chris chavez’s istanbul, turkey
posted: April 25, 2014
The spectacular, historic Istanbul, its famous Ortakoy Modque in the background
Istanbul, you will quickly discover upon arrival, is raw and chaotic. Yet the world’s third-largest city still manages to be accessible and friendly to the non-native. Learn a few basic words and locals, overjoyed by your efforts, will go out of their way to help you, the yabanci (pronounced “yabanji” meaning foreigner, it actually means “stranger,” but no need to get hung up on details).
Of course, if you find yourself in Istanbul you will have already gone through your trusty travel book(s) and dog-eared the pages that describe the must-sees, like the Blue Masque, Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish), The Grand Bazaar, and many palaces. But after you have seen them all, then what?
Here’s what I tell my friends they simply must do.
Take a walk on the Asian side
Crossing the Bosphorus by boat is a rite of passage during your time in Istanbul
Most visitors head straight to the European side of Istanbul, but be sure to catch a ferry across the Bosphorus (also known as the Strait of Constantinople) to the city’s young, vibrant Asian side.
Visiting the Asian side will give you a great perspective of what everyday living is like in this massive city. Its heart, the Kadikoy district, is riddled with tiny streets lined with traditional coffee shops, cafés, restaurants, fish markets, spice sellers, coffee roasters, and just about everything you never knew you wanted to try.
People sit at sidewalk-tables and sip strong concoctions of Turkish coffee or tea, chat with friends, or just watch as the world strolls by. It’s a cool place to spend an afternoon.
Day trip to the Princes’ Islands
A fantastic day escape from the bustle of Istanbul, nine islands make up the Princes’ Islands, also known as simply The Islands
The Princes Islands are free of cars and are easy to navigate by bike (you can rent them there), on foot, or by horse-drawn carriage—yes, that’s what I said, a horse-drawn carriage (they function like taxis on the islands).
You can walk the side streets, find a place to swim, or just sit at one of the many outdoor cafés and enjoy amazing fish and a cold beer. Make sure to check boat times going back to the city or you may find yourself stuck on the island for the night—though there are worse places to be stranded.
The famous hammam, or Turkish bath, is a method of both relaxation and cleansing
Ahhh…. Lying on hot marble getting soaked with hot water and scrubbed down. The bliss speaks for itself!
Treat yourself to a few hours scrubbing it out in a traditional hammam. There are many around the city to choose from ranging from local neighborhood favourites to the ones in 5-star hotels. For a recommendation, ask your concierge or a friendly local.
Admirable points of view
Two suspension bridges span the Bosphorus Strait, and each boast spectacular views of Istanbul
Two bridges span the Bosphorus, and the view from them at night is one of my favourite views in the world. From those vantage points you get a sense of Istanbul’s massiveness, its ancientness, and how colourful it is. Since you aren’t allowed to walk across either bridge, you’ll have to seize the view by taksi (taxi), dolmus (see below), or bus.
Move like a local
Cheaper than a taxi and a far more authentically local mode of transportation, the dolmus derives its name from Turkish for “stuffed,” though legally these mini-buses can’t be overcrowded
There are many ways to get around the city, and one of the coolest options—and the most authentically local—is in a bus-like mini-van called a dolmus (pronounced “dolmush”). People get on and off anywhere along the route. Here’s how it works: get in, tell the driver where you are going, he tells you how much it costs, then you pass your money forward to whomever is in front of you and then they will pass you back your change—trust is required here! There will almost always be someone on the dolmus that speaks English and who will be eager to help you, so relax and enjoy the ride!
Oh yeah, yoga it down
Yogis enjoying the garden at Chris’s Cihangir studio
A message to all traveling yogis: you have a yoga home in Istanbul at my studio, Cihangir Yoga! We have two locations, in Cihangir and in Istinye. The Cihangir studio is just a few minutes walk from Taksim Square; the other location is also on the European side and worth the journey for its amazing garden and Yo-Café, which serves fresh juices, teas, and home-style Turkish food. You can spend an entire afternoon just chilling out in this garden, and I usually do!
FYI, most of our teachers speak English and the ones that do not will still try to, so no need to stress the language barrier. You will be well looked after.
You gotta eat…and drink!
Ciya (pronounced “cheeya”) in Kadikoy, is a spectacular, down to earth restaurant with food from the southeast region of Turkey. It is so popular that it has several locations on the same street. Look for the most crowded one. That’s where you should be.
Bambi Cafe in Taksim is one of the first places I ever ate in Istanbul. It is a simple café that specializes in traditional street style food: Doner, toast (melted cheese sandwich), freshly squeezed juices, etc. It is simple, cheap, good food (in fact, I had two toasts on my ride home today). There are many places like Bambi all around the city, but you will notice that Bambi Cafe is always the busiest, since it’s a local favourite.
Mikla in Taksim is the place if you are tired of simple food and are looking for a culinary experience. This place is a bit pricey but it is worth the splurge. It takes Turkish cuisine to a whole new level, and the view of Istanbul is breathtaking.
With Michelin-starred food and a killer view, if you splurge on one meal in Istanbul, make it at Mikla
Global yoga teacher Chris Chavez discovered the practice in the mid-1990s, while touring as a professional musician in Ireland. One of lululemon’s original ambassadors, Chris is now based in Istanbul, Turkey, where his teacher trainings and workshops bring together students from all over the world to deepen their yoga practices, go upside down (occasionally), and have fun. Check out where in the world Chris is teaching next here, learn more about his teacher trainings, or visit the website of Cihangir Yoga, the yoga centre Chris co-owns where you—yes, you, the intrepid adventurer reading this!—have an open invitation to join us on the mat.