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Istanbul: New York City's twin to the east
There is a parallel New York to the east.
Istanbul, distinct as is it, bears striking similarities to the Big Apple beginning with its 212-area code. It is also traffic-choked, mesmerizing and love-hated by its residents who tolerate its madness in exchange for its considerable charms -- many of which are tucked into neighborhoods hidden from the guidebook-toting masses.
The sheer size of the city (which actually tops New York in both area and population) can be intimidating enough to keep visitors from venturing off its tourist circuit. Yet failing to do so is a bit like visiting just midtown and chalking that up to a full New York City vacation. Yes, trips to the Grand Bazaar and Hagia Sophia are as obligatory (and worthwhile) as an out-of-towner's visit to the Statue of Liberty, but a couple days should be set aside for a taste of Istanbul's vibrant downtown and "outer-borough" scene. Some things might even feel a bit like home.
Istanbul's Williamsburg: Tophane
The ongoing gentrification of Tophane has infused this working-class neighborhood with galleries and vintage shops that would be instant Brooklyn favorites. For both art perusing and purchasing, check out Mixer (Bogazkesen Caddesi No: 45, mixerarts.com), a gallery for up-and-coming artists where visitors are welcomed to buy their favorite pieces right off the wall. If there's time to spare, browse the antique and oddity shops of neighboring Cukurcuma and give thanks for an exchange rate that might justify hauling a 1940s typewriter all the way back to the States. Start on Cukurcuma Caddesi and let intrigue guide you from there.
Istanbul's Fifth Avenue: Nisantasi
Istanbul has no shortage of shopping malls, but for a more New York experience, head to Nisantasi, a retail-heavy district where you'll find everything from Cartier to Zara. Don't miss Beymen (Abdi Ipekci Caddesi No: 23/1, Beymen.com), Istanbul's answer to Saks Fifth Avenue and one of the few places you'll find New York labels like Rag & Bone, 3.1 Phillip Lim and Alice + Olivia. Grab lunch in its attached Art Deco-style restaurant, Beymen Brasserie, and order the New York steak.
Istanbul's Greenwich Village: Cihangir
For a bohemian break, head to Cihangir, a colorful enclave of artists, filmmakers, writers and expats, who you will find brunching at outdoor cafes late into the afternoon. For prime people-watching, grab a curbside table at Cafe Firuz (Defterdar Yokusu No: 55, Cafefiruz.com), an always-packed eatery and rumored favorite among Turkish soap opera stars. Try a mid-morning Breakfast for One -- a Mediterranean platter of cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, jams and a hard-boiled egg -- and take in the sights of Cihangir as it awakes from a long and boozy night.
Istanbul's Brooklyn Promenade: Moda Park
For a breather, take a ferry to the Asian side of the city -- the rough equivalent of Brooklyn, where the space is a bit more ample -- and head straight for Moda Park. Besides its breathtaking views of the Marmara Sea, the park also boasts a rare bike path (with interruptions here and there) that ambitious riders and joggers can follow for many miles along one of the city's most picturesque coasts.
Istanbul's Hamptons: Buyukada
If the escape to Moda Park still feels a bit too urban, there are always the Princes Islands -- nine of them, clustered off the coast of Istanbul, a world away from its chaos. Buyukada is the largest and most popular, accessible only by ferry and navigable only by foot, bike or horse-drawn carriage. Cars are delightfully forbidden. Spend a day gawking at Ottoman summer mansions that line the island's leafy streets, or lazing away at a beach club, brew in hand. Catch the last ride back to the mainland aboard a calming ferry, at the risk of never wanting to suffer the Jitney again.