We just returned from 14 days in Istanbul, and all I can say is WOW. Although our expectations were high, the city was so much more than we expected it to be. As we drove in from the airport I felt like a giddy 16 year old who was seeing her first love for the first time, and it only got better as time went on. We saw all the usual sites, and they are magnificent. AyaSofya sits like a massive guardian watching over the city, and the symmetry of the Blue Mosque takes your breath away. Topkapi Palace was amazing and Dolmabache Palace was definitely glitzy. (I have never seen so many chandeliers in my life.) We spent almost an entire day at the Archeological Museum and could not believe the treasures it contained. We wandered the streets of Fenner and Balat, and the children there are as wonderful as everyone says. It was exceedingly hot while we were there...even the Turks were complaining about the heat...so the Bosphorous Cruise, the trip to the Asian side and the trip to Princes Island were a welcome relief from the heat of the city streets. The taxi drivers drive like maniacs (even worse than Mexico) but are sometimes quite comical in their comments. (We had one taxi driver who was obsessed with Chuck Norris and excitedly talked of nothing else the entire trip, while at the same time almost taking out two children and yelling at all the other drivers who were apparently going the right way on a one way street, which our taxi driver was not.) Mostly we just wandered the city and it’s backstreets, ducking into a shop here, a café there, and tried to get a feel for what it might be like to actually live in a place so wonderful.
The room and the staff at our hotel, the Armada, were excellent. The Armada is located right behind the shore road in Cankurturan, and we couldn’t have asked for a better view of the Marmaris. The room was large for Istanbul and had more room for storing clothing than I’ve seen in most hotels. The bathroom also had a large marble counter with room for all of our toiletries and paraphernalia. I was surprised to find out that the Serra Terrace Restaurant at the hotel is considered by the Turks to be an exceptionally good restaurant, and I have to say that I concur (and I’m rarely impressed with hotel food). I had Sea Bass in Parchment the first night we were there and it was heavenly. I’ll post a separate hotel review with more details in the hotel picks thread.
We went to a cooking class at the Sarnic Hotel the day after we arrived, and the food we prepared (with a lot of help from the Chef and Eveline) was amazing. It was my first encounter with Turkish food and I had no idea how wonderful it would be. We prepared Ezogelin Corbasi (spicy lentil and bulgur soup), Imam Bayildi (eggplant braised in olive oil with onions and tomatos), Kabak Mucveri (zucchini patties with herbs and cheese), Eti Yaprak Domasi (vine leaves stuffed with minced meat) and Sekerpare (syrupy semolina sponge cakes with hazelnuts). Everything tasted so fresh and was just bursting with flavor...as was all the Turkish food we ate on our trip. For those who get tired of eating Turkish, try the North Shield Pub at the bottom of DivanYolu right next to the Gulhane tram stop...the waiters are lots of fun and the food is good. That’s where we watched the election results come in on Sunday night. Also, for a fabulously rich desert, there’s a great restaurant on Istiklal called Ist where I had the best brownie I’ve ever tasted. It also has decent club sandwiches, omlettes and pizza. Of course we visited Baran’s and it is definitely yummy in the tummy...it’s like Turkish comfort food. Sultanahmet Koftesci had delicious meatballs and the Sultan’s Pub had good Turkish food and great burgers. On the Asian side we ate at Ciya, and their lamb kabobs were wonderful. We also visited Kanyon Mall and Metro City Mall. The architecture of Kanyon is really neat and there are some good restaurants/cafes there, although I can’t remember the names of them! Most of the time we just wandered around and chose restaurants based on the amount of locals who appeared to be there, and we were never disappointed.
We also visited Orhan’s shop...twice! Had a great time with Orhan and Teslim and came home with lots of perfume, soaps, oils, keses, etc. I hope that everyone who goes to Istanbul visits Orhan’s. He and Teslim are tons of fun and will make you some really wonderful scents.
While all of the above was fabulous, the most memorable and enjoyable part of our trip was interacting with the people of Istanbul. They are wonderful beyond words...so friendly and welcoming...and they put the folks in the US to shame when it comes to showing hospitality to visitors. The very best part of our trip was meeting Alper...he is a really cool guy with a great sense of humor, and the evening we spent with him was worth the flight to Istanbul and back by itself! Thanks to Alper, I now know how to properly drink Raki, and I also gained a ton of insight into Istanbul and its politics. We were also lucky enough to have breakfast one morning with the exceptionally nice Counselorlady, who was staying at our hotel. I can’t wait to read her trip report after she returns.
The last day we were there we were planning to go to the Hammam and Chora Church, but it was 99 degrees and the thought of pounding the streets or visiting a steambath just wasn’t appealing, so instead we spent the afternoon and early evening at the outdoor café at the Sultan’s Pub chatting with local Turks and tourists. It was really a great way to end our trip.
There are so many wonderful things to say about Istanbul, but there is neither the time nor the words to say them. It’s good to be back home, but Istanbul captures one’s heart and I cannot wait to return. Hopefully it won’t be too long before that happens!