We're having a bit of a cold snap here in Izmir, and from what I can tell from my friends' Facebook feeds, Istanbul's having one too. I don't mind it though because I know that in no time the heat will descend upon us here on the Aegean and I will be whining and whinging about how hot it is.
But the chill coming off the water these days does remind me of a lovely trip I took a while back with a good friend of mine in Istanbul. It was late summer, the heat was stifling and we escaped it by heading north to Çengelköy, a laid-back suburb on the city’s northern Asian shore.
Çengelköy is not the Istanbul most tourists know. There is no hustle here, no pushy salesmen, no “Yes, please, do you want to buy carpet?”. This is a place where locals come to escape the city’s oppressive summer heat or celebrate the start of spring and unwind before the start of another busy week.
Just getting to Çengelköy is half the fun: Board a ferry at either Arnvavutköy or Bebek and drink in the view of Istanbul from the Bosphorus. (On Sundays, take a ferry from Beşiktaş to Üsküdar, then a taxi or bus.) When you disembark, stroll through the small streets, taking in the local butchers, sweet shops and used bookstores.
But undoubtedly what everyone comes to Çengelköy for is its famous café -- the Tarihi Cinaralti Aile Cay Bahcesi -- that allows you to bring your own breakfast while waiters scurry around in figure eights, skillfully doling out tulip-shaped glasses of Turkish tea from heavy silver trays.
There’s not a tourist in sight in the entire tea garden, just Turkish families, young couples, and groups of friends enjoying the Bosphorus breeze on a steamy August morning. Some people lay out red-and-white checkered tablecloths and open plastic containers of cheese, olives and sliced tomatoes. But many more will load up on savory pastries and sımıt, a sesame-seed bread ring, at Çengelköy’s fine bakeries to have with their tea.
For something truly special, visit Seval Pastanesi, Çengelköy’s oldest bakery, which specializes in French-style macaroons and savory petit fores. Don’t leave without trying the salty corn, feta cheese and dill pastry (called mısır petit fore in Turkish).
I won't be back in Istanbul again until next month, and I am afraid there won't be any time for a leisurely trip north, but I've already got my eye on Çengelköy for the summer, for one Sunday morning when I get a hankering for some cool Bosphorus air and a macaroon.