Last week, I introduced my new nostalgia column, "Turkey's Hidden Top 10", where I go into some of the hidden gems in the beautiful country that is Turkey. You can check out the 1st iteration here. The previous issue talked about another old neighborhood in Istanbul that houses some of its famous history and cultural diversity.
In honor of summer, this blog is about the Turkish Riviera. Turkey has a long beautiful coastline with some of the most beautiful and active spots on the Mediterranean. If you're looking for a great way to map out your trip here, check out this post.
If you're looking to get a combination of the adventure and relaxation this region supplies, look no further than three little towns: Xanthos, Letoon, and Patara.
This UNESCO Heritage site is a waymark on the Lycian Way, which is the Appalachian Trail of Turkey; but older, hotter, shorter, and with a nicer finish. Xanthos is famous because it was the capital of the Lycian Federation until the invasion of the Persians in the 4th Century BC. What remains are the Lycian Acropolis (the Roman one as well) and many ornate Lycian sarcophagi, the most famous being the Harpy Monument.
It's a surprise there's this much left because after the Lycians found out the Persians were coming, they murdered all the women and then committed mass suicide, with only about 80 families opting out.
Another UNESCO site, Letoon has a history that is closely tied with Xanthos. It's the next stop on the Lycian Way after Xanthos and is an important religious site. You can find Hellenistic Temples and inscriptions written in Lycian, Greek, and Aramaic. Some even detail a visit from Alexander the Great.
The greatest lore surrounds Mithridates VI of Pontus. Wanting to clear a grove of trees on his way to sacking the city of Patara, he has a nightmare about the importance of the trees and the repercussions if he were to cut them down. He relented and they won the battle. The importance of the grove lasted so strongly and deeply to those that lived there that its inhab-itants blessed the site every generation for over 1000 years and was even christened in the 700s.
Patara was the primary port of Lycia, you can see why with their 11 miles (18km) of continuous beach. A dip in the pristine water is definitely called for if you've just finished the Lycian Way. However, the city has its own historical significance. It has many ruins - like a 40 ft. tall lighthouse from the 1st century AD - but it's most famous as the home of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus. This makes Patara a significant pilgrimage site, but I'd prefer just going to the beach.
A middle-aged man passes under a vivid yet rustic sign that reads BÜYÜLÜ FENER, which fits like a puzzle piece among the colors of cafes and apartments that flood this block in Balat. He pushes open a glass door that rests under a row of rainbow stained glass. Once inside he’s greeted with a welcome from the owner, Gediz, as he scans the walls and shelves. This isn’t your typical antique shop, which pop up all over the neighborhood.
A Unique Antique
Not just because Gediz is the only female owner in the area, but because instead of the other shops where you feel like you’re walking into an old Ottoman tea house, here it’s like you’ve entered the Art Director from Turkish Mad Men’s supply warehouse. On the walls are rows of small tube TVs, record players, and typewriters flashing with vibrant colors. One of the record players spins a song from the 1960s that only the Turks seem to recognize.
A Piece of our Past
The man’s eyes stop on an unassuming collection of retro cigarette packages. “Can I buy just this one?” he asks. Gediz tells him of course, but that it’s not worth much without the rest of the collection. “That’s fine. They used to sell this box in Cyprus when I was a kid there. So, when I saw it it immediately brought me back to my time there as a child.”
And that’s why people come to Büyülü Fener (magic lantern in Turkish), not necessarily to find the next rare find of the antiquing world, but to bring back a fond memory or experience. Gediz told me that what really separates Büyülü Fener from the other antique stores is that hers isn’t one; it’s a nostalgia shop.
Balat a Microcosm of Praxis
In a city that is rapidly modernizing, the gentrification can be dispiriting. And, when your commute consists of passing block after block of Soviet-style apartment buildings, you want to find the colors, diversity, and romance of the storied Istanbul. That’s what propelled Fener-Balat to become such a hotspot for tourists, expats, and locals alike. Büyülü Fener fits this neighborhood aesthetic perfectly. It’s what drew Gediz here in the first place. Cihangir had become flooded with overpriced housing and Karaköy had been overrun with chain stores, making a small business nearly impossible. But here, every business is personally owned and new people are moving in droves, but they haven’t destroyed the neighborhood’s character. In fact, as long as they adapt to their surrounding culture they can help enhance it. The neighbors across the street are Bulgarian immigrants on the first floor, Syrians on the 2nd, and from eastern Anatolia on the 3rd. Imams walk the street and wave at the employees from the nearby Ecumenical Patriarchate. Women with head scarves will chat with their neighbors in mini-skirts. Gediz says there’s a weird balance where if you don’t judge, no one will judge you. This is why Fener-Balat is where the city on the cusp of two worlds analogy comes alive. When you live in a sterile apartment and work a sterile job, it feels like the old Istanbul is dead, but you can still find it here.
I always assumed that antique shops were a staple of the neighborhood, but apparently, I was wrong. Büyülü Fener was only the 5th and opened a little over 2 years ago. Now there are 19, with that number changing every day. While the store may be new, Gediz tells me that opening it has been her dream since she was a teenager. After daring the corporate world for many years, while simultaneously filling her apartment to the brim, she decided to pursue her dream to open her own place and live the laid-back lifestyle of Balat.
A Bit of Nostalgia
She began collecting when she was 16. At first, it was anything that interested her, but then it slowly morphed into attaining collections as well. The evidence is on display everywhere. There’s an eclectic record collection with many hailing from Turkey’s rock heyday in the 1970s summed up with a Barış Manço print in the front row.
Apparently records are making a comeback and many people who buy them don’t even own the players. However, she still sells them, and they all work because Gediz and different specialists team up to restore all the gadgets and electronics in the store. She will buy paintings and photos that barely get settled on the wall before they’re sold. Retro gas lamps are probably the highest selling item for locals, but tourists love trinkets because they can fit them in their suitcase. There are collections of old soda bottles, miniature alcohol bottles (still full), postcards, and a slew of things that you didn’t even know would make you feel nostalgic.
The nostalgia bug hits me hard when I see an old tin toy car that looks like a larger version of a Hot Wheels toy. Across from the entrance, you’ll notice a giant one, like a Cadillac version of all those Fisher-Price commercials I saw as a kid where you actually can ride in the car. Not one to show bias, a miniature burgundy stroller, perfect for a toddler to play house in, rests opposite the car and in front of the original signage for Balat Hastanesi.
I bee-line my way towards the sign and begin sweeping through the box of Swiss and Turkish postcards underneath it, I can’t help but read all the messages people wrote their loved ones that now live on through the curious eyes that pry into them. It seems every item in the store has a story. A special one sits in the corner of the store on a 1950s era stove top. An old cast iron sauce pan lacquered in floral patterned paint looks banal at first. But, Gediz tells me these were exclusively made in Western Europe and discontinued there about 40 years ago with the development of lightweight cooking materials.
She lifts up the top to an engraved “Made in Turkey”. “It’s the only one I’ve ever seen in all my years of collecting that was made here,” she says. So, maybe the rare finds are here as well.
The Business of Antiquing
I finally ask her how she knows what to buy and that it will sell? She says it’s impossible to predict what items people will buy, so she gave up trying. Instead, she buys things that she’d want to decorate her home with and that sometimes that’s beyond just an eye for commerce. “It’s hard for me to sell some of this stuff because I like it and I become sort of attached to it,” Gediz tells me. She then shows me her favorite item, a toy robot resembling R2D2 and when you open its head there’s a cassette player inside. I ask her how much she would charge for something like that. “It’s not for sale. This is still part of my personal collection.”
If you think you can pry it from her, come to Büyülü Fener in Balat from 10-7 any day but Monday and try.
This article was originally printed here on yabangee.com. All photos are the property of the photographers.
If you've seen The Martian and thought you too would like to colonize Mars, you actually don't need to go as far you'd think. Matt Damon flew out to Wadi Rum, Jordan, which is also the home of the famous Lawrence of Arabia during WWI. There are numerous sites, both historical and geological, but the real jewel is the insight that you gain into the Bedouin culture and lifestyle.
We signed up with Wadi Rum Nomads who are one of the top rated companies because the tours are informative, comfortable, reliable, but mostly because the people who organize it are friendly and open about their lives in the desert. Our guide, Atillah, told us about chasing his pet camels into Saudi Arabia, growing up as one of 30 kids, and hunting. My favorite was about the tiger that once got loose in the desert.
There's different trips and varying lengths you can do from riding a camel or jeep for a morning or up to nine days of walking. We opted for a day of visiting all the major sites followed by a night camping under the stars. The walking treks can be intense as it's hot and climbing sand dunes are much harder then they appear. But, if you still want some of that, you'll get it. Jeep tours are 95JOD for 1 person or 55JOD if you're 2-4 people.
Below, are some of the awe inspiring spots that the Nomads team will show you along the way.
The first stop on the tour ties is connected to Wadi Rum's most famous story, that of T.E. Lawrence or more famously known as Lawrence of Arabia. The Brit who helped lead the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans in WWI. For the Bedouins, the spring has been a major life force for centuries. Now, the water flows through piping, but you can climb the rocky hillside and simulate what the Bedouins used to have to go through to get a drink. With gorgeous views of the Red Desert ahead of you it's a great introduction to the beauty and strain of the valley.
This quick jaunt is a break from the sun, but also protects ancient Arabic inscriptions and ancient Nabatean hieroglyphics. The mountain appears daunting; however up close it's a quick walk to see the inscriptions that put into perspective the history and alien nature that desert holds in all its nooks and crannies.
Abu Khashaba Canyon
The hardest walk of the day tour, but still a moderate hike. Words don't really do justice to the experience - walking through the middle of sandstorm, the only respite being a lush oasis encapsulated by a silver haze. The thing I least expected about Wadi Rum (and Jordan, in general) was its palatial size. Unlike pink sand beaches in the Bahamas that are beautiful but manipulated on Instagram, out here everything was bigger and more striking than I'd seen before.
Um Fruth Rock Bridge
The most visited locale in the preserve, this bridge is worth the vertigo-inducing climb. It's also much easier going up then down. However, the view is worth it. A 30 meter climb with nice panoramas, make sure you arrive early as it can be difficult to get a shot of you on your own.
This dune is the perfect spot to watch the sunset. Some days there will be those elusive watercolor-like skies. However, ours was almost like a negative photograph. There were all the colors of the desert streaming across the ground with white and silver streaking through the sky. A truly unique view, that taught me those cotton candy skies online aren't the only immaculate sunsets. Weather permitting around here is where you'll sleep.
The full day trip will also bring to a massive red sand dune, which is a bit arduous, but worth it to sand board down; Lawrence of Arabia's house, where he stayed to endure the tough desert winter, but more interestingly, the home was supposedly built by Nabateans; and also the Little Bridge, which is smaller than Um Froth, but fun to climb around nonetheless.
The most beautiful bit of the evening came after an unexpected disappointment. Weather prevented us from sleeping out under the stars in a bivouac tent, instead we were brought to one of the guide's uncle's camp where we were treated to Bedouin music and home cooked food, as we fell asleep beneath the stars or in a makeshift cabin. A magical way to end the night.
When you need to walk off all the delicious food, it's best to stay local and look at the capital of the city's illustrious street art. One of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, it maintains its character while embracing the city's graffiti takeover.
During celebrations many people wave about the colors red, green, and yellow. They have a beautiful hue when the flags wave about and, not coincidentally, these are also the colors of the Kurdistan flag so many Kurds hoist their flags during the parades. In many parts of Turkey this practice can be extremely polarizing. The tenuous relationship between the Turkish government and the Kurdish people has the bloodstains of terrorism and military intervention drowning the diplomacy that is barely treading water.
In episode 2, Chris and I delve deeper into the idea of living in Istanbul by talking to long time resident, Tarik. He runs the website yabangee.com, which is a resource for all things Istanbul. Chris and I have been contributors over there for the past 2 years, so we knew Tarik would be a great person to ask about what's really out there in Istanbul for those of us who stayed past the usual vacation period.
You can listen here or find us on iTunes by searching Into Istanbul.
Giving us a rating and a comment (or even just a listen) would really mean the world to us. If you missed our 1st episode don't worry you're not going to miss any vital information, but we do provide some more background on what we're doing.
So, if you want to check that out you can find it here.
When I travel and meet people, the ones I’m most envious of aren’t the ones living opulent lifestyles nor the people who are hustling to follow their professional aspirations. I admire the ones who have nothing holding them back
Beer in Istanbul is a touchy subject for a lot of expats, who generally fall into a few camps when it comes to preference. You have your beer snobs that scoff at the idea of drinking Efes or Bomonti, or pretty much anything else you can buy at a grocery store for less than 8TL. We get it, your favorite microbrewery brews on their organic farm on the top of some mountain in Vermont with hops plucked by the hands of virgins; we just don’t want to hear about it every round (who am I kidding, I sometimes fall into this group). Then there are those who drink alcohol like water. Mosquitos don't go near them because they smell permanently of rakı and they will guzzle down whatever swill you throw at them. Finally, there’s the rest of us, who are just tired of having only one or two choices at a pub that are actually from the same company (look it up — Efes owns and brews most beers in Turkey) and occasionally like drinking something a little different. Thankfully, it seems that because of rising beer prices in Turkey, there are two new Turkish options that are becoming more prevalent and reasonable (if you can find them): Gara Guzu and Pera. I’m going to try to guide you to your best option regardless of whatever camp you fall in.
Gara Guzu — which is how “kara kuzu,” or black sheep, is pronounced in a regional dialect — has two styles available right now: Amber Ale and Blonde Ale. Both are a little easier to find than Pera. With that said, I’ve still only seen the Blonde Ale at bars (and only at Joker No. 19 and United Pub, both in Beşiktaş). It ran me 12 TL, but at Koç Market in Cihangir I found both for 5.50 TL. If you really want to try these beers on a night out, the aforementioned pubs have them, as do a few other places in Beşiktaş. I’ve also seen them in Urban Cafe, located off of Istiklal. Finally, you can try your luck in markets around Taksim and Beşiktaş that carry larger liquor selections.
As for their flavors, I prefer the Blonde Ale. In fact, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It has a crisp and slight citrus flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste. It’s a lighter beer with a matching golden color that goes down smooth. The blonde has a 5% ABV so you can put a few down without feeling too heavy. It’s probably best when the weather starts heating up. I suggest eating it with lighter fare: chicken, seafood, salads, and greens. It also can take the bite out of spicy foods.
The Amber Ale is also pleasant. It would be a somewhat run-of-the-mill option in parts of the world with a heavy drinking culture, but here it’s the Dom Perignon of amber ales. It’s got a bitter and hoppy taste, but it’s not overpowering. It has a 4% ABV, and is a good choice if you’re tired of the sweetness of Efes and want something to go with your burger, wings, or anything fried.
Pera, which was allegedly the original name of Beyoğlu, was a little harder to find, but you’ve got more options when you do. They produce a saison dubbed 2. They also have a malt that’s more of a kölsch called 1. Finally, they have 3 (big surprise on the name) which is a smoked beer. The saison has a similar taste to wheat beers like Hoegaarden or Blue Moon. The others are styles that you probably can’t find anywhere else in Istanbul. I will warn you now: These last two aren’t for the casual consumer and definitely are more geared for the beer snobs of Istanbul.
The first one I tried was the kölsch, which they labeled as a malt. It has a light golden color like other kölsches and is 4.1% ABV. It’s sweet and smooth when it first goes down, but is followed by an aftertaste that’s eerily similar to how Icy Hot smells. It didn’t leave a great impression on me, if you couldn’t guess, but I’d definitely take it over Miller Lite or something similar. At a store, I found a 50 cl can of this beer for 5 TL. Compare that to the bar, where it was 17 TL. So I recommend picking this one up at a store and drinking it at home with some spicy food.
Next, I tried the smoked beer. Again, this is definitely for the niche consumer. I haven’t seen this one in any bars yet, but I did find it at Tekelist in Beşiktaş (along with the others from this article) for 5 TL. It has an amber color with an ABV of 5.1%. The flavor was difficult for me at first because it tastes like you’re drinking the grease from a grill. However, it grew on me. I’ve heard that if you eat smoked or grilled meats with it, the meat offsets the heavy smoked flavor, which this definitely has. Underneath that you can find a roasted malt, which tastes quite good if you can get over the smokiness.
The last one I tasted was the saison aka Magic Quality Beer or, simply, 2. I’m biased because I like this style in general, but found this to be the most palatable of the bunch. It’s 5 TL for a can at Tekelist and 5% ABV. It has a sweet taste and a bright gold color. It matches well with any food I can think of and if you’re a fan of more traditional flavors, this beer should be your go to out of Pera’s selection.
The Best of the Best
Overall, my favorite was Gara Guzu’s Blonde Ale, with Pera’s 2 following close behind. However, I’ll acknowledge that personal preference is individual, so I included a chart to show which one of these you might prefer:
Note: The blonde ale is closest to a wheat beer. The amber is closest to an IPA, American macro lager, or pale ale. The Kölsch, probably Pilsener (with a bite) and the smoked is nearest thing to a porter or stout you’ll find here. If you get sour on the flow chart, you’ll probably want to get the saison.
Where to Find Them
If you know any bars that have a large selection of microbrews there’s a chance they have one of these. Also, you can do what I did and call or message the place on Facebook or check eksisozluk.com. People upload on there pretty regularly with the locations they’ve found these beers. Please comment below if you know places that have these beers on offer — help me out!
A version of this article was originally posted here.
P.S. - There have been some major developments in this department in the past year, so I will do some "research" and post my findings.