Suitcase and World: Taksim.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


hen I was reading up on things to do and see in Istabul, Taksim was always mentioned. Taksim is a neighborhood on the European side of the city known for its restaurants, shops and hotels. It is considered the heart of modern Istanbul and for some reason, the tourist books encourage you to visit the place so I put it on my itinerary.

I decided to head to Taksim after my visit to the Dolmabahçe Palace because according to the guidebook, I could get to Taksim via funicular from the Kabataş tram station. Exiting Dolmabahçe, I walked back towards Kabataş. For the life of me, I could not see the funicular - I was expecting to see an above ground cable car. Following the signs, I was led underground instead. Huh?? I bought my token and followed the signs to the funicular. Where the heck is this funicular? A single train came, it said Taksim on the front, the doors opened and so I got in. Am I in the funicular? Maybe, we start below ground and somehow surface. Nope. Less than five minutes later, the train came to a stop, the doors opened and everyone exited. The sign with an arrow pointing to the right said Taksim Meydanı ("may-dah-nuh" which means "square in English"). The crowd was going in that direction so I followed suit.

I had indeed arrived in Taksim admittedly still wondering about this funicular thing.

Above ground, we exited at one end of Taksim Meydanı Square. Nothing to look at really. An empty square and lots of vehicular traffic - typical city streets.

My destination in Taksim was Istikal Caddesi ("jah-des-shee" which is the Turkish word for "street"). With no map in hand, I knew it would take me some effort to find Istikal but no worries. I quickly found myself distracted by the smells of döner kebab. Waiters were at their ready to tempt you to enter their restaurants. It was time for lunch so I picked a restaurant, sat down and ordered a döner durum which is warm shaved spit roasted meat, cool lettuce tomato and warm salty french fries (yes, french fries) all rolled up inside a Turkish wrap that is very similar to lavash. The one I had was then pressed for a few minutes and so the outside was lightly toasted. I washed down bites with sips of freshly squeezed apple pomegranate juice. Oh was all unbelievably delicious.

With a happy stomach to guide me, I quickly discovered that Istikal Caddesi was just the next street over - easily recognizable because it is closed to vehicular traffic with the exception of the tram tracks that run down the middle of the street. Shops, restaurants, banks and other commercial establishments line both sides of the street.

Even the quiet side streets were lined with restaurants and shops. Istanbullus enjoy dining outdoors and the weather here most certainly invites that. I did a bit of window shopping and even stepped inside a chocolate shop to indulge myself with a huge (1 lb?) bar of dark chocolate filled with hazelnuts. Oh yum.

I have to admit, I really was not in the mood to buy anything as most of what I saw in the windows was stuff I could buy back home. No point wasting luggage space filled with stuff that I can get at home. So walked by all the clothing places. Inevitably, I found myself drawn to the food places. Here they tempt with displaying food right at the window. Oh so hard to resist - especially the buffet style places.

If I lived here, I would never want to cook at home (why bother with all these restaurants to go to) and I would probably weigh a whole lot more than I do now.

The one thing I could not resist was the börek ("ber-rek") which are pastries made with phyllo dough. The dough is first boiled in large pans for several hours, then a mixture of feta cheese, parsley and oil is scattered between the layers. The pastry is then baked in an oven til golden brown. You can get it to go so I did - one order of börek which is probably enough to feed a small village or one greedy Asian woman :-)

Of course, my nose also detected the sweet smell of roasting chestnuts. The smoke signals were calling my name. I couldn't resist and bought 100 grams which is only about 6 or 7 chestnuts.

By now, I had decided I had had enough of Taksim. I retraced my steps back to the funicular stop though I still wondered where the damn funicular was. Back down underground, I popped my token into the turnstile and headed towards the train platform. On the way, I saw the pulley - a really big pulley. I looked at the platform and realized that it was sloping downwards. The train that I rode up on was indeed the funicular....just not the typical above ground funicular that I'm used to seeing. Silly me.

The screeching sound of the metal cable is it wound backwards to pull the train up the hill signalled its arrival. Back on the train and down the hill to the Kabataş tram station.