Got it. What else do you remember?
Definitely, I would advise a trip on the Bosphorus River. It's very, very beautiful. Istanbul is on both sides of the river. What the Bosphorus divides is Europe and Asia. I would suggest going to smoke a nargile, which is a water pipe, which is what the Turks do. There's one great place, Corlulu Ali Pasa Medresesi, and that's a cool spot to go and smoke a water pipe. It isn't actually tobacco. I don't know what it is exactly. It's just kind of hot smoke. I think it's made from some kind of herbs. It's certainly harmless. That's a great hangout. It's in a 300-year-old former religious school. In Turkish, it's called a medrese.
Where are some good places to eat?
The best restaurant is called Leb-i Derya, and it's got amazing views of the city and of the Bosphorus. It's got really good food, and it's got great atmosphere, and it's owned and run by two women who used to be on the national basketball team. There's a lot of grilled meat and fish and barbecued meat, and things like hummus and beans and rice, and it's spiced in a really good way. Again, it's kind of a fusion of European food and Asian food. There's another good bar/restaurant, which is called 360, and that has a really huge outdoor terrace overlooking the city and the Bosphorus. For me, it's all about views. Traveling, I love views. Istanbul has great views. You see all the mosques and the high-rise buildings. It's just that mixture of modern high-rise buildings and ancient mosques. There are hundreds of mosques - they cover the city's skyline. That's what makes it so beautiful. Do you want to know more restaurants?
There's a more kind of underground place, and it's called Galata Evi, which used to be the old British jail, and it's since been converted into a restaurant serving traditional Georgian food. It's run by a very eccentric couple, and the woman will often sit down at a piano upstairs and start to sing traditional Turkish songs. And people sometimes bring instruments to join her. She's not necessarily a great singer, but it's a great atmosphere. This is off the beaten path, and I'm not sure it's been written about before. Do you want to know about Istanbul's nightlife?
The best place is called Babylon. It's very good for jazz. They play jazz and funk from all over the world. The owner even brought Sun Ra, who was a singer, to Istanbul. All of these places I've mentioned are in a district called Beyoglu. The food is just great. This is everywhere in Istanbul. You drink this alcohol called raki. It's kind of a liquor. Delicious. You eat fish. The thing they eat is called meze - the Greeks have this, too - and it means "mixed appetizers." So they bring a little plate of olives and sardines and cheese. Kind of their version of tapas.
What are the people like?
Very, very, very hospitable. Yeah. Incredibly hospitable. Hospitality is a really important part of their culture. If you go in someone's home, they give you tea and food. We met an American who lives there, Paxton, and he's a director and a screenplay writer. He's lived there for 10 years. He was the person who showed us around and introduced us to Turkish people, because he's lived there for so long and speaks fluent Turkish. The thing that really struck me was their hospitality. They're so generous and warm.
Did you get outside of Istanbul and explore Turkey?
Yes, and there's a lovely little village on the Asian side called Kuzguncuk. I know that there are some really old Greek churches and Armenian churches, and there's an old synagogue. It's great to visit there. It's a little fishing village, and it has great fish restaurants nearby. Oh! And there's another place, Buyukada, which is called the Big Island, and it's about an hour-and-a-half ferry ride from Istanbul. I spent the day there. They have old mansions there, and Greek and Armenian monasteries and churches and synagogues. And there are no cars on the island, and that's what makes it really romantic. You take a horse-drawn carriage around the island, or you can rent a bicycle. Very, very romantic. There's a great hotel on the island called the Splendid. It's over 100 years old. The beaches and the islands of Turkey [offer] some of the greatest beach holidays that you can have in Europe. It's a pretty first-world country. It's not difficult to navigate. Very cheap local taxis. You can hail a cab in the street. And they're metered taxis.
With so much to do in the country, it makes sense that Turkey invented the steam bath, or the Turkish bath.
The great one is the Cagaloglu Baths, built in the 1700s. What's unique is that they've been doing it since the Middle Ages. They have massage, body scrub, the whole thing.
I loved your hellion-like character in The Constant Gardener. She was so adventurous! What would she do in Turkey?
She would look for injustice and try to put an end to it. There are victims of poverty and injustice everywhere. So she'd go looking for trouble.
I bet she'd find it there, right?
Oh, yeah. Of course.
MARK SEAL is an American Way contributing editor. His work has also appeared in Vanity Fair, Esquire, Playboy, and Time.
American Airlines offers codeshare service to Istanbul on British Airways and on Turkish Airlines. For more information, visit www.aa.com and click on About Us/Codeshare Partners.
american airlines offers codeshare service to istanbul on british airways and on turkish airlines. for more information, visit www.aa.com and click on about us/codeshare partners.