February 2020 – Comments and questions are welcome, as well as corrections if you notice any 🙂
One of my favorite cities in the world is Istanbul. There’s something so appealing about that city, and I can’t explain what exactly it is. Are they interesting monuments, kind hosts, excellent gastronomic offers, exceptional lookouts? Or the Turkish series did their part, so I fell in love with this city because of them. Turkish soap operas are one of the main exports of Turkey and a big money earner. I think that the particular atmosphere of this city that connects east and west is something that attracts me so much to Istanbul. And not only physically, because this is a city on two continents, but also spiritually and culturally.
On the one hand, the city exudes the old Ottoman flair, and on the other hand it is very modern. Either way, I keep coming back to this city over and over again. So this time too, in the middle of winter.
I fly to Istanbul with my favorite airline, Turkish Airlines. Already upon boarding the plane it feels where I am flying to. Cabin staff in all national carriers is an introduction to their country. I felt that way this time too. Extremely friendly cabin staff, extremely modern interior with comfortable leather seats, excellent food. The hours actually fly by.
The plane was absolutely full on both departure and return flights. Already that says how attractive Istanbul is, and Turkish Airlines is favorite company of many. Many people use it to fly with it all over the world. We landed at Istanbul’s new airport. It is not enough to say that it is huge, but it is also very sterile. Maybe a bit too big and too sterile. Because when something is so big, everything looks far from each other, it looks like there are few people, like it’s empty. And just to get to passport control! You have to walk and walk.
As we were on an organized tour, a bus was waiting for us. We took our bus from the new Istanbul airport to the city, directly to the Camlica lookout.
We wanted to go to a beautiful lookout as soon as we arrived in Istanbul, and enjoy the views of the city. We went to Camlica Hill which is on the Asian side. For me, this was a new and unfamiliar place in Istanbul, but I recommend to everyone to come here.
The views of the city are beautiful, and besides, this is actually a very nicely landscaped park. Of course, there is also a cafe with a real Ottoman, Turkish atmosphere. Unfortunately, it was raining so we couldn’t see very well. But otherwise, you can see the Bosphorus, the bridges, as well as the European side of Istanbul.
To get from the airport to the Camlica hill, we passed one of the bridges connecting the two sides of Istanbul. I have to admit that it is a really special feeling to drive these big Istanbul bridges, firstly because they are really huge. And secondly, below you can see the Bosphorus strait and the busy activity through that strait of all kinds of boats. The shores of the Bosphorus are a favorite place for going out, walking, coffee, restaurant for all who live and come to Istanbul.
And you can see many houses along the Bosphorus, you may recognize one from some Turkish soap opera. The houses located here on the shores of the Bosphorus are the most expensive in the entire country and are generally one of the most expensive properties in the world. It’s both surprising and not surprising. Surprising because there is really no particularly beautiful nature here, and there is no space, so everything is somehow cramped. On the other hand, considering that Istanbul has so many inhabitants (it is not known exactly how many millions), that means that there are many very rich people. This is really an oasis for them in the chaos of Istanbul.
Istanbul is a very chaotic city with so many people, the traffic is simply congested. But everything works properly!
After enjoying the views, the ambiance, the coffee, and the nature of Camilca hill, we set off for our hotel. Our hotel was located just behind Taksim Square. There is a very large number of hotels here. It is very practical to be located right here because everything is within walking distance from here. There is a metro station, and perhaps most importantly: in the evening everything is bustling with life here because here is the most important street to see and be seen in Istanbul: Istiklal cadesi.
When we got to the hotel, it was already evening and time for dinner. No matter we were in a 5-star hotel, we wanted to go for a real Turkish feast, in a typical Turkish restaurant, with a typical Turkish ambiance. In fact, meals are always a great pleasure for me in Turkey. Not because I eat a lot, but because of just some specific atmosphere and the attention that Turks pay to meals.
We didn’t want to go further than Istiklal Cadesi, there was no need. Firstly because the street is very lively, full of life, and secondly, because there are countless great restaurants right here. For little money you eat well and a lot. Turkish cuisine in my head is barbecue and fresh vegetables. But what I especially like about Turkey is their mezze system. Mezze are small meals. You get a little something on a small plate. And so you get a lot of small plates with a lot of different everything. To lick your fingers!
We spiced up the evening with beer. Although Turkey is a Muslim country, and consequently alcohol is forbidden to Muslims, Turkey is very accustomed to tourists, and alcohol can be obtained in almost any restaurant.
It’s time to head back to the hotel, and tomorrow we head out to do the sightseeing of this remarkable city.
I woke up in the morning to a gray, chilly, and rainy morning. It’s February after all. But nothing for that, the bus is waiting for us and we go sightseeing. The first stop for everyone without exception who comes to Istanbul for the first time is Sultanahmet.
In Sultanahmet there is the largest concentration of monuments in Istanbul. There is the famous Topkapi Palace, there is the Hagia Sophia. But also the Grand Bazaar, the Blue Mosque, the Cistern, a multitude of monuments reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire. But it’s not just about monuments. It is also about the ambiance and architecture. Namely, occasionally, but not often, typical Ottoman architecture with a protruding upper floor can be noticed. True, we would like to see more of this old and typical Ottoman architecture, to feel even more deeply immersed in Turkey of Suleiman the Magnificent, but this is how it is today.
Anyone who comes to Istanbul should visit Topkapi Palace, to try to imagine what life was like at the sultan’s court in the 15th century. The reality is far from the luxury of the Turkish soap opera “Suleiman the Magnificent”, which is very dear to me. Still, walking through the spacious gardens, terraces overlooking the Bosphorus, the harem, the Divan, but also the kitchens, it is easy to imagine what it looked like six, seven centuries ago.
You should also visit the treasury and see what the soldiers’ uniforms, weapons and emerald-decorated yataghans looked like.
Aya Sofia is an inevitable place for all visitors to Istanbul. A particularly favorite place for a selfie or photo is right between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Today, there is controversy over the intention to convert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, although this has been a Christian church dating back to the time when Istanbul was called Constantinople. Hagia Sophia is a huge church, as soon as you enter you feel very small compared to the building. The large green shields in the upper corners of the church, written in Arabic calligraphy are impressive.
Across the street is the Blue Mosque, which you can visit. I definitely recommend visiting it because Muslims for some reason do not allow non-Muslims to enter mosques. But the Blue Mosque is an exception. So here’s a chance to see what a mosque looks like from the inside.
In addition to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, there is also the so-called “Hurem’s Bath” here. There’s nothing about Hurem here, although that’s what it is called. Hurem was the wife of the sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
What is more interesting, and is located on the other side of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia is the so-called Cistern, but officially it is called “Yerebatan”. In the past, it was exactly what its name says: a cistern. It is an extraordinary feeling to walk through the cistern, to observe the huge fish swimming here, but also to see the mythical figure of Medusa, turned upside down.
Of course James Bond was here, too, walking down this cistern. Speaking of James Bond, he also walked around Aya Sofia. And drove on the Orient Express.
The Orient Express is a legendary train that operated between Istanbul and Paris a century ago. We can imagine a bit and try to experience the Orient Express by visiting the starting and/or ending station of that train: Sirkeci station. It is located at the foot of Topkapi Palace, and on the shores of the Bosphorus. There is a locomotive in front of the station to remind us where the Orient Express was coming to and starting from.
All this is located along the main street of Sultanahmet, which goes from Sirkeci Station, through Topkapi Palace, Yerebatan Cistern, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, all the way to the Grand Bazaar and beyond. On that street, there are a lot of restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, cheap hotels. Everything on this street is dedicated to tourism. Occasionally, beautiful Ottoman architecture can be seen. This street is also served by a tram. You will definitely use this street a lot. Every couple of hundred meters it changes name, so I don’t know what street name to write here now.
On that street is the Grand Bazaar, the largest covered bazaar in the world. This is actually a maze of countless little streets. It is an exceptional experience to visit this bazaar, regardless of whether you come for shopping or not. I never buy anything here, but the atmosphere delights me.
In addition, there are small cafes, very typically Turkish, with low chairs and even lower tables, finely carved. The coffee comes in beautiful little cups and pots. Turkish coffee is drunk in Turkey, so whenever you order coffee, they will ask you if you want Turkish coffee. Still, it seems to me that Turks drink more tea than coffee
It is necessary to bargain. Of course, do not to exaggerate, because in the end, the trader must earn something. I generally like in Istanbul that people aren’t strenuous, they don’t pull you by the sleeve and they don’t shout after you “tourist, tourist, buy this, buy that”, as is the case elsewhere. Turkey is known as an exporter of cheap materials and fabrics. It is still true that Turkey is a place where fabrics are bought in bulk.
You can take the tram at the Grand Bazaar down to Sirkeci Station, or the Eminou district. For me personally, the Eminou district is perhaps the favorite place to soak up the real Turkish atmosphere. Everything is so authentic on Eminou! The men are dressed simply, the women with largely covered heads. There are two impressive mosques here, there is a market here, and here is the famous Galata Bridge.
I come here to Eminou absolutely every time I’m in Istanbul, to take their specialty: fish on bread, and that’s it! So simple, and so delicious! Here in Eminou, at the foot of the Galata Bridge, you will be surprised by small restaurants that only sell fish on bread. Fishing boats are moored along the shore, tents, plastic tables, and chairs are set up, and a counter is between you and the boat. You don’t need to say what you’re ordering, because that’s all there is: fish from that fishing boat on plain bread. The fish is baked on the grill, and at the counter, they offer you to put lettuce in the bread. Amazing how easy it is and to lick your fingers, too!
There are two impressive mosques here: the Rustem Pasha and the Yeni mosque. You will get the best photos of these mosques from the Galata Bridge. You can’t enter mosques anyway if you’re not Muslim. Next to the mosque is the Egyptian market. You should definitely come here and experience the atmosphere. This market used to be called “spice market”. Even today, spices are the basis of this market, so the aromas are extremely strong. No one can resist buying that plastic box of ten different spices and taking it home with them. They are often not used, moreover, the things bought on the trips are forgotten. However, I personally use these ten spices.
Before entering the Egyptian market, you will see a huge queue for one coffee shop. It is the most famous ground coffee shop in Istanbul, and many come here to buy that ground coffee. Needless to say how intense the coffee smells.
Eminou is also the main hub of local shipping lines. Namely, as the city is located on two continents, and when we take into account the Golden Horn, there are many shores, and all of them are inhabited neighborhoods. So ferry transport is actually local city transport. I recommend that you definitely take these ferries, go at least once from one neighborhood to another, and experience that ferry ride. The ride itself is not as attractive as everything else around that ride: so many seas, so many shores, so many boats, so many seagulls flying over you. You get the impression that Istanbul is a distinctly maritime city.
This is the legendary Istanbul Bridge, which, contrary to popular belief, does not bridge the Bosphorus but only the Golden Horn. Pass this bridge up and down many times. Really, I mean really there is something indescribably appealing about this bridge. I remember during one of my visits to Istanbul, I came here at dusk for dinner. The four of us sat on the terrace of one of the restaurants. Pleasant summer evening, food was good as always. So we ate, the sun was setting. As the sun sets among the minarets of the Yeni Mosque you get a magical image. Even more so when the muezzin announces with his calls for prayer. It was an evening to remember!
By Galata bridge, you come to the other shore, where Istiklal Cadesi is located. Since it is very steep to climb to Istiklal Cadesi, the government has built a funicular, which they call a “tunnel”. Namely, it is underground. You need a subway ticket. Although the drive is quite short, it will make it much easier for you to get to the main “see and be seen” street in Istanbul: Istiklal Cadesi.
I personally never take that funicular, but slowly I climb my way towards Istiklal Cadesi. You pass through like some kind of art district, full of small shops, galleries, bars, and the like.
And above all, you pass by one of the main and most recognizable symbols of Istanbul: the Galata Tower. It was built by the once powerful maritime state of Genoa, and today it serves as an exceptional lookout. There is always a big crowd to climb this tower, but it’s worth your effort!
It’s also nice to just hang aroung the tower, and soak up the atmosphere of Istanbul in one of the countless restaurants and cafes located around Galata Tower. Just above Galata Tower is the beginning of Istiklal Street, with its legendary red tram. Why not, get on that tram, it takes you to the other end of Istiklal Street. This is a very long street, so you may want to use the tram. You will need a ticket of course.
I really like Istiklal cadesi street for many reasons. There are lavish large buildings. This neighborhood was called Pera in the past. There are so many restaurants, a surprisingly large number of Starbucks and Nero cafes. There is a Starbucks on eight floors! It’s so big that on the third floor of that Starbucks there is a second order counter, in case that counter on the ground floor gets crowded. There are countless carts on the street from which pretzels and similar things are sold.
And the pastry shops! The windows of these patisseries are a feast for the eyes. So lavishly decorated, such an explosions of colors, every tourist wants totake a picture of these shop windows. It seems to you that you can never capture as much in the photo as you would like. The windows of these pastry shops are so big and luxurious!
Turkish delight, or better known to us as rahat lokum, is ubiquitous in Istanbul. They have such attractive packaging that it simply entices you to buy it, so whether you like rahat lokum or not. So I always buy a box, even though I’m not a fan.
And then those baklava, everywhere. You can’t resist them either because of shops windows like this. Although as much sugar as baklava has, it is very harmful, and whole baklava is kind of very harmful to any body, but I still eat it in Istanbul.
We go now to Dolmabahce Palace. It’s somehow “out of hand,” but that’s good. Namely, here where the Dolmabahçe Palace is located there is an oasis of silence, peace, greenery in Istanbul. In the 19th century, the seat of the Ottoman Empire moved here. The sultans wanted to modernize, and they wanted to have a modern palace, modeled on European courts. Topkapi Palace became too old for the sultans for the new era.
Everything is extremely luxurious in the Dolmabahçe Palace, but what is perhaps most exciting is the location on the Bosphorus itself. You will have beautiful pictures of the Bosphorus and the Dolmabahçe Palace from multiple positions.
The cafe located within the complex is also somewhat reminiscent of Europe. Certainly, this cafe is a great idea to refresh yourself after a strenuous and long tour of Dolmabahçe Palace. The lavishly decorated gate that gives to the Bosphorus is one very recognizable image of Istanbul. Worth your effort to wait your turn to take pictures in the middle of that gate, you will have a great souvenir from Istanbul. Since this gate is always crowded, if you come early in the morning to tour the Dolmabahçe Palace, before organized groups, you will have plenty of opportunities to take pictures with this gate.
U blizini se nalazi i impresivan stadion nogometnog kluba Bešiktaš. Ova četvrt se zove Beškitaš. Čudno je vidjeti ovdje ovaj veliki stadion, gotovo uronjen u zelenilo. Općenito, kako je ovo prava oaza zelenila i mira, bilo bi zanimljivo vidjeti kako ovdje izgleda kad je neka utakmica pa kad dođu mase navijača.
Speaking of the shores of the Bosphorus, for your information, the most famous and the chicest neighborhood along the Bosphorus is the nearby Bebek. Many Turkish soap operas shoot scenes right in Bebek. There is no greater pleasure than to come to Bebek and sit by the shore in some cafe and have a drink! You will have unforgettable selfies and pictures to take here.
One of the most beautiful activities in Istanbul is going on a Bosphorus cruise during the day. You will see luxury villas along the Bosphorus. You will also see the city walls, and you have the option of lunch. It sails from the Golden Horn, that is, from the Sea of Marmara, to the Black Sea. A real pleasure is cruising the Bosphorus! You can also go to the evening, but to go in the evening, the point is an interesting ambience for dinner, fun, not so much sightseeing. That said, the evening sailing is beautiful, too.
When talking about views of the Bosphorus, with a beautiful atmosphere and cafes with open terraces, we must mention one of the most recognizable images of Istanbul: the Maiden’s Tower (Kiz Kulesi). It is located on the other side of the Bosphorus, in the Uskudar district. Here you absolutely need to sit in one of the cafes, order coffee, forget about everything, and soak up this view for at least an hour.
During my last stay in Istanbul, I went to another, until then to me unknown lookout. But when I got there, I saw a lot of people, both locals, and foreigners. In fact, this lookout is quite famous and very popular: Pierre Loti lookout.
This is also a hill, and the views are really beautiful. But it’s not just the views, there’s something much more than just the views here. It is about several houses, structures, which seem almost like one small village. Everything is in real Turkish style. Sitting on the terrace of the cafe and enjoying the views is really wonderful. But this time I sat inside for a change. Everything is as it used to be, everything is in Turkish style, really nice.
You come here by cable car. From the terrace of the funicular, there is also a beautiful view of the whole city. I climbed up by the funicular but descended on foot. You pass by the local cemetery. It was a great experience for me to walk around the Muslim cemetery, to watch that different way of decorating the cemetery, from the one I was used to in Europe. Truly an experience.
I was in Istanbul for four days, I always go for four days. But now again it was simply too short. I did not stop walking around for a moment, I saw many things, experienced and discovered a lot. But still it feels too little. I would like more of Istanbul! I can’t wait to come to Istanbul again!