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Changing Face and Character of Taksim Square in Istanbul

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This is not about the protests which will probably continue for quite a while on weekends because the Turkish government is adamantly calling them illegal revolutionaries just because they demand freedom of opinion and speech and rule of law impartially applied.

There is an island of pedestrianized streets which used to be separated by a busy avenue and now by the construction of an underpass. Sometime within the next year, there will be no traffic between this lot and the square. This island is almost exclusively small to medium size hotels, 2, 3 and 4 star. There are a scattering of businesses and invariably lots of touristic shops, cafes, restaurants and boutiques.

Many of the buildings are renovated 70-90 year old structures and some may not be structurally strong enough to withstand a medium size earthquake.

These buildings have changed hands and the hotels have changed management a number of times in the past few years, finally settling into a symbiotic or even an partnership arrangements with the merchants of the area, according to some recently published staudies.

The new style of management now caters more to the tourist from the Middle East and North Africa, providin the kind of lodging, price, merchandize, cafe and restaurant menu most sought after by those tourists, keeping lodging prices low but charging very high for other goods and services. The area has unfortunately also been infested by other types of undesirable (at least for some of us) trades.

One of the reasons is that two sides of this almost square area are poor neighborhoods where some of the cities notorious pickpockets have traditionally resided, setting up other types of businesses as they have built up their capital.. Another reason is that, the pedestrianization of the area forced the inhabitants out and the more sinister type of investors were close by to see the benefit of buying up cheap.

In any case, This area called Talimhane is and for the foreseeable future risky for the following reasons :

High prices for low quality products and services
Possibilitry of of freedom of movement limited due to police action against protesters
Possibility of tear gas. and water cannon in the streets on weekends and whenever there is any kind of demonstration against the government.
Possibility of getting scammed. (invited to a bar by friendly stranger, to carpet shop, to huqqa shop, whatever)
Possible collusion between hotel front desk, merchants, restaurants, taxis, tours, guides, etc.

Some advantages for the adventurous :

- reasonably priced lodging
- within close walking distance to Istiklal with its better restaurants and cafes and not that far from the upscale Nisantasi area, or the bohemian Cihangir area.
- Close to metro and funicular and bus transport including airport bus (Havatas)
- Possibility of following up on peacefull protests brutally attacked by police. (you move back to hotel or far away vantage point when the police wear their helmets and line up)

Alternatives :

- Cihangir : Quaint, not too many choices for lodging but neighborly and fun.

- Nisantasi/Tesvikiye : Upscale, good restaurants and bars. good but expensive lodging.
good people watching (not so much in the Summer)
- Sisli : Cheaper, more middle class. close to metro, bus and large mall.

- Bosphorus : Definitely recommended but traffic problems except for expensive private water taxi or commuter ferries in the morning and evening.
Not many hotels. Breathtaking views. Some of the best food. Some areas lively year around with great deal of outdoor seating, cafes, restaurants, bars, etc.

I do not mention Sultanahmet, the old town because that is where everyone with less than four days will end up anyway and that area with its myriad hotels catering to all budgets and tastes attracts the tourist who feels more secure within herds of their own ilk.

I am not a travel agent and do not know the insides of many hotels but have stayed at a few of the major chains or advised them as a risk management consultant, or eaten at their restaurants, but rooms, management and menus change, so do not ask me about specific hotels.

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