To avoid using the cliche “off the beaten path”, I will go ahead and say that when traveling, my husband and I end up staying in places that are not usually visited by too many other travelers. We have had really good luck so far, enjoying the spots we have chosen over the more touristed areas. There was the fantastic time we spent on Osa Peninsula, one of the least-visited areas of Costa Rica; and we really appreciated the location of our hotel in Rome, in the residential Tuscolano neighborhood. We continued with our tradition and veered off the common path for a portion of our stay in Istanbul, despite advice from others who have been there and even some “experts”. Our decision to go with our gut and not follow the masses once again proved to be worthwhile.
Istanbul is divided into two main areas: the Old City and the New City. The Old City is where the major historical attractions, like Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, are located. The New City is the financial and business center of Istanbul, its skyline consisting of new, modern high-rise office and residential buildings. The EDITION Istanbul hotel, where we stayed for four nights, is located in the New City, in the Levent neighborhood. Good luck finding helpful information, if any, in the guidebooks or online about Levent. All I could find out before arriving there is that Levent is the financial capital of Istanbul, and that there is a massive, modern shopping mall. When people who are familiar with Istanbul asked where we were staying and I told them, the reactions I received ranged from, “Oh, I don’t know where that is,” to, “Oh, you don’t want to stay there.” Why? Because it’s “far from the tourist attractions”.
Most times, I prefer to stay “far from the tourist attractions”, especially in a place like Istanbul. It is an enormous city with so many other areas to explore. Furthermore, when I visit a new place, one of the most important things for me to do is get a glimpse of modern life. Yes, I appreciate the historic sites but what is most interesting to me is how people are living now.
The Levent neighborhood in the New City is the perfect place to experience modern living in Istanbul. We took a lovely walk in the area around our hotel, mingling with the locals and chatting with shopkeepers. We bought and sampled the most divine pistachios and fruit/nut mixes from a small grocery. We stumbled upon a little place with what looked like gigantic pies on display in the front window. They looked delicious; I had to find out what it was and if it tastes as good as it looks. We went in and learned that what I’d been drooling over is known as börek, a flaky pastry pie stuffed with ingredients such as spinach or plain cheese. Mark and I grabbed a couple of slices and sat on a bench to enjoy the börek and the sunshine. It was delicious.
The huge, fancy mall I mentioned earlier… it’s called Kanyon. It is a neat place to see if only for the architecture – and for the high-end fashion that I certainly can’t afford. There also are more familiar (and affordable) stores, like Gap and Crocs. One whole level of the mall provides more dining options than you could ever hope for. We didn’t buy anything, other than drinks at Starbucks, while at Kanyon, but checking out the trends and the stores, and shopping alongside hundreds of Turks and their families was just the kind of experience I hope for when I travel.
Down the street a bit, and right across the street from The EDITION, is another mall named MetroCity. It’s not as fancy as Kanyon but it sure is big! I am still amazed at the numbers of levels and stores in that shopping center. It is also home to the hugest food court I have ever seen. And it was packed!
I’m glad we stayed in Levent. We were still able to visit all the tourist attractions – and then some. We rode the public transit system everywhere. It was extremely easy to get to the Old City from Levent via the Metro. An added bonus for us was that the Levent Metro stop was literally steps from the entrance of our hotel. So, if planning a trip to Istanbul and you have time to spare, don’t overlook Levent or other neighborhoods that may not be on the usual tourist’s radar. Those areas “far from the tourist attractions” turned out to be my favorite parts of Istanbul.