Sitting in the shade of a leafy plane tree, sipping iced coffee from a tiny sidewalk café stool and chatting with local Uni students, you could easily forget you were in Istanbul. If felt instead, like Hampstead Village, or Notting Hill, or any other trendy, bohemian, inner London café culture enclave. I’m so glad that the name of this cute-sounding residential suburb, near Üsküdar, had stuck in my head as a place worth visiting.
From my base in Kadikoy, gestures from local shopkeepers kept me pointed in the right direction (on the main road opposite side from the waterfront and main bus area) for the small white dolmus vans headed for Üsküdar. A 2.50TL fare had me on my way to Kuzguncuk via Üsküdar. Stopping at the T-junction Üsküdar waterfront area, repeating the word Kuzguncuk with a lost expression brought lots of finger pointing in a right-hand direction from fellow passengers. The dolmus driver chipped in with some finger-walking gestures and an estimate of 15 minutes (on beş dakika ).
It’s an easy stroll from the Üsküdar waterfront to the cute little suburb of Kuzguncuk. On arrival, I was greeted by the call to prayer from the central Kuzguncuk mosque. Tucked in, behind the main street, were slightly steep, leafy cobbled lanes, lined with tightly-packed, brightly coloured timber houses, trendy sidewalk cafes, restaurants and (ekmek) bakeries. A young, buzzy crowd, looking like a university campus, filled the sidewalks with animated chatter, laughter, snacks and drinks. English was spoken wherever I opened my mouth.
One young Turkish guy, originally from Ordu, who joined me at my tiny sidewalk table, told me, in great English, how happy he was to have found this leafy residential retreat, where 2 bed flats can be had for 1500 TL/month, a world away from the chaos of mainstream Istanbul. “I drive 15 minutes to my office, no trains or trams, my friends are here, my work is here. This area, Kuzguncuk, is my safe little world. I miss the nature of my Black Sea home, but finally I’m happy here in Istanbul.”
I understood. Kuzguncuk is indeed a tiny, peaceful, village-style oasis, tucked away in the southern shadows of the Bosphorus Bridge where you feel that you can actually stop, breathe and relax again in Istanbul. I found myself contemplating how many other lovely nooks, crannies and idyllic retreats must also exist, like in London, in this seemingly chaotic, and sometimes overwhelming mega-city.
A leisurely summer stroll back to Üsküdar had me back at the waterfront ready for another first – to discover Ortaköy, another must-see Istanbul suburb that stuck in my head, via the Üsküdar to Besiktas ferry.