It’s funny how fast this city is changing… Just as I thought I was grasping the gist of the Tunnel district, I found myself face to face with a new challenge. The Kuledibi Mahallesi in Galata, the Neighborhood beneath the Galata Tower in translation, has become an extensive neighborhood with so much to do whether you are a local or tourist.
The district around the Tower is locally known and referred to as “Galata”. Galata used to be a calm place with commercial artisan shops, like the plumber, key-maker, lamp seller and other crafts people. Since about a year or so, Galata has become the new Beyoğlu -the haven of bohemian elites and artists. It is an artsy place nowadays with designer boutiques, studios, vintage shops, ethnic stores, ethnic cafes and local restaurants.
Walking down the Istiklal Street until the Tunnel area, one arrives to the tip of the iceberg. From here there are two ways to delve into Galata. One is to keep walking straight down amidst the music stores and ethnic shops; the other way is to take the Serdar-i Ekrem Street. My personal favorite is the latter. Turning left and down the alley next to the Gloria Jeans Coffee Store at the Tunnel, and walking past the German High School (an old missionary school, now a private high school providing top quality education in German language) there is the Serdar-ı Ekrem Street. Turning right into this street and walking straight will take you to the tip of the Tower. I like this street’s bohemian vehemence and astute energy. It is never crowded with socializers. There are occasional passers-by like me, few construction workers, few curious tourists and the residents of this street. The social opportunities on this street (there are indeed some) are catered to those living here mostly. I walk glancing over to the Galata Sarkuteri and check out new food and delicatessen arrivals; spook my nose around the Mavra Cafe (that is frequented by locals all the time) and have a coffee with their home-made pastry; and continue along the way checking out window stands of small designer boutiques there.
Taking the path down through the music stores is enriching in other ways. Walking straight down the Tunnel, there are fruit juice street vendors, variety stores, music stores, the locksmiths etc. The commercial life continues here amidst the new wave of trendy energy and tourist flocks.This area is especially interesting if you are into music. Lale Plaque Store there sells high quality, old and modern music cds. The owners are very knowledgeable people. Tell them that you have been to a concert last week at the Convention Center, and they will tell you who played and what, and then will make a recommendation for your next purchase based on your input of like-dislike.
As you arrive to the main square –right below the Tower- you will spot Kiva Han, a very good public restaurant. Kiva Han serves no alcohol, but has indeed a fascinating selection of home-cooked, Turkish style meals. Furthermore the menu is changing everyday, making you feel rushed to come back again.
A little beyond Kiva Han, still around the main square, are festivals every now and then. During Christmas there is usually the Galata Fashion Festival. In reality it is more like a fashion bazaar or a kermes, rather than a festival. There are around 10 to 15 tents, each allocated to one designer or a team of designers for them to openly sell their garments to the public at a little more than affordable prices -the truth behind this bohemian quarter, it is not cheap…
On one side of the main square is the Anemon Hotel with a beautiful terrace cafe / restaurant and a beautiful view of the city. It is worth a ride up to this terrace, which would also serve as a nice recline from the busy day’s activities. Order a fresh juice of pomegranate or orange or a mixture of both. It sure is refreshing…
Out of Anemon and down again to the famous Camekan Street. This street has recently become the new “place-to-be”. It is a narrow street with many stores and a few cafes, but is very famous with both. Lastik Pabuc, Istanbul’s latest and only boutique sneaker store, is placed here on Camekan Street. It has only been less than a year since their opening and these guys are already selling stuff over to Texas… Owners are both very much into sneaker culture themselves. They are selling not only sneakers, but accessories that goes with sneakers, t-shirts and books about the sneaker culture as well.
On the way to Lastik Pabuc, the glamorous windows of both Paris Texas and Second Chance overtakes you… In Second Chance there are amazing vintage bags and dresses, making you want to have a sleepover there. Second Chance was initially opened in Bebek, and then moved to the popular Camekan Street. Its model owner Ahu Yağtu hand-selects the items she is selling.
If you are on a shopping diet, like myself, walk down fast to Cherry Bean Coffee for a cup of Americano. These people brew their own coffee and make their own chocolate and have an amazing and very cute coffee store right next to Lastik Pabuc. Hoping you are not on a regular food diet as well, I will recommend a cup of Cappucino and a slice of chocolate.
Fortunately, neither Camekan Sokak nor Kuledibi Mahallesi in general are “only fashion” districts. There are also many amazing galleries, ceramic stores and stores selling more oriental stuff. It is possible to walk up and down and out and in Camekan Sokak looking at these other stores before hitting further down to Karakoy. Down at Karakoy, the fish market look seductive. There are artisan fisheries next to the market, and it is possible to buy fish from the market and eat it there at the artisan fisheries –where they cook your fish for you and hold no grudge against you for coming with your own fish (if you go without your fish, you can still eat fish). But if you say that you need to go on all sorts of diet… I’d say think twice =)
[Image of Galata Neighborhood: Public Domain on Wikimedia Commons; Other images myself of the Galata Neighborhood and the Square]