After a good solid year of Dutch cities that look exactly the same, it was amazing to see Istanbul – which is one big jumble of a city, spread across two continents. I was surprised to learn Istanbul was apart of both the European and Asian continents, I mean, how could it be possible? Though this little fact just added to the pile of intrigue that Istanbul conjured up.
I had a brief day and a half in Istanbul with B before flying out to Cappadocia. I was exponentially more excited to explore the city than he was. After spending a week in the Greek Islands all he wanted to do was sleep. However I force fed him sugar and dragged him around.
Istanbul, which isn’t the capital of Turkey as I had previously thought, That title belongs to Ankara, is surprisingly easy to get around. After our transfer from Ataturk Airport didn’t show, we decided to brave the Metro and was pleased with the simplicity of it. Set up similar to London’s Underground, you can buy an Istanbulkart, which is like a pay as you go card and can be used for multiple people. We jumped on the Metro heading towards Sultanahmet and enjoyed the air conditioning pumping throughout the vestibule.
Once we arrived at Sultanahmet, we got some rough directions and managed to find our accommodation. The Pretty Sultanahmet Hotel was a tiny little building squashed beside a restaurant and above a travel agency. The staff were more than helpful and welcomed us graciously. We dumped our bags and rested for a bit before heading out again to see what Istanbul has to offer.
Istanbul is divided by the Bosphorous River, with the Old Sultanahmet side holding the historic attractions and the Taksim area where the city is more modernised. It was late afternoon so we walked around the outside of the ginormous Blue Mosque and through the park to the Hagia Sophia, who is equally impressive in size. We meandered around Old Sultanahmet, bantering with the Turkish shop owners and testing out some Turkish cuisine, like a chicken kepab and Turkish Delight. We headed back towards our hotel and had a light dinner of pide and hummus before conking out for the night.
After a reasonably late start, we walked towards the Topkapi Palace and took in the vast size of the building. We continued down to the Spice Bazaar, which was everything I imagined it to be. Shops lined up, bursting with spices, teas and Turkish Delights. Shop owners calling you in and tempting you with plates of testers. Racks and racks of souvenirs and scarves and mulit-coloured lamps hanging from shop doors. It was chaotic and enticing. Enjoying the different smells and joking with the shop owners we found ourselves happily lost in the Bazaar. Spotting a small restaurant we ordered a chicken pide and sat down to watch the hustle and bustle surrounding us. The Turkish language is quick and difficult to understand. It was fascinating to hear them barter and sell at lightning pace, constantly doing about three things at once.
After the Spice Bazaar we walked over the Galata Bridge to the more modern side of Istanbul and headed towards the Galata Tower. There was a short wait so we bought a fresh orange juice off a street side stall and got in the queue. The Galata Tower is 67 metres high and boasts the best views in town. Once we reached the top, we had to fight for a spot for the best view. Looking out over the city which spread for miles, the mosques sticking out over the uniform buildings. It wasn’t the prettiest city to look at, but thats the charm of Istanbul, you have to experience to life within Istanbul to truly appreciate it.
After catching the tram back over the Galata Bridge, it was time for a sugar hit and I knew just where to go. Right on the Sirkeci tramstop is the best Turkish tea and treats in the city. Hafiz Mustafa is a two storey restaurant specialising in all things sweet. We sat upstairs and delved into the huge menu, trying to pick what to have. B opted for chocolate baklava and I went for the mixed plate of Turkish Delight. Of course we shared everything and I couldn’t decide whicj is better. I have never liked Turkish delight before, having only experienced the Cadburys chocolate bar but this was on another level. Similar to gummy lollies and jubes, these Turkish delights came
In a huge range of flavours. Some of the ones we got were pistachio and pomegranate, hazelnut, strawberry, coconut and chocolate covered pieces. I was addicted.
We spent the rest of the afternoon browsing through shops, organising the next part of our trip and deciding what to eat next. We ended up being persuaded by the man from the restaurant next door to eat there so we headed up to the roof top and enjoyed a mixed kebap and fresh pita bread with taziki as the sun set of the city. We turned in early because we had a ridiculously early start of 2:30am to reach Sabiha Gokcen Airport and fly out to Cappadocia.
Two days later we flew back into Sabiha Gokcen and caught the Havatas bus back into the city. Tired ( in and B’s case) grumpy, we found our new accommodation after going to wrong direction several times.
The Hotel Evsen was a little more flashy than our previous place but the room was about the same size. The only downfall being it didn’t have a window to the outside, which made fresh air and sunlight a little impossible. We only had the afternoon here as we were headed for Gallipoli early in the morning so we hot-footed it over to the Grand Bazaar to check it out.
Larger than the Spice Bazaar, the Grand Bazaar sells everything from flashy jewels to old antiques. The huge building was easy to get lost in and we did that a good job of doing just that.
After browsing through row after row of shops we found a lane lined with cafes and plonked down at one to recharge and refuel. Ordering a mixed plate of baklava and an apple tea for me and a Turkish coffee we gobbled down the deliciousness in a haste. The baklava was sweet and sticky as always and the apple tea was actually made with dried apples. The Turkish coffee however, had a similar consistency to mud and a taste to match. Not a fan.
We managed to find an exit and walked down through Old Sultanahmet and back to our hotel to freshen up before finding some dinner near the waters edge and then heading to bed early to be ready for our 6am start tomorrow to Gallipoli.
While I didn’t see all the things I wanted to see in Istanbul, I wasn’t worried. I would be back in two days, this time with my gal pal K, ready to see more of this big old crazy city.
From the girl who could eat baklava all day, eeeerry day