The airport shuttle bus was speeding over the Bosphorus bridge with Will.i.am and Britney screaming and shouting through the speakers. I was sitting in the front seat next-to a non-stop smoking driver. A massive sea freighter silently glided under us, as we drove to the Asian part of town. Looking back at the exotic skyline one last time before I headed back to the reality of my office desk, I realized that this city got under my skin.
I spent 3 days in Istanbul as the cherry on the baklava of a motorbike trip through Europe. Enough time to fall in love. This magical place connects the west and the east since ancient times and you can still feel it today.
If the earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.
I strolled endlessly through the streets of this chaotic, yet surprisingly charming cosmopolitan. My havaianas were 1cm thinner by the time I left.
The liberal atmosphere, the manic traffic, the nuclear calorie bombs, the old steep streets and the cultural heritage impressed me. But most of all, I liked the bustling river. Big sturdy ferries were constantly navigating their way through this busy shipping route. Observing the action on the water proved to be the best entertainment in town. It seems like all of my favorite cities are located next-to the sea.
These are the things that caught my eye. Impressions of Istanbul, snapped with a smartphone. It’s a bit of an alternative guide to hanging around, because that’s what I do best when I’m abroad.
Wandering through the streets of Sultanahmet
Arriving in Istanbul by motorbike seemed to be horrific. The city is notorious for it’s traffic. I didn’t really find good advice on blogs and fora, so we decided to skip the stress and arrive by boat. This was the best decision ever. I booked a hotel in the old quarters of Sultanahmet, just a small bike ride away from the ferry port of Yenikapi.
I can recommend this to all bikers. We were welcomed warmly by the friendly staff of the hotel. Hotel Sayeban had a parking, but we ended up parking the bike on the pavement. This was totally safe.
I loved Sultanahmet. The location was ideal; close to the main center, the blue mosque and Hagia Sofia. The steep streets were cosy and filled with local shops. It felt like a real neighborhood. The kids played soccer, while their mothers chitchatted the afternoon away on the pavement.
I wasn’t expecting this kind of architecture in the city. If you look closely you’ll see loads of beautiful old buildings.
Forget the kebab-casanova’s, eat at the local restaurants
I ignored the sleak kebab casanova’s who repeatedly shuffed menu cards filled with ugly food pictures under my nose (forget about this kind of places, unless you’re looking for a cheap kebap).
The restaurants where local shop owners go for lunch were much more interesting. Being a foreigner, I was welcomed with open arms. Turks were generally very hospitable, even if they didn’t speak English. A free glass of tea (or several glasses) topped off every decent meal.
Food was cheap. A 2 person meal, with several dishes, drinks and dessert, costed about 15 euro, max.
I didn’t get sick once, although I ate a lot of meat. That was quite a surprise because the buffets did have an Asian feel …
I particularly liked the no-nonsense approach and friendly folks of Osmanlu Mutfagi. Its a small dirty restaurant you would pass by if you weren’t looking for it. It’s the type of place where shop owners go for lunch. The waiter didn’t speak English, which was fun. See the map below for the address.
Sunset chilling at the Asian waterfront
Sitting at the waterfront in the early evening we spotted all sorts of things: couples breaking up, honeymooners renting a boat and dolphins jumping in the bay. The Asian part of town has a lovely shore line where you can crash on some cushions with a drink.
Turkish kitsch galore
Turks like some bling bling. I found loads of shops selling celebratory clothing. They were located between the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market. One shop owner stopped me from taking pictures as ‘the design was protected’. 🙂
Night fishing in the center of town
The Galata bridge is a nice spot to visit at night. You can rent fishing gear and and try to catch some sardines together with lots of old men and young boys.
Forget the grand bazaar, shop like a local
Located to the North West of the Spice Market, I found lot’s of local shops. The real deal, nothing like the Grand Bazaar, which is packed with ugly tourist stuff.
You can buy these headbands all over town, although I’m not sure why exactly …
In an stall packed with wooden Pide plates, an old man was manually carving out wooden boards. Pide – Turkish for pizza – is one of the national dishes. In contrast of the Italian ones, these pizzas are oblong instead of round.
Ramadan in Istanbul
When I found out we were about to visit Turkey during Ramadan, my first reaction was: “NO FOOD? SAY WHAT?”. Ramadan in Istanbul turned out to be more of a festival than a deprivation. Finding food was not an issue. Lot’s of Turks ate during the day. And things got really crazy at night.
I stumbled upon a square filled with thousands of people pick-nicking for Iftar, the traditional Ramadan dinner. Everyone brought their home cooked meals and shared food.
Every square centimeter was taken, people even sat between bushes of roses. This was one of my most memorable travel moments.
This was an awesome experience that totally got us by surprise. It can go on my list next-to Holi festival, corpse burnings in Varanasi, Songkran festival in Thailand, the sunset moments at Bromo and driving through the atlas in Morocco.
Sweets for my sweet, sugar for my honey
Turkey is baklava heaven. I have a soft spot for these sweet desserts aka nuclear calorie bombs. There were some really good spots in town. Hafiz Mustafa has been sculpting beautiful pieces of pastry since 1864.
Istanbul Do It Yourself
Kim will spank me for not having added one cultural highlight to this post. But hey: this is a ‘hanging around’ guide ;). She will – no doubt about it – fill you in on all the details about the cultural heritage at some point this year.
Enjoy your stay!