istanbul, not constantinople

Istanbul is my favorite kind of city, a little bit of big city class with lots of chaos. You can eat street food for breakfast and end the day with fancy rooftop cocktails. And in between, explore all the historic sights…

Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque

The 2 “must see” spots in Istanbul. They are worth the time to see but they ended up not being the highlights of my trip. An upside of traveling to Istanbul in the off season is there weren’t very long lines, the downside was half the Hagia Sofia was covered in scaffolding.

P1030517_editedSuleymaniye Mosque.

Less famous than the Blue Mosque but more beautiful if you ask me. It sits atop a hill, with breathtaking views of the city and equally breathtaking details inside. After exploring the mosque find a cafe nearby where you can sit and take in the views.

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 Basilica Cistern

Go back in time when you descend the stairs into this former Roman water source. They’ve tried hard to commercialize it with a cafe and a photo booth, but none of it is needed. The architecture and atmosphere are impressive and surreal enough.

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Cihangir Area.

 This is the neighborhood that sold me on Istanbul as more than a tourist city. Get lost in the streets filled with antique shops, cafes and bakeries, that is after you have brunch at Van Kahvalti.

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Traditional Turkish Bath

I saved the best for last. The Turkish bath was one of my all time favorite travel experiences. Just a warning, while the end result is relaxation and smooth skin, it is not a gentle or delicate process, at least 5 layers of skin will be scrubbed off you. There are many Hamamis to choose from around the city, we opted for Kilic Ali Pasa, a little more upscale  but you get what you pay for and the service and atmosphere were worth the extra lira.

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Some need to knows for Istanbul:

  • Mosques are free but closed to visitors during prayer. Usually around lunch
  • Mosques provide head coverings and skirts for ladies
  • Turkey has a tipping culture!
  • Visit The Outspoken Travel Guidebook for Istanbul for more information and recommendations
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street food: istanbul

Street Food, the reason I have to unbutton my pants when I sit down.

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In my most natural state: eating

I wasn’t expecting to find so much street food in Istanbul. I’d read all about Turkish Delights (delightful btw) and Turkish breakfast (I love a place with breakfast culture). But I hadn’t read much about the street food and I’m here to fix that problem. There were some disappoints but most of it was a must eat.

The Hits: 

Simit: A Turkish bagel that’s easy to find all over the city. Covered in sesame seeds it’s got an amazing flavor, who knew seasme seeds were so flavorful? Simit stalls are easy to find all over the city, especially on Istikal Street. Get your simit with cheese spread, olive spread or nutella, and all for 2 lira.

Juice: I play fast and loose with the phrase “street food”. It’s easy to spot a juice stall from the vibrant colors of the pomegrantes and oranges. Round off your morning simit with a freshly squeezed glass for only 3 lira.

Doughnuts: Possibly one of the best doughnuts I’ve ever had. Super light, fresh and dripping in some sort of sugary coating. These were easy to spot on Princes Island where they came in ball form, while in Istanbul the only place to find them was near the fish sandwich stalls by the walking bridge. Don’t be confused with the other forms of fried sticks and circles, they just don’t compare. You’ll break the bank when you buy these for 5 lira. 

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Turkish Shortbread Cookies: I fell in love with these little cookies. And why not, they’re small, cheap and come in so many flavors. To me the reflect what I love about Turkish food culture, small portions so you can try everything. The bakeries are a little harder to find in the tourist areas but keep a look out and you’ll run across one. A small bag will only cost a few lira.

The Misses:

IMG_9173Street Corn: Every where I went there seemed to be a guy selling corn alongside chestnuts. The smell of roasting corn finally wore me down. I think I was expecting something along the line of sweet corn and that it was not. I can’t express the disappointment at that first bite of chewy bland corn.  My corn on the cob met the bottom of a trash can soon after. All was not lost though as the corn vendor asked me out on a dateIMG_9236Street Meat: To be fair I only tried one street meat stall (gyro meat) but the sandwich was as appealing as this out of focus picture. The ratio of bread to meat was way off, too much bread, which only worsened the dry meat situation. I believe there is better street meat out there so go forth and find great street meat.

Istanbul

“We are not afraid, we are here and we won’t get used to it”

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These are the simple but powerful phrases that adorned Iskital Street, where a suicide bomber killed 4 people and injured many more in Istanbul last Saturday.

I happened to be in Istanbul last week when the attack occurred. There are far too many things I could talk about (lack of media coverage for one) but I think the most important one is what is written on those posters:

“We are not afraid, we are here and we won’t get used to it” 

Talking to my friend over brunch today we finally confessed to each other how the bombing affected us. We refused to fuel each others fear while in Istanbul but today we admitted that we were put on edge by the large crowds and random sirens. While this may seem like the worst sales pitch for traveling to Istanbul; I’m also not going to pretend that there weren’t moments where I was nervous and uncomfortably alert. But these were just fleeting moments, gone by the time I finished a Turkish delight.

I found it puzzling at first when in the aftermath of the bombing life went on as normal. The only noticeable difference was the abundance of flags that appeared by Monday in a sign of solidarity and respect, but I saw no one cowering in fear. I’m taking my cue from the Turkish people, I refuse to let a terrorist dictate how I live. Things get scary sometimes but that doesn’t mean we have to live in fear. Let alone let fear rule our lives. I say, keep on traveling friends.

Look forward to more posts about beautiful Istanbul. Until then here are a few photos…