our week in Kadıköy
After spending two weeks in the Fatih district (on the European side), Jackie and I moved to an Airbnb in the Kadıköy district, on the Asian side of Istanbul. We were told people often expect the Asian side to be more Asian. From my experience, Kadıköy and the surrounding areas, particularly Kunduzcuk, seemed more European than Fatih.
We had walked through part of Kadıköy during a food tour the previous week and we were excited about changing to a quieter residential area. We arrived at our new home, a 100-year-old, three-story townhouse with a lovely courtyard outside our kitchen door. With three floors (kitchen and half-bath on the first floor, living room on the 2nd, and bedroom with a full bathroom on the 3rd), Jackie and I had to employ a bit more strategy when deciding where to work from and what to bring along, to avoid climbing the wooden stairs unnecessarily (Jackie was better at the planning than me).
We ventured out the first night and discovered several restaurants, a bakery and a grocery store within a five-minute walk from our home. We frequented the restaurant and bakery (their cookies were delicious, along with their bread), and we think the shopkeeper recognized us on our third visit while we pointed to our favorite items.
As it was still Ramadan, the neighborhood was quiet until sundown, when people began to break their fasts. The final day of Ramadan was 4/20, with Eid Fitr starting the next day.
From Brandeis University’s Guide to Religious Observances:
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is one of the most sacred times for Muslims. During this month, Muslims observe a strict daily fast from dawn until sunset. They are not allowed to eat or drink, not even water, during these daylight hours. Fasting is a private act of worship engendering nearness to God, but it is also a form of spiritual discipline and a means to empathizing with those less fortunate. The fast is broken at sundown with a meal called iftar, often shared among family and friends. Many will gather after nightfall in the mosque for special communal prayers called tarawih.
Practicing and non-practicing Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan when families gather to celebrate, visit and share meals. The streets in our neighborhood were deserted on the first morning, and most shops and restaurants were closed. It felt strange to be in a city of 15M+ and see few people or vehicles moving through it (except for the cats and dogs).
Exploring the Asian Side of Istanbul
Jackie had booked another walking tour of Kadıköy, and our guide, Deniz, was surprised to see how quiet the areas were that he normally frequented with his friends. That was until the afternoon, when, what seemed like every family in Istanbul, decided to head outside to enjoy the weather and hit the cafes, restaurants and coffee shops they’d not been to during Ramadan.
Our first stop was for tulumba, a min-churro street desert drenched in syrup. They’re simultaneously soft and crunchy, and I devoured most of them. We also stopped for a traditional orange juice/pomegranate juice mixture which Jackie enjoyed on her first visit to Turkiye. We next stopped at a restaurant for dürüm kebab (a meat and veggie wrap) and lahmacun ( a crispy flatbread with meat) before heading to a nearby mosque. Along the way, we saw several murals, each one more intricate than the last.
Since the tour was just us, we were in a great position to ask Deniz all of our questions, many of which had to do with Islam, which I found fascinating. Deniz showed me the inside of a local mosque (Jackie didn’t have a scarf to cover her hair, so she stayed in the courtyard) and explained Fridays are the most important day for Muslims to pray.
The Imam (prayer leader) conducts prayers from a raised, ornately carved wooden chair during the week. On Fridays, he leads the daily prayers from a seat fourteen stairs above the floor (representing the 14 prophets of Islam). For more on Islam, please visit History.com.
Mosques also have graveyards, typically reserved for the builder and sometimes the financial backer of the mosque. For example, a woman who loved rainfall paid for the mosque we visited. By request, her grave was in an open dome area surrounded by plants and trees. We also learned the street entrances to the courtyards of older mosques had one step lower to collect rainwater for the community cats and dogs.
I also learned the importance of water and cleanliness in Islam. You must wash in a specific order, beginning with your hands, before entering a mosque for prayer. You must also remove your shoes before stepping on the carpeted area at the entrance. The carpet in every mosque has a 5” to 6” pattern strip extending the width of the carpeted area, which repeats several times in a row. The striped patterns point towards Mecca, so worshipers always know which direction to pray.
Before heading to Kuzguncuk and Uskudar, we walked along the edge of the Bosphorus to get a better view of the Maiden’s Tower. One of Istanbul’s iconic landmarks, the Maiden’s Tower, has a storied history (the original tower dates to the 12th century) when the Byzantine Empire ruled Turkiye.
When we reached Kuzguncuk, we climbed three sets of stairs up a steep hillside. Deniz insisted the view would be worth it, and after the first 30 stairs, we had our doubts, as we took a break before huffing and puffing up the next set of nearly 40 stairs. Once we reached the top, we were believers, with incredible views of the Uskudar district and the Bosphorus.
From our vantage point, Deniz pointed out where a mosque and Armenian Orthodox church co-existed on the same property at the bottom of the hill. The church donated the land for the mosque’s construction, provided the mosque dome was not higher than the church’s dome.
After resting at the top of the stairs, we descended the hillside and found a park with a community garden and 50 plots allocated by lottery to the area’s residents. Winning families can grow fruits and vegetables to eat and share, but they can’t be sold.
Several people walked by with ice cream cones as we left the park. Deniz knew exactly where the shop was, and we were soon slurping up delicious, creamy ice cream.
Sunset on the Bosphorus
Near the end of our time in Istanbul, Jackie booked a sunset cruise of the Bosphorus Strait. While the weather was cool and windy, our time on the water was fantastic. Our cruise guide, John, was born in the US to a Turkish mother and an American father. During his youth, he spent summers in Istanbul, eventually moving to the city in 2019.
The views from the water were stunning. My favorite spot was passing under the 15 Temmuz
Şehitler Köprüsü (15th of July Martyrs Bridge) with two enormous Turkish flags outstretched in the wind. We also met people from the US, Abu Dhabi (by way of Belgium), and Canada (by way of New Zealand).
Jackie and I enjoyed our time in Istanbul and we’re excited to see what lies ahead in Portugal!
If you’re planning a visit to Istanbul consider using our Turkey scavenger hunt!