Arrive at KeVe, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a magic garden. Located on the very edge of Taksim, Istanbul’s hippest shopping district (we highly recommend the walk here from Taksim square) and housed in a 19th century open-aired courtyard, this little restaurant is cannily decorated with fairy lights, wrought iron chairs and a couple of resident cats. The whimsical décor warrants a visit all on its own, so the airily light cheese and spinach tortellini, mint lamb and perfectly pitched drinks are a great bonus.
Another good bet is The House Café, also in Taksim. The freshly-baked bread is loaded with olive oil and super delicious, the mezze platter is large enough to feed a greedy family of four and interesting enough that you won’t want to share, and the basil, mozzarella and cherry tomatoes pizza (we know, we know, when in Turkey… but this is really good pizza) stands up to anything you’ll find in Brooklyn.
Plus, both places have plenty of vegetarian options, a major bonus in Istanbul.
KeVe, Tünel Geçidi 10, Beyoglu, approx 25 Turkish lira/person*; The House Café, İstiklal Caddesi Mısır Apt. No:163, Beyoğlum, approx 20 Turkish lira/person.
Istanbul is absolutely fabulous to shop in, which explains our credit card’s current near-coma condition. In Taksim, you’ll find the popular European brands (TopShop, Mavi, Diesel) jostling for space with hip boutiques run by 20-somethings sporting skinny jeans and perfect hair. For traditional amber jewelry, carpets and souvenirs, hit the shops in the Sultanahmet (old city).
One of our favorites goes by the unlikely name of Robinson Crusoe. We stumbled across this quirky bookstore while making a beeline for a pair of hot red stilettos in Taksim, and were enchanted by the elegant library ladders and old, leather-spined editions lining floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Forty minutes later, we emerged with a uber-cool Manga comic of Shakespeare’s Richard III in English and a coffee-table book featuring kitschy Turkish art, killer heels completely forgotten.
Also stop by the Arasta Bazaar. Skirting around the Blue Mosque, this is a smaller, more pleasant version of the chaotic Grand Bazaar. Bargain hard (think Colaba Causeway), and you’ll find plenty of treasures to take home.
Robinson Crusoe, Istiklal Caddesi 389, Beyoglu; Arasta Bazaar, Near Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet.
Locals will tell you that 360 is old news, but it’s a must-see. The open-aired terrace bar, located smack-dab in the centre of Istanbul, gives you an incredible view of this enchanting city, with its mosques and turrets, high-rises and sugar-cube houses, all tumbling over the Bosphorus shores. Be prepared to splurge though – at this tony lounge, you’ll have to shell out 30 lira for a 12 year Chivas on the rocks.
360, 163 Istiklal caddesi, Taksim, visit www.360istanbul.com, starts at 15 lira for a drink.
Roll your eyes all you want, but this is one tourist activity worth doing. The Bosphorus ferry cruise takes about an hour and half each way, and makes seven stops. Drink in the great views and sea air, and get off at the last island (Anadolu Kavagi) to make the 20 minute trek up to the Yoros Castle. Your calf muscles will scream in protest, but the view once you get there is worth every twinge of pain. If you’re vegetarian or unwilling to give in to tourist-trap restaurants, pack a picnic lunch. Enjoy it while watching the Black Sea meet the Bosphorus from the crumbling ramparts of an ancient palace, and you’re guaranteed to feel like a king!
Bosphorus Ferry Cruise, get on at the Main Port, Eminonu, Istanbul, 20 lira/person.
Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk is the chronicle of his life, and his love affair with his hometown. The Nobel-prize winning author takes readers on an intimate, meandering history of the city, which can sometimes be frustratingly slow. Manage to plow through it, though, and you’ll find yourself in love with Istanbul even before you get here. Once you arrive, Pamuk’s writings will help you connect instantly to the ethos of this great city, cradle of ancient civilizations and a world capital of the future.
Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk, Crosswords Book Stores, Rs 248.
*One Turkish lira is worth approximately Rs 34.