppose.

Thirdly, most cinemas are not exactly run by aficionados with an eye for fine details, nor do they hire film lovers who appreciate the art form, the ambiance, the enchanted space that makes a fine movie theater. The film might be cut before the end credits even appear, the sound might be off for 15 minutes before anyone realizes, the door might be left open with fluorescent stairwell light streaming in, and the movie might be out of focus for minutes… So expect to find the same shabby standards in cinemas as you do elsewhere.

With that having been said, there are cinemas and theaters that are worth your while. Every one of them has a unique feel, and every one of them will make you pause, reflect, and look around for a second or two when you enter and take your seat. So, forget the shopping-mall multiplexes and make a day of it in historic Beyoğlu or Kadıköy, as you stop by a patisserie, catch a movie, go bargain shopping, and have a nice stroll with your significant other.

One of our favorites. You enter through a marble façade flanked by Hellenistic statues and dragons peering menacingly down from above. They usually show good art-house movies and stay away from the trashy blockbusters. The Alkazar and Asia theaters are elegantly decorated and make for a cozy movie-going experience. Tickets: 9 YTL
(0212) 293 24 66,
İstiklal Caddesi 179, Beyoğlu.

A dramatic entrance awaits you as you pass majestic marble columns in the historic Atlas Passage before entering a kitsch but quaint set of stairs lined with nostalgic posters of movies from the golden years of Hollywood that leads to an open white café area surrounded with pillars. They don’t play the best films here (they were recently showing The Village), but if you want a bit of entertainment and a nice little getaway, Atlas is unique. Tickets: 10 YTL
(0212) 252 85 76
İstiklal Caddesi 209, Atlas Passage, Beyoğlu.

Beyoğlu and Pera
You have to check out the hand-painted Beyoğlu Theater depicting a fantastic İstiklal Avenue mural, replete with winged horsemen, mythical figures, and maybe even the odd familiar face in a fable-like procession along the walls and leading to a stylish proscenium. Pera theater is also cute, but without the exciting murals of its sister theater. Also, they not only show relatively good films, they show the ones you may have missed months ago but wanted to see. Tickets: 9 million TL (9 YTL)
(0212) 251 32 40
İstiklal Caddesi 140, Halep Passage, Beyoğlu.

Situated in the historic Majestik building, Cinemajestic isn’t glamorous, but it has a certain grungy charm. You can have your coffee fortune or tarot cards read for free, or you can kill time playing games like backgammon while you wait for your show. The theaters are small and quaint, the movies range from mainstream to artsy, with the odd surprise thrown in every now and again. Good movies shown during festivals. Tickets: 8 YTL
(0212) 244 97 07
Ayhan Işık Sokak 10 (off Istiklal Caddesi), Beyoğlu.

The only place that still has that grand and nostalgic ambience, not just by virtue of its breathtaking theater and large screen, but even in terms of the people that work there, all of whom are kindly old retired people (“emekli” means retired). The manager, Hikmet Dikmen, has been there since 1956. His is a labor of love, and you feel the magic when you set foot in Emek. The award-winning theater’s architectural style is further compounded by its spaciousness. Although they normally show mainstream movies, they are also the cornerstone for all the movie festivals, which is when this magnificent venue really shines above the rest. One of the most beautiful cinemas in Turkey, perhaps even in all of Europe. Tickets: 10 YTL
(0212) 293 84 39
Yesilçam Sokak 5 (off Istiklal Caddesi), Beyoğlu.

With its historic building, its great acoustics (with Dolby Surround Sound) and spacious interior, Süreyya is one of the nicest places to catch a flick in Istanbul, and is certainly on a par with Emek. It’s well worth a trip to the Asian side just to watch a movie here. When you enter the theater you’ll wish you’d dressed up. Tickets: 9 YTL
(0216) 336 06 82
Bahariye Caddesi 29, Kadıköy.

Probably the cutest and most intriguing cinema you’ll ever see. You go in through a crummy street door in a mediocre building, and you might even miss the perfunctory sign indicating that there’s a cinema there. But as you descend the stairs, you suddenly find yourself in a Jan Svankmaier set as you enter a room full of character and lush colors, totally covered with nostalgic posters and photos from the golden age of Turkish cinema. You feel like you’re in a private film club that’s been set up just for you and a select group of people. And when you proceed into the theater through a velvet curtain, it’s as if you and your friends are sharing an intimate gathering in someone’s living room. You get the urge to strike up conversations and discuss the movie with those next to you. The seats are essentially wooden, the carpets are weathered, the screen and projector are old, but it’s all so fun. Plus they only show good movies – or, in the words of the proprietor: “Movies that leave you feeling enriched after having seen them.” Little tip: Look up the semi-circular stairwell after having entered the main building, just before you descend the stairs leading to the cinema. Tickets: 8 YTL
(0212) 293 68 00
İmam Adnan Sokak 10 (off Istiklal Caddesi), Beyoğlu.