An Escape At Home: Istanbul

Traveler: Rafael Cemo Çetin

Tell us about Istanbul, not only as your home, but a city in which you still find special places to escape to?
The Grand Bazaar is a place I cherish. I feel the spirit of ancient Constantinople echoing there. I design and produce my jewelry there. I’ve been going for years now and have become what is known as an “esnaf” which basically means a local artisan. I love the chaos, the hidden cultural gems (both literally and metaphorically), hunting for antique Ottoman and Byzantine pieces, the complimentary Turkish coffee and all the other glamour the city has to offer.

What are some of your favorite weekend escapes in the city?
If Büyükada counts as the city I highly recommend checking out the Splendid Hotel on the Princes’ Islands. It truly is a hidden gem that most people don’t appreciate. The food is exquisite and the design is something out of a 1950’s hotel from the Italian Amalfi coast.

Who do you escape with?
Usually my girlfriend, sometimes with friends or family.

What are some of your favorite stays in the city?
I have an old soul and prefer anywhere that has a more of a retro character and aesthetic. The Büyük Londra Oteli or Pera Palace are two very original spots. Although they seem somewhat abandoned and melancholic, they have a magical charm that beats any 5 star resort or shopping mall.

Tell us some of your most near and dear places at home.
Taking the ferry from my home in Arnavutköy to the old town is always a treat. The Bosphorus breeze can sometimes splash a glitter of sea water on your face as you and the seagulls Travel across Eurasia into the Golden Horn. After I finish all my errands in the Bazaar I like to go to a small restaurant inside the spice market called Pandeli. A lot of 1920’s Hollywood stars used to dine there like Audrey Hepburn and even Atatürk, the founder of modern turkey.

Could you share an unforgettable memory in the city?
Too many… be more specific 🙂

Most surprising things about Istanbul?
Istanbul is a city of contrast. You’ll see a hurdaci (which is a trash collector) drive right by a Maserati. I constantly find myself in the middle of different worlds and classes. I skateboard at the Beşiktaş square once or twice a week and therefore hang out with street guys like glue sniffers, rappers, punk… you name it. Same thing goes for my travels to the Grand Bazaar. I like to get my hands dirty in order to properly produce a piece of jewelry or hunt for an ancient coin.

Favorite restaurant(s) or food in the city?
Any fish restaurant.. Chacha Balık.. Arnavutköy Balıkcısı in Yeniköy.. Pandeli in the spice market. Elbet for some good meat.

What are the must tries you would recommend to first time visitors?
Ferry ride on the Bosphorus, a Turkish breakfast, the Grand Bazaar, maybe watch the whirling dervishes perform, fish restaurants by the sea, a night out on the town (preferably post corona 😉 and all the other cliche things this magical city has to offer.

Any hidden gems you could whisper to us?
Jump into the Bosphorus from Akıntıburnu Arnavutköy! I do it every morning. You don’t know what you’re missing. Nobody takes advantage of the sea here. It’s actually surprisingly clean!

rafael cemo cetin istanbul escape

What keeps the city fresh and interesting?
It’s a city of constant juxtaposition. It’s filled with contradictions. It seems chaotic and hard to navigate, but once you figure out the loop holes and establish yourself as an Istanbulite, it can be one of the most practical, glamorous, inexpensive and exciting places to live.

Tell us some of your favorite finds and purchases you can find in Istanbul?
I like to shop in the Grand Bazaar and hunt for antiques.. I know an ancient original coin dealer 🤫

rafael cemo cetin istanbul escape

What about some of your favorite buildings?
I like the architecture around Pera. A lot of Parisian style buildings that have remained from the 1800’s. Also the Tarabya area has beautiful palazzo type villas by the sea. I know what my favorite building is but I wouldn’t be able to describe it here. It’s a yali house in Yenikoy.

Next stop you would like to visit in Turkey?
I want to travel to the more historic places like Ephesus and Mardin.. there’s so much history in this country that I don’t take enough advantage of enough.

What does traveling mean to you?
It means discovery. Getting a rush from a brand new world of opportunities and endless possibilities. I want to devour and explore every last km in every destination that I go to. It’s the mind and spirit of letting go of the real world’s problems in order to fully absorb life in the present moment. Essentially it is feeling freedom and returning to the mind state of a child who’s imagination runs deep.