I had a chance to visit the beautiful country of Turkey while attending the wedding of my friends — Erbil & Mitsue. I took this chance to explore the city of Istanbul and visit two other cities — Cappadocia and Pammukale. This post focuses on Istanbul. I will write about the other two in a separate post soon.
It’s a city that reminded me a lot of India. Everything from the way people walked on the street to the shops on each side of streets were reminiscent of India. As a tourist, it was fascinating to see European and Asian culture infuse so seamlessly in the fabric of the city.
Let’s start with the old side of the town, where I was staying.
The Grand Bazaar/Kapalıçarşı
It is a really huge and covered marketplace with over 5000 shops. It also features in a lot of scenes in Assassins’ Creed, if thats your thing.
The lights were mesmerizingly beautiful and in abundance in the Grand Bazaar shops. Walking inside the Grand Bazaar makes you feel like a time traveller or to be precise, makes you feel as if the place is stuck in a different time. It is easy to get lost but eventually you find your way to an exit nearby.
A church at one point, a mosque at another and now a museum — Hagia Sophia is a breathtaking structure and a feat of architecture given it was built between 532-537.
This is located southwest of Hagia Sophia and it makes sense to cover them together along with the Blue Mosque. The cistern looks eerily beautiful and the floors are slippery.
Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque)
I did not end up going inside the mosque because of lack of time (and frankly having seen too many similar structures) but did take a trip around the campus that surrounds the mosque.
There are numerous Turkish bathhouses in Istanbul. They range from expensive ones to relatively cheap ones. I would recommend to try this at least once if you have never been to a bathhouse.
Topkapi Palace is huge and I would not recommend spending a whole day for it — especially if you are short on time. I ended up spending a lot of time in the gardens and the amazing view of Bosphorus that it affords.
The palace has multiple sections and levels , including a garden— all beautiful.
Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı)
Almost like a younger cousin to the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar is smaller and newer.
The bridge connects the old part of the town to the other side. It makes for a great place to swing by during sunset to watch the golden light as well as see the buzz of the crowd. During the day they have boats that sell fish sandwiches which are great.
Bosphorus by the boat
A boat ride of the Bosphorus is a great way to spend the evening in Istanbul. The temperature is just right and the lights of the city, make it an experience not worth missing.
This tower provides one of the best views of Istanbul. It gets really cramped at the top where you have to basically keep revolving around the tower to make sure people there are never too many people at the top.
Right around Galata tower are lots of small cafes and the entire neighborhood is really charming to explore especially as the sun sets down.
Turns out the real beauty is the tower itself once the lights have been turned on. Here are a few shots of the Galata Tower during twilight.
This is the other big palace from the Ottoman empire. It was closed the day we went. Either that or I could not figure out where the entrance was.
I am not sure what this clock says, but I love everything about it, from the typeface used for the digits to the design of the dial.
This was the one of those spots that was hard to find because it really is literally just a bunch of stairs painted in rainbow colors. It is essentially the street stairs that link Findikli district to Cihangir (the location of Gezi Park).
The Karaköy neighborhood is pretty much the closest to a “hipster” neighborhood that I found in Istanbul. Lots of cute and interesting coffee shops and boutique stores in general.
You could call it an elegant pedestrian street that leads to something like a town square. It’s 1.4 km long and has great bars, clubs, cafes and boutiques on either side of the entire street.
Streets of Istanbul
The real magic of Istanbul lies in the idiosyncrasies seen on the streets. It’s colorful and diverse. Chaotic yet beautiful.
I am in absolute love with this man’s swagger. Those patches on his jeans, the double denim with a polo t-shirt and the look in his eyes. All perfect. All this while he is polishing shoes.
I used to play with these as a kid. This man was most likely selling them, but he was way more absorbed in the act of playing with them on his own and had little concern about actually selling those.
I am not sure what this building is. And if those clothes are for sale or just out there to dry. It is also fascinating to see a poster featuring a Bollywood actress (and a former Miss World) in the backdrop of the window.
City of Cats. And pigeons.
Istanbul has this notion of neighborhood cats that people in a neighborhood feed and take care of. This basically means cats roam the streets and are often very comfortable with new customers. As someone who was until recently scared of cats, it was a very interesting experience to be so “close” to them.
The other major part of the city animal kingdom are the pigeons. From less popular town squares to the ones where people feed them everyday, they are all over the place. The city with its architecture might also have something that helps them build their nests in safe places.
The other big joy of Istanbul is the street food. Pretty much every street is filled with a kebab shop or a fruit shop or some breakfast place or a sweet shop.
Here is a small sampler of what to definitely try if you visit.
- Kumpir: Baked potato
- Meze: Appetizers (do try one with eggplant and yogurt)
Kaymak: thick cream served with honey
Menemen: scrambled eggs with pepper and tomatoes
Sucuklu Yumurta : eggs and sausages
- Börek: baked pastry with meat and other fillings inside them
- Pide and Lahmacun : kinds of turkish pizza
- Gozelme : Turkish pastry often with spinach and feta cheese
- Mantı : Turkish Ravioli
- Balik Ekmek : Fish sandwich that you can find near Galata bridge
Types of kebabs
- Kofte : meatballs
- Kokoreç : seasoned lamb intestines
- Büryan kebabı: a kind of Turkish version of the Texas pit barbecue
- Tavuk Göğsü: turkish chicken pudding
- Baklava: you probably know what this is. Only way better.
- Künefe: cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup
- Misir: Basically corn
- Kestane: Chestnuts, normally sold by street vendors
- Ice Cream: It is thicker and more chewy than traditional ice cream, which also means Ice Cream vendors are known for performing lots of tricks before the ice cream you ordered is actually served.
- Turkish tea: Turkey has a great tea scene and it’s called çay
- Ayran: Yogurt based drink that I ended up drinking almost with every meal.
- Juice vendors/sherbet
- Turkish Coffee If you have not tried this style of coffee, then you should atlas try it once. What’s Turkish about the coffee is not the beans but the process by which it is made. The coffee is filtered out of the drink by the process of sinking down and not using a physical filter.