While we had ten days booked in Istanbul, 3-4 of those days evaporated on us as we came down with awful colds and spent our precious time shuffling back and forth from our Airbnb to the grocery store for instant noodles and tissues.
That being said, we still managed to see quite a bit of the city, and since it was our first time in Istanbul, everything was new and fascinating! I fell a bit in love with the city. It was charming and full of life.
Our neighborhood (Beyoglu) was bohemian, with cafes spilling out onto sidewalks, plants draped over outdoor seating areas, bookstores and antique shops nestled on winding streets, and (healthy and well treated) stray cats and dogs roaming at will. It was a writers paradise. No matter what time you walked around, groups were leisurely enjoying Turkish coffee or tea. And the food was delicious. We tried different kabobs, Manti (meat dumplings in yogurt sauce), seafood casseroles, Turkish breakfast (a huge sampling of different sweet and savory treats), delicious cheese pastries, and baklava.
The public transport system was easy to decipher and easily took us anywhere we needed to go – while we mostly used the tram, I also took the subway further afield one day and almost cried at how much cleaner and more pleasant it is than the New York subway. No screeching noises of rusty rails, no one peed on the floor, no one came on our car screaming about God. It was shiny and white instead of covered in grime. (I could write a very long post on how much I hate the New York MTA, but I can feel my blood pressure rising, so I’m going to stop here).
Of course we checked out the tourist spots:
The Grand Bazaar
Lots of leather, gold, scarves, and Turkish tea and coffee sets. We went into one scarf shop and came away with some stunning gifts – like most bazaars, the vender was an excellent salesman who showed us dozens of options, explained where each was made, and served us apple tea while we made decisions.
The Blue Mosque
Unfortunately, much of the iconic domed ceiling is currently covered due to restoration, but entering this space brought such a sense of peace. Visitors walked barefoot around the outer edges of the mosque while worshippers sat on the floor, leaned against columns, and read or prayed.
And of course, the Hagia Sophia – check out the full blog post for details.
Built in Roman times and used to hold water, now this vast underground space is open to tourists. It’s dimly lit with eery music playing and quite atmospheric.
This was the first city where we did Airbnb experiences, and I am very eager to continue everywhere I visit from now on.
We booked 3, but sadly had to cancel our ghost walk due to illness. The first I already wrote about (whirling dervishes and a kabob dinner), and the second was Turkish coffee fortune telling.
Sam and I met with a Turkish woman who took us to one of the best Turkish coffee spots in the city, explained the tradition of reading fortunes in the coffee grounds (and that it was mainly to connect with people and get to know them better rather than something people really believe), told us how to make Turkish coffee, and then read our cups.
Sam got the unusual “Prophets cup” where the cup itself sticks to the saucer and can’t be read, while I got an extensive reading. Each area of the cup represents something different – business, love, past, present, future… and the saucer represents family and will tell you whether a wish you made at the start will come true or not. It was so much detailed than I expected.
Like everywhere we visit, one of the best parts is just wandering around aimlessly, soaking in the surroundings and looking at every small detail: