The Perks of Touring with a Local

by Diego Salvatierra

Walking down the central pedestrian street Istiklal Caddesi/credit: Diego Salvatierra

Although I haven’t seen many of the main tourist sites (just yet), on my second day in Istanbul I got a small glimpse at the city through local eyes. Pınar Zevkirlioğlu, a Turkish friend of mine and third-year political science student at Istanbul University, had promised to show us a bit around the city she calls home.  So after lunch, Eli and I travelled to Taksim Square, one of the city’s main plazas, to meet up with her. We began walking down the famous Istiklal Caddesi, a lively avenue vaguely reminiscent of European downtowns, or perhaps Buenos Aires. Pınar then led us into a small open space, the ornate entrance to the catholic Church of San Antonio. This awe-inspiring basilica, where even Muslims sometimes light candles, felt like one small sign of Istanbul’s bewildering cultural diversity.

We walked on through dusty side streets until we came to Galata Tower, a 70-meter-tall monument of medieval architecture. Once we reached the top, we glanced at 360-degree vistas of Istanbul and began to get some sense of this city’s breathtaking scale. Although the Tower was packed with tourists, we later escaped the throngs and followed Pınar’s lead into a seemingly unassuming café. To Eli’s and my own surprise, we rose four or five floors up a door-less (yes, door-less) wood-paneled elevator into a terrace. Sipping our first Turkish coffees, we enjoyed a view of the sea and of the vibrant Taksim neighborhood. Courtesy of Pınar, we also learned about the tradition of Turkish coffee fortune-telling: once you finish drinking, you flip your teacup onto the saucer, then wait for it to cool and for the coffee sediment to trickle down. Once you raise the cup, the patterns left on it and on the saucer represent your fortune and whether your wishes will come true. Although all I saw was a brown coffee blob, professional fortune tellers can apparently be eerily accurate.

Walking to take the tram back, Pınar showed us one last thing: “Midia Dolma” are small, rice-stuffed, delicious mussels sold on the streets of Istanbul literally 24 hours a day. You can get one for a lira or less, and they are found on small carts all over the city. After that, we said goodbye to our friend, and thanked her for being our guide for a few hours. Besides the interesting places she showed us, it was great to have someone our age to talk to about Turkey. It helps us remember that the perspective of Turks from our generation may be different than that of the older people we will often meet with.


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