I meant to write about my trip to Istanbul a long time ago. Life has been busy and full, and I kept putting if off. Also, I’m still having a hard time figuring out how to describe Istanbul. In a word: crammed. And another: bold. And another: delicious.
I flew into the Ataturk airport on a Friday afternoon, then spent over 2 hours on the bus to Taksim Square in traffic. Though the airport is only 24 kilometers from the city center, there’s a big construction project going on right now – and, apparently, lots of weekend traffic in general. I sat next to a Turkish man who struck up a conversation with me and was beyond shocked that I’d flown into Istanbul alone. He told me the city’s emergency phone number over and over (“1, 1, 2! 1, 1, 2! That’s two 1s and one 2. Repeat it back to me!”) and asked if he should stay on the bus past his stop to help me find mine. (I politely declined.)
This post is going to quickly turn into a novel if I don’t change tack now, so let me present … Istanbul in lists! And pictures!
A whirlwind tour of Sultanahmet and Taksim
We packed our first day with mosques and bazaars and sites in Istanbul’s old city, Sultanahmet. Since we stayed on Istanbul’s modern side (in a neighborhood one metro stop away from Taksim Square), we had a good walk from Taksim Square, down Istiklal Street and across Galata Bridge to the Old City.
What we saw: Taksim Square, Galata Tower and Galata Bridge, Spice Market, Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace
Getting lost in Kadikoy
On day two, we took a ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul. (How cool is it that Istanbul straddles two continents?*) We didn’t have much of plan and got thoroughly lost in Kadikoy.
With just 3 nights in the city, we definitely didn’t have enough time to thoroughly explore Istanbul’s neighborhoods, but we did our best to get out and enjoy the nightlife. On the first and second nights, we found bars in the Beyoglu neighborhood – so many of them have live music – and on our last night, Shelby and I drank raki (Turkey’s version of ouzo) in a smoky piano bar in the Sisli neighborhood.
I’m a sucker for all things sweet, so of course I loved trying different versions of baklava every day. And, holy hell, does Istanbul know what to do with spices! After three months in a region that doesn’t seem to give a damn about spicy food (sorry, Catalonia), I was thoroughly bowled over to be met with flavor and spice at every meal in Istanbul.
Now I’m simply plotting when I can return to Istanbul for a second trip – and also make my way to other parts of Turkey. First on the list? Cappadocia. I mean, look at this insanity:
* Did you know there are actually 4 transcontinental cities? Istanbul is the largest and most well-known, of course, but the others are: Atyrau, Kazakhstan (Europe/Asia), Orenburg, Russia (Europe/Asia) and Suez, Egypt (Africa/Asia).