Exploring Istanbul

by Talia Klundt / Apr 17, 2013 /
Talia Klundt's picture

So I am a little bit overdue here with all of my write ups. I sat down and realized that I had kept on traveling but hadn't been writing up my travels to all of my destinations!  So last April, we booked a long weekend to my favorite city ever, Istanbul, during the Easter holidays! Unfortunately, we booked our tickets quite late so not only were the tickets very expensive, but we got a terrible flight. The only flight available on Turkish Air left Stockholm at midnight! Needless to say, we were exhausted when we arrived around 5:00 am in Istanbul. I hadn't been back to Istanbul in nearly two years and I had been itching to get back there and show Olof around. Ten years ago, I spent the most memorable summer in my life there as an intern and I absolutely fell in love with the city. It is a buzzing metropolis which feels alive at all hours of the day. As soon as you get off the plane, you are hit by crazy drivers, new smells, heat, humidity, chaos...I LOVE it! I couldn't wait to get back into everything that I so dearly loved and missed, but first all I could think about is sleep. Instead of staying at a hotel, we were staying in my old roommate's apartment, which was centrally located and about a five minute ride from Taksim. We took the bus from the airport and arrived about an hour later and settled in for about a five hour nap. After some sleep, although not nearly enough, we showered and set off for finding some lunch. I am crazy about Turkish food and was happy to eat anywhere. Walking by all the restaurants took me to my magical summer in Istanbul. We found a very small local restaurant a few blocks from her apartment and proceeded to eat a lot of small dishes. 

 

After lunch I felt excited and ready to take on the day so we headed straight to Taksim, and walked around for a while. Next we headed over the bridge to Sultanahmet, to the Spice Bazaar (Egyptian Bazaar) where I spent a few hours going to nearly all the stalls in search of fresh spices and other little hidden treasures available. It was overwhelming knowing where to start and which vendor to choose from, but ultimately I found a few I liked and bought about ten different kinds of spices, pure pomegranate, and dried mulberries.

 

Spice Bazaar, Istanbul

 

Spice Bazaar, Istanbul

 

It was a major shopping success in my book! I think I tired Olof out a bit by wandering endlessly in the bazaar, so we headed over to the Galata Bridge to enjoy some beers in the sun and 75 temperature. All along the Galata Bridge you will find cafes and restaurants under the bridge serving cheap beer and good priced food, mostly fish. Right before you walk up to the bridge you will see little boats in the water, where they are grilling fish and serving fish sandwiches. We enjoyed our beer with a view of the Galata Tower and mosque domes in the distance. We decided to call it an early day and just get a quick bite to eat for dinner and start early the next day.

 

Galata Tower

Galata Tower 

 

Having a beer at a bar on the Galata Bridge

Having a beer at a bar on the Galata Bridge

 

Man selling grilled fish sandwiches on the street

Man selling grilled fish sandwiches on the street

 

Galata Bridge with the Galata Tower in the background

Galata Bridge with the Galata Tower in the background 

 

We woke up the next morning and headed to the bakery around the corner where I ordered us börek stuffed with cheese and spinach as we set off for the day. Börek is one of my favorite finger foods to get from Istanbul and I was happy to eat it every morning for breakfast. The following day I decided to go to one of my favorite areas in Istanbul - Ortaköy! But before we decided to head there, we made a stop in Karaköy, which is located along the Bosphorus. I have many fond memories of sitting outside in the many cafes located along the water, playing checkers, drinking tea, and smoking with my roommate ten years ago. I wanted Olof to experience one of my favorite pastimes many summers ago.  We found a spot at one of my favorite cafes, which had comfy couches and bean bag chairs in front of the cafe. We sat down, ordered tea and apple tobacco, and proceeded to play checkers and enjoy the afternoon sun. After a few hours of relaxation, I started to get hungry and saw that there was a gözleme and I immediately got in line. Gözleme is one of my favorite foods to eat. It is a savory dish made up of pastry brushed with eggs and butter. I chose to have mine filled with shredded potato and cheese, delicious!

 

Cafe in Karaköy

Cafe in Karaköy

 

Gözleme

Gözleme

 

With a full belly we finally made it to Ortaköy, which is also located along the water. Ortaköy is an artsy neighborhood filled with nice cafes, restaurants, shops, book stores, as well as people selling their handmade crafts along the cobblestone streets. The famous Ortaköy Mosque is located there, which happens to be my favorite mosque in the city. Unfortunately, it was being renovated when we arrived there. I couldn't believe it; I wanted to show Olof this beautiful mosque. Although we couldn't really see the mosque, we still enjoyed the afternoon there and chose a restaurant where we could sit on their third floor terrace to enjoy a few beers as the sun was starting to set. We sat there for a while, watching fishing boats go by along the Bosphorus and enjoying the view of the Asian side. When we had finished our beers, we walked around the neighborhood and browsed through the many shops before going to Taksim to meet an old friend of mine. 

 

Ortaköy Mosque

Ortaköy Mosque

 

While I was sitting and chatting with my friend, I remembered a restaurant around Taksim that she had taken me to and I knew that was going to be our dinner place. It is called 7 Kat Teras, which translates to the Seventh Floor. It is a bit hard to find because you have to take many turns in Taksim down very small streets to find it, but fortunately I was able to get us there. The place was packed when we got to the top! Thankfully it was only about a twenty minute wait before we got a table and proceeded to pretty much order everything off the menu. Not only is it incredibly cheap, but the food is authentic Turkish cuisine, which was just absolutely amazing. Olof could hardly hide his delight as he dug into each and every appetizer on our table. We left very stuffed and decided we would need to return again before we flew back home.

 

Dinner at 7. Kat Teras

Dinner at 7. Kat Teras

 

The next day was our most intense day, meaning we ran around like crazy. Our day started early, first at the bakery for our morning börek and then off to the Galata Tower. We took a taxi to Taksim and walked towards the Galata Tower and went up to get a beautiful 360 view of the city. I had not been up in over ten years, but it was just as spectacular as I had once remembered. You are able to see so far out into the city and you can see all the beautiful mosques that look as if they are popping up around the city. With so many more things to do on the list, we took our pictures and headed straight for the Sultanahmet. When we got to Hagia Sofia, we were shocked to see the line, which seemed to be miles long. After an hour's waiting time, we finally went in and took in the spectacular masterpiece.

 

Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia

 

Next on Olof's list was the Basilica Cistern, which is just a three minute walk over from Hagia Sofia. The line there was nothing compared to the last line so we were able to go inside right away. I had actually never been before, so I was very impressed to see this cistern and the walkways down below, including statues and fish swimming in the water down below. 

 

old statue pillar in the Basilica Cistern

old statue pillar in the Basilica Cistern 

 

Continuing on, we decided to go to Topkapi Palace, but decided not to go in as it was a three hour wait. Although we didn't get to go inside, we enjoyed the surrounding flowers and gardens as well as the palace itself from the outside. Next on our list was the Blue Mosque, another spectacular site. I was very excited to go inside as well as take pictures from the outside since we were fortunate enough to have such lovely weather.

 

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

 

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

 

After about an hour inside, we decided to grab a quick lunch to give us energy for our final stop that day, The Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is not only amazing but completely crazy and chaotic. It is a sensory overload the moment you step in from one of the many entrances. It is hard to know where to even start, because there are so many shops and "streets" inside that you feel as if you will not get to see everything. I went a bit crazy in the beginning looking for an Evil Eye decoration to put up on the wall, and I paid quite a bit taking the first one I saw. Ten minutes later I saw it for half the price once we were further inside. Determined not to make that mistake again, I looked around a lot in the jewelry section of the bazaar before making a commitment to purchase anything. I found a few great antique pieces and then decided it was time to call it quits. After a long day of running around, we decided to grab a quick dinner near our apartment and head to sleep.

 

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

 

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

 

 

The following day we took a ferry from Besiktas and headed over to the Asian side but not before getting our daily fix of börek. We arrived in Üskdür, which is where I used to, and proceeded to go to the Maiden's Tower. You might recognize this little lighthouse in the middle of the Bosphorus from the Bond film, The World is Not Enough. Along the water there are plenty of benches and little cafes where you can sit and have a coffee or tea and enjoy the view of the sea. We sat down for a bit and took in the view as we watched the boats go by.

 

Maiden's Tower, Istanbul

Maiden's Tower, Istanbul

 

After some sun and relaxation, we headed towards Kadiköy to check out the many street markets happening on a Sunday morning. In addition to the local markets, all the shops were open, so we were able to go to all the small shops and pick out a few more goodies before leaving early the next morning. I might have gone a bit crazy and bought quite a bit of hazelnuts, more mulberries, and some really nice handmade honey soaps - but it was all so cheap and genuine! The wonderful thing about being on the Asian side is that tourists don't usually go there, as it is a little bit off the beaten path and it is perhaps not the first area people think of when they think of Istanbul. Since I had spent a summer living on the Asian side, I was very eager to go back and walk my old neighborhoods and check out the shops without all the tourists and lines. We found a great lunch spot by accident, which happened to be featured in The New Yorker, called Çiya Kebap. Olof ordered lahmacun, a kind of flat bread Turkish pizza typically topped with meat, as I got grilled veggies, cheese, an eggplant dish, and a surprise puffed flat bread that came piping hot out of the hot oven and deflated the second I touched it. This was a perfect way to end our day on the Asian side.

 

Puffed flat bread served with a roasted red pepper spread at Çiya Kebap

Puffed flat bread served with a roasted red pepper spread at Çiya Kebap

 

As we sat on the ferry back to the European side, I was sad to think that we only had one more dinner and sleep left. The perfect way I could see to ending our amazing trip was by eating at my favorite restaurant again, 7 Kat Teras, and it did not disappoint!

 

New Mosque, Istanbul

New Mosque

 

Boats along the Bosporus selling fish sandwiches with the Süleymaniye Mosque in the background

Boats along the Bosporus selling fish sandwiches with the Süleymaniye Mosque in the background

 

 

 

Talia Klundt is the Sweden Editor for Wandering Educators

 

 

 

 

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