Istanbul - Two Worlds in One

Apr 30, 2012

So how did we decide to travel to Istanbul? Actually it’s a pretty fun story (especially for me), because the whole trip to Turkey was my birthday gift from Denis. What can I say, except that I was totally blown away when he handed over a trip plan (a real nice ‘presentation’ with photos & information about the places we’d go) and said we would be on our way in 10 days. Boy was I surprised! He had done it again, without me having a clue what he’d been up to…

The itinerary looked something like this: First a stop in Istanbul, then flying to central Turkey and Cappadocia, and finally exploring the coast from Fethiye till Antalya. In a nutshell, this was going to be our route. Without a further ado- Selam Istanbul!

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We had our first two nights booked very close to all major attractions such as the Topkapi palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque (also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque) etc., which made it very easy for us to go see them all. There is a whole lot of great things to do and see in Istanbul, and we had four full days to get to know the place. The first day we just shifted around like lost puppies, and didn’t really start to understand the city at all. My first impression, aside from the famous monuments, was that it was a never-ending town that had everything thrown together- beautiful old architecture with completely rundown buildings. But the more we got around, the better we felt about it. As we strolled through the spice market (reminded me of Morocco), the general vibe of the town was starting to transmit to us- the genuine friendliness of people. We found one of our favorite spots, The Galata Bridge, later that day, and chilled there till we caught a gorgeous sunset (I guess this is one of the best places to get the sunset over the city line, particularly outlining the mosques).

The next day we visited the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia*. The BM has some certain hours one can get in, and HS has normally (unless you go really early) lines up to kilometres long. Nevertheless we got in to both and I must say it was well worth it. It was our first time to get into a mosque, and after removing our shoes, we stepped in to this gorgeous open space that surely felt very different than being in a church. We then continued to Hagia Sophia, which was like the royal of the monuments- inside out just majestic. We were thrilled to have seen both of them inside, queuing or not, these were must-sees. What lies also on top of all the experiences, is getting there during the night time to hear the call for prayer. A true moment of magic: the pitch dark sky along with the massive mosques all lit up and flocks of white birds circulating above the highest tower tops.

After the cultural intake, we were really up for some good food. We got to this lovely restaurant called Amedros and had the most delicious Turkish cuisine. It’s located in Sultanahmet district, which makes it easy accessible from both- main sites and bazaar. Later we found out the place’s on top of all the recommendations (even our own guide book), and although unlikely from us, we just had to dine there the next day too. But finding good bite or proper food is never an issue in Istanbul; the streets are full of all kinds of restaurants, kebab stands and little deli stores. We had some of the best steals straight from street stands!

Now that we had done most of the 'necessary' sites, we could focus on the real places away from massive tourist groups. One of things I was really looking forward was to get lost in the labyrinths of Bazaar, and surely to get my hands on some souvenirs while at it. We had a pretty pleasant encounter with one of the sellers as he invited us inside of his ‘magic lamp store’ and offered us tea (turns out you’ll be offered tea all the time). We chatted away with him for over an hour and just before leaving he made a great deal for one of those lamps I so desired. It so happened that this Turkish guy, Salih, we had met earlier in January in Alhambra, Spain, co-owns a handbag store just around the corner from Bazaar. So we went to see him next. Such a nice guy, he sat down with us for good two hours to chat and drink tea (again!) and then, on top of that, he let me choose some handbags… Now that's some souvenirs! All this tea drinking made me actually wonder where they got the tea all the time; every time we were about to have some, a random guy just showed up carrying a set of tea, any idea? 

We had heard and seen a lot of interesting stuff about the Asian side of the town. The locals seemed to consider it as the cool, bohemian place to hang out. We decided to take a stroll on its waterfront and ended up to this really chill place along the Bosphorus; 400 meters of traditional lounge seats offering views across to the European side. A fantastic place to mingle with the locals and have some more of that delicious tea. To get there was actually really simple. Without any tour hassle, we hopped on one of the commuter boats (that leave the main harbour every 10 min or so) and it brings you to the other side for something like 1€ a way.

After the first two days, it was time to switch to the newer side of Galata bridge and look for our next accommodation near Taksim Square. It turned out to be more adventurous than just switching hotels: we ended up not finding the place we had booked (Google maps took us to some really fishy quarter!) but instead we had to go literally through all the hotels near Taksim to ask for vacancy. Hours later we found a place (places were either booked out or too pricy), and could finally ditch our bags we had been dragging along the whole time.

These couple of days of wandering around Istanbul had formed us one opinion- or rather observation- above others; the total collision of oriental- and western lifestyle and people. You might see a group of women dressed in all covering niqab and the next moment trendy females sipping their margarita in a modern lounge bar near Taksim. This, along to other similar details, makes this city pretty unique the way it combines culture, religion and history. It’s almost like a statement that no matter how different people are, they can all co-exist and make each others life even richer- and this variety is probably one of the reasons people fall in love with Istanbul.

On our last night we went out for some dinner & drinks in Taksim’s endless bar district, which, to our surprise, was full of people on Sunday night. We got invited to party with some locals we met in a bar, and had a fun street dancing till the morning hours…Too bad our flight was also early, so we only got a few hours rest before we had to get to the airport. Güle güle Istanbul! Günaydin Kapadokya! To be continued...


Amedros restaurant
- one of the most memorable restaurants we've had in our travels to the date 
- near Bazaar & major sites

360° Bar, Lounge & Restaurant
- amazing terrace with views over Istanbul
- if you want to eat - make reservations , for drinks it's not necessary

Ilkay Hotel
- superb location (on a main street) in Sultanahmet, close to all main sites
- clean, basic hotel with spacious rooms

RIVA Hotel
- near Taksim Square
- higher-end hotel

* Did you know that Hagia Sophia was first a church, then a mosque and now a museum?

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