It fascinates me how Istanbul is straddle between the two continents, Asia and Europe. Different from the other European cities, you see more of Asia than Europe in Istanbul with its interesting ethnic markets, street food stalls, and other Turkish delicacies.
Effect of terror in the city
I visited Istanbul in 2016, few months into the terror attacks in Istanbul and Paris.
During my visit, both the cities were under constant surveillance, making the vibe tensed. The critical areas were on high alert with heavy security.
Despite the attacks, the locals were very inviting, and the life was as usual. It was unreal to experience and surprising how quick people adapt to the new standards of living.
Where did I stay?
I opted for a cute place with Airbnb in Beyoğlu located on the European side of Istanbul, separated from the old city by the Golden Horn.
My welcome package had some to die for Turkish pastries for my sweet tooth. The host very gracefully extended the invitation for the Turkish tea to a nearby cafe, named Papadopoulos. It was a pleasing gesture. We spent couple hours discussing the economy, politics and different occupations over a hot cup of tea.
The host shared a brief guideline on tourist area and the areas to avoid. A strict suggestion to skip Taksim square based on the recent bombing attacks. It is nice to meet a friendly and caring person. Little did he knew I would make my way to the area anyway. The host place was beautiful, immaculate and chic; his wife did the interior.
About Galata Tower
I stayed a block away from the Galata Tower. Charming and rich in history. The tower has seen a reign of several emperors, restoration and has served various purposes. It has functioned as a prison, a watch tower and today have a panoramic observation deck with the spectacular view of Istanbul and Bosphorus. Uplifted and surrounded by chic cafes, restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, local markets of grocers and fruit stalls on the narrow streets.
Stunning view of Galata Tower from day to evening.
Did you know Canadian passport requires an e-visa for Turkey? It is very easy to apply and you get revert in 30 minutes. I applied for the Turkish visa from Paris. It is advised to arrive with visa. Istanbul airports have kiosks for the visa on arrival. It is easier to get through the language barriers and arrive with visa on hand.
Istanbul has been build by many emperors over the centuries. The city is rich in history and has beautiful cultural monuments and stunning mosques.
Istanbul’s street food comprises of pretzels, roasted corn, fresh orange juice, warm and meaty chestnuts, kebabs and much more. The phenomenon of street food is what witnessed in Asia.
Dressing appropriately and staying respectful is paramount visiting a conservative country. The mosques and temples provide cover-ups and grant the access to the facility.
What to pack?
I opted for jeans as it was unusually cold spring.
It is evident to pack based on the time of the year. Spring or fall calls for layering. I like the idea of taking dress pants, shorts, dresses and jeans. Harems and ethnic skirts are great to blend in. Get your hands on local ethnic accents.
I traveled the city mostly walking and rarely using public transit. Walk from the Galata Tower to the Grand Bazaar, the area of Blue Mosque and the bay stroll from the mosque were a unique experience. There are various small alleys on the way to Grand Bazaar, one or other leads to the same destination.
Note: Check visiting hours for Topkapi Palace and Dolmabahçe Palace if planning to add to your travel plan. It is advisable to take guided tour.
This old market host over 3000 stores enriched with local food, carpets, towels, sparkly colorful lanterns, gold, silver and other ethnic jewelry. It is a place to wander around, go lost in its charm, enjoy, take in the feel and to shop. Experience the power of bargain to score well.
Do you have a good bargaining skill? I don’t. It can be very handy.
Note: Currency exchanges near the Grand Bazaar, gives better exchange rates from the other parts of the city. Avoid currency exchange at the airports. It’s easy to locate cluster of exchange bureau near the bazzar.
I love to try the local delicacy. Airbnb made traveling and domesticating possible in Istanbul for my extended travel plans, as I start craving for comfort food.
Devoured Baklava and other desserts along with Turkish delight, the famous Turkish coffee, Middle Eastern platters, mezes, and falafels.
Enjoyed some live music at Arada cafe; which has the nice ambiance, vibe and does good food and hookah. The owners of the cafe were very enthusiastic and friendly people. They run weekly live music.
It sells spices, tea, dry fruits, grain, and souvenirs. I was able to find one of my favorites, saffron along with cute little gadgets and mantle pieces.
What did I buy as souvenirs?
- Beautiful evil eye and couple other bracelets.
- Istanbul blue and white tile coasters.
To sum it up,
Istanbul cherishes more of an Asian vibe, be ready to experience an European city with a different perspective.
- Galata Kitchen – Good if you are up for home style vegetarian food.
- Arada Cafe – Loved them the most.
- Marmelat Cafe
- World House Cafe
- Hafiz Mustafa
- Sark Kahvesi
- Camera: Nikon D5300 and iPhone 6 Plus.
I would love to hear your experience of the beautiful city and your favorite things to do in Istanbul.