My Istanbul: Lale Apa

My Istanbul: Lale Apa

Marzena Romanowska
April 05, 2016

Since The Guide Istanbul has been published, the city has no more secrets, says Lale Apa, the magazine’s founder. Having guided others through Istanbul’s narrow streets and picturesque coasts for a quarter of a century, in our silver anniversary series she paints her personal portrait of the city. 

No one appreciates the beauty of a beloved city more than a person who moved homes numerous times. Due to her parents’ diplomatic careers, Lale Apa spent her entire childhood abroad. It comes as no surprise that her earliest memory of the city is related to “coming back home.” “My grandparents used to live in Üsküdar,” she recalls, remembering one of the summer holiday trips the family used to take. “When I was a little girl, I remember coming to Istanbul by boat. Entering the city from the sea and seeing beauty of the Maiden’s Tower and the mosques was fairytale-ish, something I’d never forget.”

Üsküdar, one of the districts so closely tied with her childhood memories, is one of Ms Apa’s favorite places, which with its tekke (dervish lodges), cemetery and ancient fountains, reflects the traditional character of the city. “There was the modern side of the family, but we also had a very traditional nanny who used to take us to Çamlıca to make wishes,” Ms Apa recalls. Her early days in Istanbul were divided between Anatolian side and her other grandparents’ house in Yeşilköy. “When I was in elementary school, both Üsküdar and Yeşilköy were very diverse, with Greek and Armenian minorities living there. All the love they added to the city, and the fact there are so few of them left gives me great nostalgia (hüzün).”

Lale Apa’s Istanbul is not simply made of places The Guide Istanbul writes about. Perhaps more importantly, it is created by the people who make the city a better place. “The most inspirational person at the moment is the founder of Oy ve Ötesi, Serkan Çelebi. He managed to get so many volunteers to oversee fair elections, and I’m one of them,” Ms Apa says. “I also admire Rakel Dink, the wife of Hrant Dink. She never gave up on trying to get justice.” But her inspirational examples go beyond politics. For admirable characters in Istanbul’s rich cultural scene, Ms Apa names Turkish art patrons, the Eczacıbaşi and Koç families, as well as Orhan Pamuk, who in his books “teaches us to look at Istanbul through the eyes of so many different people.”

On Ms Apa’s list there is also the name behind one of Turkey’s biggest brands - Simit Sarayı’s Abdullah Kavukçu. “I heard that street vendors started to buy simit from his company since it’s less expensive. He supports the street vendors, so has my support,” Ms Apa says. Last but not least, as a cookbook writer and gastronomy enthusiast, Ms Apa mentions Metin and Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu, the owners of Ulus29. “Their restaurant has been like a school for Turkish chefs and restaurateurs. They have done a lot for the food scene in Istanbul - basically, they started it all.”

Defining herself as a family person, Lale Apa draws the map of Istanbul around the points her family frequents and lives in: Üsküdar, Caddebostan, Kemerburgaz, Etiler, and also Levent, where the company’s office is. “I also think of The Guide as my family,” she says of the project that directed her social life for so many years.

The idea of starting The Guide Istanbul was the natural consequence of years of travelling. “Wherever we went, my parents were always getting a guide magazine to see what’s going on,” Ms Apa says. “They were always in-the-know. When I came back to Istanbul, I realized that the city didn’t have a guide.”

Looking at The Guide Istanbul today, it is hard to believe that 25 years ago the exciting city life that we know from the pages of the magazine didn’t really exist - the first issue had a mere 32 pages. It didn’t change the fact the it needed a magazine like The Guide. “Jeffi Medina was the head of Manajans Thomson. After our meeting regarding advertising in the magazine, he called my husband and said, ‘let’s do it together.’ He introduced us to the designer Charles Karsenbarg and brought in our first editor, Tim Hindle.”

Although not actively involved in The Guide Istanbul operations anymore, Lale Apa stays on top of the city’s cultural happenings. Her interest originates from childhood, and was initially fueled by the world-class performances she attended during her time away from Turkey. “When we were living abroad, my family tried to educate me on Turkish culture when we visited Turkey in the summer. I was taken around to the cultural sites,” she says, adding: “I think the most positive changes in Istanbul are related to culture as well - private museums, art exhibitions, festivals, new concert halls, Contemporary Istanbul.” At The Guide Istanbul, thanks to Ms Apa’s legacy, we make sure you notice those developments, too.

Lale Apa Lale Apa’s picture-perfect tour of Istanbul

Morning walk by the Bosporus and breakfast at Mangerie in Bebek,
Tour of the Archeological Museum and its gardens,
Off-the-beaten-path historical sites – Chora church and Rüstem Paşa mosque,
Lunch at Karaköy Lokantasi, or Nar Lokanta in Nuruosmaniye, and a coffee break at Karabatak in Karaköy,
Shopping spree in trusted places at the Grand Bazaar,
Boat tour with mandatory simit in hand,
Evening concert at Aya Irini church and dinner at Mikla.

Lale Apa’s top dining spots in Istanbul

- Karaköy Lokantasi: for someone new to Istanbul; “It’s Turkish and delicious.”
- Kıyı: favorite fish place. “Greeks were the knowledgeable fishermen of the city.”
Miklagreat view of the city; “Never heard of anyone beıng unhappy after dining there.”
- Müzedechanga: refined fusion; “They always look for the best products from all over Turkey.”
- Yeni Lokanta: modern Turkish; “Civan Er is always in the kitchen.”