Living Like a Local in Arnavutköy Istanbul

1 August 2016

Arnavutköy is a beautiful old fishing village nestled on the Bosphorus Strait. Famous for its village lifestyle, old Ottoman wooden mansions & seafood restaurants … it has a natural calm rhythm of its own. Now an upmarket suburb of Istanbul, its bordered by the buzziness of Bebek & elite Etiler … playground to the rich & young at heart.

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to house sit for a lovely UK family & their beautiful cat, Butterscotch. Our open plan apartment was a great little oasis … with balcony, views, pool & cool green trees. An absolute joy to retreat to after exploring the craziness of Istanbul on 40c hot summer days.

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A wonderful location Arnavutkoy was full of surprises waiting to be discovered plus it has the best of tourism Istanbul right on its doorstep. 20 minutes on the metro & you arrived at Taxim Square, Istiklal Caddesi & Galata Tower. Whilst 20 minutes on the bus along the waterfront delivered you to all the funky cafe & restaurant districts of Ortokoy, Besiktas & the grand Dolmabahce Palace. From there a easy 10 minute tram ride from Kabitas to Sultanahmet … the heart of the old quarter with the fabulous Spice Markets, bustling Grand Bazaar, beautiful Blue Mosque, intriguing Basilica Cisterns, inspiring Hagia Sophia Museum/Church/Mosque & the fascinating Topkapi Palace.

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What we loved most about Arnavutköy was living like a local … grocery shopping, cafe dwelling, having haircuts & pedicures plus visits to the vet … you name it we did it! Not much English was spoken so we armed ourselves with a few essential words, a range of hand gestures, a big smile & our crazy sense of humour.

Food shopping was a treat … whether it was charading at the butchers to get a shoulder of lamb or being confused when ordering minced beef at the deli (it’s all minced freshly for you so you buy a chunk of beef or lamb & then they mince it on the spot) … or buying fruit & veg at the local store (they were a little put out when I repeatedly touched, squeezed, flicked & smelt all their produce before buying!)

Wednesdays were a highlight for us as the growers market would fill a vacant block and all the locals came out with their trolleys to buy up big. There was always lots of tasting, teasing, joking & pictures taken on our part. All the growers seemed quite young & were more than willing to entertain you while you wandered and bartered.

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Expresso & backgammon were a major pass time for all the men folk morning, noon & night. The narrow alleyways were encroached upon by a sea of table & chairs as the sound of rolling dice & laughter echoed through every street.

Being an old fishing village, the narrow lanes criss-crossed & meandered their way up the steep cliff side to a variety of residential areas. The seaside has retained its traditional character with the original Ottoman wooden mansions dating back to 13th century. There’s also a number of relics that lay crumbling as their owners can’t afford to fix them so they just deteriorate away adding further character to this ancient village!

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Breakfasts on the Bosphorous were a must. ANY Cafe & Bar does a fabulous Turkish breakfast platter & sensational expresso. It became the go to place for our daily coffee shot. Down the road at trendy Bebek there’s a very busy little waterfront cafe, Bebek Kahve, that all the locals jostle to get a table at. Food is great & the atmosphere very lively & buzzy. Again very little English is spoken but that only enhances the experience.

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There seemed to be a daily ritual for locals on the Bosphorus: morning was for swimming, afternoon was for fishing & evenings were for strolling. Walking the Bosphorus from Arnavutkoy to the Europe Fortress (Rumeli Hisarı) at the 2nd bridge was delightful in the cooler temperatures of night. Surrounded by locals strolling, chatting & eating ice cream, you’d hear the boat horns from all the marine traffic & fireworks were also a regular feature!

The range of Baliks (seafood restaurants) on the banks of the Bosphorus was amazing. From the Golden Horn all the way to the Black Sea there was endless choice. Every twist & turn in the road … they lined the coast! What’s more … they were all crowded! Where did all these people come from? 14 million population in Istanbul may have something to do with it. Plus the Turkish love their seafood (who doesn’t?) especially the sardines. Our favourite seafood, calamari & sardines, was at Adem Baba . They are an institution in Arnavutkoy & well worth a visit for a medium price range meal.

Good Turkish home cooking was on hand in every alleyway, you just had to follow the locals. Every form of kebab possible – Sis or Shish kebabs are skewered meat, Sis Kofte are the minced meat skewers & we all know the infamous Doner kebab. Served on flat bread or on a plate with salad … it’s a daily feature of living in Turkey. Some of the cheapest & best Sis Kebabs we had was at our, local Emir Kebab, on the 3rd street back from the Bosphorus. This is where you’d find all the home cooking nooks at cheap cheap prices. 2nd street back was more medium priced restaurants including the Adem Baba, whilst seaside was full fine dining.

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Entertainment was never very far away from Arnavutkoy … 500 meters up the hill from our apartment was the very cool ‘Backyard’ establishment , one of the many upmarket bars, night clubs & restaurants in the funky cosmopolitan area of Etiler … a favourite playground for Istanbul’s elite!

Our 4 week house sit in Arnavutkoy Istanbul has been a highlight in our travels to date. It helped us fall in love with the local culture of Istanbul, not to mention our beautiful charge … Butterscotch. At just 12 months old his kitten antics never ceased to make us laugh. His toy of choice … a squishy pink ball … he would play fetch up & down the stairs .. never tiring! Paper bags were another favourite & would amuse him for hours as he fought his way through them. Check out these pics. Then there was the midnight stalking & pouncing on feet only to end with him stealing space on your pillow. We loved all our play & snuggle time with Butters … he’s one of a kind!

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