Top 5 for Istanbul
- A visit to the Blue Mosque
- A visit to the Hagia Sofia
- A traditional Turkish breakfast, enjoyed preferably outside in the sunshine with a strong glass of Turkish tea.
- Shop at the Grand Bazaar, as long as you can stand crowds and haggling!
- Wander the city and experience the amazing hospitality and kindness of the people.
- Galata Melling Apartments
- Marmalat (for breakfast)
- Café Privato
- Nar Dukkan
- Leb-I Derya
I and a friend decided to meet in Istanbul for a long weekend. Neither having been yet, we were very excited to see the city, the culture, and soak up something a little different. I arrived in the late afternoon on Thursday, and took a shuttle bus into the city centre to meet at our rental apartment near Galata Tower. Galata Melling apartments were clean, comfortable, and spacious, the only downside being their position at the base of a very steep hill which led up to the Galata Tower. We were pretty fit by the end of the weekend! The first task was to go find some dinner at a nearby restaurant, and promptly we went to bed after a long day of travel.
The next morning, after enjoying the view from our balcony, we ventured approximately 100 meters downwards, to an adorable little café called Adakan on the corner of our street. We decided to share the traditional Turkish breakfast, which sounded like a massive amount of food – and indeed it was! I have to say, Turkish breakfast is a lovely thing. First you are brought tea or coffee, followed by an epic spread of assorted cheeses, tahini, fresh fruit marmalades, a salad of cucumber, tomato, and parsley, Turkish savoury cheese pastries, olives, and generally a couple hot dishes – fried eggs, fried halloumi cheese, and Sucuk, a chorizo-like sausage. All this is accompanied by either bread, pita, or Simit (a Turkish round bread covered in sesame seeds). Needless to say, even sharing this spread left us stuffed, but the flavours are just so fantastic it’s hard to stop.
We waddled down the street to being the siteseeing. Galata tower is set in a touristy district, surrounded by cafes with English menus, shops selling T-shirts, Turkish delight, pottery, and linens. After visiting the tower we headed across the bridge towards the Spice Market and Grand Bazaar. The Spice Market is exactly as expected- with shopkeepers shouting at you that their dates/spices/nuts are better than the next guy, and muttering vaguely offensive comments if you walk past. Welcome to the world of haggling. We of course bought from one of the few shops where the owner was respectful, quiet, and let us look in peace. Next up, we walked to the Grand Bazaar, equally as crazy as the Spice Market, but with 10 times the number of shops and more variety. Whether you want a fake designer purse, a fake Lacoste polo, real Turkish pottery, nuts, dried fruits, Turkish delight, jewellery, or almost anything else, this is the place. We perused the goods but quickly tired of all the pushy salesman, and coupled with a power outage the shopping temptation dwindled. We stopped for a tea break and then slowly strolled back to our apartment to put our feet up.
That evening, we went to a restaurant near our apartment with mediocre food and service, however visited the bar “Tunnel Sahne” afterwards, which had great service, good drinks, cheap prices, and live music. The next day we were on a mission to visit two of Istanbul’s most famous sites – the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. Fueled by yet another Turkish breakfast at Privato Café, we headed to the tram.
The Blue (Sultan Ahmed) Mosque is considered the last great Mosque of the classical period and is truly astonishing in its size and beauty. It is closed for prayer several times a day and visitors should plan their visit accordingly. Appropriate dress is a must, meaning no short skirts, covered heads for women, and no shoes inside. We saw an astonishingly number of women NOT wearing a scarf over their head – quite surprising to me. After our visit we proceeded to the Hagia Sofia – I was very excited as I’ve wanted to visit this place since it was featured in the Geological Documentary “Forces of Nature”. For complete geology geeks such as myself, the Hagia Sofia has stood unscathed through centuries of severe earthquakes, including the most recent one in Istanbul in 1999. The Cathedral opened the day after the earthquake. The Hagia Sofia is a former Greek Orthodox church, was then converted to a mosque, and now is a museum. I was delighted to see the inside is also a geological feast – just look at those rocks! After our visit we decided to try out the Turkish tradition of Hamam – unfortunately though the place which was recommended to us was a complete rip-off and clearly for tourists. I won’t be going back. We headed back to the apartment and eventually wandered to a fantastic rooftop restaurant for dinner – Leb-I Derya. The views are fantastic, the drinks fabulous, and the food mediocre and pricey. Just go for a drink.
Our last day in Istanbul happened to be election day – meaning many shops were closed and the city was rather ghostly. We did some final shopping in the shops which were open and wandered through the Fish Market along the river, as well as visited another Mosque. That night we stumbled upon a great little café- Nar Dukkan, where we enjoyed our final fantastic Turkish meal and went to bed early for our 4:30 am wakeup call and return to reality.
I found Istanbul fantastic – more European than I imagined, very modern and cosmopolitan, and we truly met some of the most friendly and accommodating people you can imagine. I will definitely go back to see more of this great city.