Hello Istanbul, so we finally meet again! It’s hard to describe the feelings I had when I finally returned to the city on Bosporus after 20 years of dreaming about it. My memories of the city were very vague – after all, I was just six years old when I visited Istanbul for the first time. Nevertheless, it felt so warm and familiar, that I immediately felt at ease. Although I initially planned a frantic sightseeing to get the most out of my too-short-stay in the city, I quickly realised that Istanbul can be fully enjoyed even without all the unnecessary rush. In fact, taking it leisurely allows you to appreciate all the pleasures even more.
Knowing my time was limited, I wanted to waste none of it and stayed directly in the most artsy and vivacious district of the city – the famous Beyoğlu on the European side of Istanbul. I started my day in Kahve6, a cozy café on Anahtar Street, where I had a fantastic organic breakfast along a handful of locals and thought about all that I had in front of me today.
I planned to head straight to the majestic Spice Bazaar on the other side of the Golden Horn strait, but I couldn’t resist the urge to get lost in the colourful streets and mysterious passages of the Beyoğlu/Cihangir neighborhoods. The passageways date all the way back to the Ottoman Empire. If you feel a bit unsure when walking in their shadows, imagine that once these smart interconnections provided locals with safety – they were built to help them escape from the frequent earthquakes.
In one of them – the Hazzo Pulo passage – I came across a gorgeous teahouse called Kahveci Mustafa Amca and had a delicious Turkish tea. I wanted to take a little break and read a page or two from my book (Ayşe Kulin’s Last Train to Istanbul, recommended!), but I realized that people around me were just too interesting (most of them seemed like intellectuals from the media and institutions located on the nearby Taksim square) and decided to do some people-watching instead. If you want to learn the most about Istanbul without moving a finger, find yourself a beautiful tea house like this and keep your eyes (and ears) open.
Suddenly realizing it was almost noon, I quickly jumped into a cab and headed to the base of the Galata Bridge in Eminönü, where the so-called “Egyptian” Spice Bazaar can be found. Although this place full of smells, colours and tastes can’t really compete in size and notoriety with the famous Grand Bazaar, its ambience and variety of shopping opportunities won’t let you down.
Bazaars truly are the beating hearts of Istanbul. Whether you want to taste local delicacies or just immense in the bustling atmosphere, missing this experience while in the city should always be out of question.
After a while of inhaling all those tempting smells of spices and freshly grounded coffee, I began to daydream about some hearty meal. Willing to treat myself to that 100% authentic experience, I headed to the famously-opulent Pandeli Restaurant housed in the impressing Ottoman palace within the bazaar area. This gracious place hosted many VIPs, including Robert de Niro, Cameron Diaz and some members of royal families – it comes as no surprise given the breathtaking beauty of the interior and culinary skills of local chefs. I delighted in a beautifully-juicy lamb kebab which came with generous side dishes and delicate Turkish wine.
After pampering myself with all those tasty calories, I was in a perfect mood for a little healthy walk. I turned to the right and headed towards the beautiful Gülhane Park. It took me about 20 minutes to get there, and I must say I was absolutely stunned by all that sophisticated greenery and majestic old trees. Gülhane is the oldest park in the whole Istanbul, only opened to the public in 1912.
I strolled through the network of pathways that crisscross the park and took some highly satisfying photos – the sun was in its peak position, bunch of kids ran around laughing, and life felt just perfect. But Gülhane park is more than just a perfect spot to unwind in the middle of a hectic day – it’s basically the palace garden of the famous Topkapı Palace, one of the most famous sights in the whole Turkey. That’s where I headed next. If you’re wondering if Topkapı Palace should be included in your itinerary too, let me give you three good reasons why the answer is “yes”.
First of all, this place is located on a hill above Istanbul’s Old City and surrounded by the Marmara Sea, the Bosporus Strait, and the Golden Horn. If you’re looking for a great view, it couldn’t get much better. Secondly, 400,000 square meters of buildings, courtyards, gardens, and gates (enhanced and improved by successors of the throne in the course of four centuries), offer unparalleled opportunity to explore the beauty of imperial architecture. And last but not least, Topkapı also houses wonderful collections of jewelry, weapons, porcelain, kitchen utensils, relics, sultan’s kaftans, portraits, and many other artefacts. If you’re rushing through the city and want to see the best of it all in one place, this is your best chance.
Turkish word mezze originates in Persian maza – the taste. But it’s not only about tasting, when you order mezze in one of traditional Turkish restaurants such as the Karaköy Lokantası, where I decided to have a well-deserved break. Mezze is a ritual – a tray full of delightful treats such as roasted chickpeas, fatty cheese, seafood salad, marinated fish and pickles, enjoyed with your friends over a common table. To make the ritual complete, add some rakı – traditional anise-flavored alcohol drink invented in Ottoman Empire.
Although it was a bit strange to have all of these treats to myself, it still was a great feast that totally recharged my batteries. At this time, I was already back on “my” side of the Golden Horn. To satisfy my sweet tooth, I stopped at the famous Karakoy Gulluoglu dessert shop just a few blocks away from the restaurant. I heard they had the best baklava in town, and I can only agree after treating myself to several types of this traditional delicacy full of nuts and honey.
The day was inevitably turning into the night at this stage, and I wanted to finish this exciting experience somehow remarkably. I ended up in Geyik, a stylish cocktail bar that immediately caught my eye as it started to fill-up with dozens of joyous locals. Although this tiny little place ended up almost incredibly full around 8 P.M., it felt totally right and cozy. I had the best Whiskey Sour in my life (in fact, I had two!) and I even engaged in some nice conversations with friendly locals and expats who apparently meet here regularly.
If you’d rather avoid alcohol, you are also welcomed to enjoy Geyik’s famous coffee. To me it smelled mouth-watering, but I’ve decided to skip it this time, since it was already quite late, and I wanted to get a healthy sleep. After all, my alarm clock would start ringing early in the morning, so that I can continue exploring Istanbul some more. Good night, Istanbul, see you tomorrow!
Here are some insights from itinerary that I used and was provided by Ece from the Tripsters Team:
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