Welcome in Istanbul, hoş geldiniz…
First time I visited Turkey was 3 years ago. At that time i didn’t have idea that the biggest city in Turkey, Istanbul, will be partially my home during the upcoming years. I didn’t have idea that bystanders will try to convert me to Islam, that I will make so many friends there and that I will be choking with food while trying to ignore all the guys who inexhaustible throwing compliments. They do that, not because I am a top model, but because they think if you are coming out of the Turkish borders, it is enough to say “ooh, how beautiful you are” and you will fall for them… Yeah right. By the way, this is not a rule with everyone there, that is what my Turkish friends explained me.
Istanbul is the city where I used Couchsurfing for the first time. I advise it to everyone to use. It is the best way to meet the culture of any country.
My host was totally different from a person I was imaging as a Turkish – he was blond with blue eyes and all his friends were the same. Places where we were going out were full of heterosexual and homosexual people. Their view of the world was very liberal and open-minded.
Turkish people are very hospitable people. They will give you everything what they can. I always had problems with “who will pay”. Whenever I would try to pay for a drink or food, they would get kind of offended and angry. Even sometimes waiter would not let me pay, he would say: “You are a guest, (s)he should pay”, while pointing at the person next to me. You feel uncomfortable when someone is paying you constantly and they feel bad if you pay.
In Istanbul (and generally in Turkey) I loved the food. In the beginning, it was a bit harder to get used on Turkish breakfast. They are eating it when they wake up, it doesn’t matter if it is 8am or 4pm. We would eat it usually after 12 pm. Also, it is a common thing to meet with friends for a breakfast, not for a lunch or a dinner. Some of food you will find on the table during breakfast: Fried eggs with sucuk (sucuklu yumurta), olives (green and black), butter, kaymak (it is excellent in combination with honey or chocolate cream), jams, many different kinds of cheese (my favorite is cheese from city of Van, called Van otlu peyniri), tomatoes, cucumbers, börek, bread… and for sure – black tea. Actually, black tea you will find always, no matter what is the time of a day or a night.
Other food I suggest you to try when you are in Istanbul is iskender (thinly cut grilled lamb in hot tomato sauce over pieces of pita bread), Patlıcanlı Kebap (made from eggplant, with meat), Adana Kebap, manti (something like dumplings), tantuni, kokoreç, lamancun (Turkish pizza), baklava, lokum (the best one for me is one from Koska shop), etc. Unfortunately, it is not the best place for vegetarians. Once, my friend asked for a vegeterian meal and she got a beef kebab. Price is affordable, for example for a lunch you will pay 3-12 AUD per person (of course, depends where you will go, but honestly, for me better places were cheaper places). Keep your diet for after Turkey, hehe.
After you make your stomach full, take a walk on Istiklal street. It is one big street full of cheap and expensive shops, restaurants (it is not a bad idea to eat there if you still hadn’t), clubs… Stop near some ice-cream place to check what kind of tricks they can do with it. You will be positively surprised.
A place where you will certainly end up in Istanbul is Grand and Spice Bazaar. It is shopping place, where you should be careful with your wallet ;). The main rule is to bargain. Bargain for everything you see, sometimes you can make price 80% lower. You will find scarves, ornaments, jewelry, shoes, clothes, bags, lamps, carpets, spices…
Please, if you are a woman don’t believe to guys there (on bazaar) who are saying they never saw more beautiful woman than you are, how they want to give you a gift if you go out with them and so on. They are not going out with you because they think you will make a great friendship, but because of the other things, you know. Better search for a friend in another place.
Traveling by boat in Istanbul leaves you with a special feeling. While seagulls are taking bread from your hands, you are enjoying the fresh air and the wonderful view on the European and Asian side. The cheapest tour with the boat is after you cross the Galata bridge (if you are coming from the side of Galata Tower), on the left side. You can choose between short and long boat tour. Short tour costs about 10 turkish liras and takes about 2 hours, while longer tour takes about 4 hours and costs 25 TL. If you take longer one it will bring you to the Black Sea and you will have a one hour break there. At that time you should eat “hamsi tava” (meal with small fish typical for the Black Sea region). Don’t go on other tours, they are promising a lot, but you might finish with paying 50 TL for 20 minutes on the boat.
There is also alternative: Public boats, which are going from one station to another. Price with Istanbul kart is 2 or 3 TL. With them you can go to Asian side as well. I usually go down from the boat on Ortaköy station (under the First Bosphorus Bridge) and walk back on foot or by bus.
For me, Ortaköy is one of the most beautiful parts of Istanbul. It gets more beautiful in the night, when the lights of the bridge are on. Also, it gets colder, heh. There you can take some snack as a waffle or potato full of vegetables and sauces (costs 12 TL).
Leave one whole day to visit the Prince Islands. The biggest island is called Büyükada. You can take a walk there, relax, swim or take a ride in a carriage. Don’t get scared of dogs and cats on the street. During summer it is crowded.
In next days in Istanbul you visit typical tourist attractions like Sultanahmet Camii (free entrance), Süleymaniye Camii, Ayasofya (~25 TL). Inside of mosques you must enter without shoes, fully covered (including hair of you are a woman). During a praying time you cannot go inside.
Not far away from mosques is palace that was one of the major residences of Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years, named Topkapı Sarayı (~30 TL, with harem 15 TL more). You will need one full day to see it.
Second place near mosques is the Basilica Cistern (~10 TL). I love that ancient place that lie beneath Istanbul, it looks magical.
After a long day of walking and sightseeing, maybe you will like to see the dance of dervishes. Check in advance for the tickets.
Some extra advices or suggestions:
- Check Armenian and Greek parts of the city, like Balat or Arnavutkoyi
- Nice view you can have from the top of the hill named Pierre Loti
- Istanbul is not well adapted for people in wheelchair
- Get yourself Istanbul kart, it will make your transportation cost cheaper
- You might need a visa for Turkey