kc goes to istanbul
Fact: I am likely to do anything and everything a DailyCandy editor tells me. I may be strong of mind, but I’m weak on will power. They are my kyrptonite.
Fact: When looking for a destination for a trip with my dear friend, Linda, in 2004, DC guided me. While I desperately wanted to go to Zanzibar (the first Daily Candy Travel email sent), budget and practicality prevailed and we “settled” on Turkey. Settled? I should never use the words “settle” and “Turkey” or “Istanbul” in the same sentence unless it’s to say “We settled in for an amazing mint lemonade in Istanbul after a long day out and about.”
I’m asked quite a bit what my favorite places are. Eventually, I always end up choosing favorites for different things. For the purposes of this story, we’ll say favorite cities. And the answer to that question has two answers: Barcelona and Istanbul. Barcelona, for me, will always represent my first experience abroad. 15 years old, 1000s of miles from home and hopelessly amazed and lost all at the same time. I have that year to thank for the person I am today and whenever I return to Barcelona the same butterflies I had those many years ago always return. Pure magic.
Istanbul, on the other hand, was different. By that time, I had done a good deal of travel and yet those butterflied returned. It was the first time that had happened to me since my year in Barcelona. I was smitten. It was the first time I’d:
- Been awoken by a call to prayer at 5 a.m.
- Felt so out-of-place and yet so comfortable at the same time.
- Had to cover my head and remove my shoes to go into a place of worship.
- Left behind my American prudishness to experience a Turkish bath. (one day, if I have the courage I’ll tell my horribly embarrassing tale)
- Experienced such genuine kindness because I was American not in spite of it.
I should explain this last part. Please keep in mind that 2004 was some time ago. Americans didn’t really seem to be all that keen on travel to Turkey (you honestly would’ve thought I was telling my parents I was taking a spa holiday in Iraq based on their reaction). Walking the aisles of the Grand Bazaar people or even in restaurants, people would guess where we were from and not once did the word “America” touch their lips. They always seemed genuinely surprised when we told them. Not because we look soo (enter nationality they guessed here), but rather because they simply didn’t see a whole lot of Americans and they were genuinely excited to show us Turkish hospitality.
Times have since changed and I’ve returned twice since then. Once for work and once with Mr. KC. They guess American now, quite frequently actually, but I think that’s a good thing. At a time when there seems to be a dangerous and frightening reaction towards anything Muslim in many countries (Switzerland included), I find comfort and hope in the idea that people are traveling to Turkey in greater numbers. While the novelty of seeing Americans has worn off the hospitality they show hasn’t. I wish everyone could experience that just once.
But let’s lighten up, shall we? It’s a beautiful city with beautiful people and to truly understand that you just need to go. Stay for at least 4 days and enjoy both the new and old parts of the city. While most will fall back on the whole “Istanbul is a city where east meets west” I think it’s far more accurate to portray it as a city where past meets present. In the morning, you are taking in roman ruins and that evening you are dining on the top floor of a modern hotel overlooking an amazing skyline. You’ll be exhausted after your stay, but it’s a good one. Below the photos I’ve included my own personal favorite places. Enjoy and happy travels.
kc istanbul favorites:
- Kofte. To call this a meatball doesn’t do it justice. You’ll see kofte everywhere in Istanbul, but there’s one place that’s been around forever and deserves every ounce of praise it receives. Tahiri Sultanahmet Köftecisi isn’t much to look at, it’s smack dab in the middle of tourist paradise, but their köfte are ridiculous. Ordering is simple as there’s not much else to it. Make sure to order peppers and a side of piyaz (bean salad) for one heck of a lunch.
- Street food. I don’t know what they’re called, but everywhere around the city are round pieces of bread covered in sesame seeds sold by street vendors. I think of them as Turkish pretzels and I love them.
- House Cafe İstiklal Caddesi Mısır Apt. No:163 Beyoğlu / İstanbul. Although you’ll spend more of your time in the Sultanahmet area, make a conscious effort to make it to the more modern areas of Istanbul where you’ll marvel at how you feel like you’re in a different city. Istiklal Caddesi is a shopper’s paradise and a great place to walk, people watch and just generally take in life in the city. A stop at House Cafe, for me, is the perfect place to rest my weary dogs and enjoy an amazing mint lemonade. If you’re looking for something with a little more punch, they’re cocktails are fantastic.
- Since we’re in the area, make reservations at one of the several restaurants with amazing rooftops to take in dusk, panoramic views of Sultahamet. Easily one of the more romantic places to eat in the world. We dined at Mikla. It’s expensive, but worth every penny.
- Finally, you can’t really come to Turkey without buying your weight in Turkish delight. Although you’ll find your fair share of it (and more) at the Spice market, a Turkish friend took me to Koska (İstiklal Caddesi No 122A, Beyoğlu) and I left with enough turkish delight to feed an army of sweet teeth. They’re expert packers, so don’t worry about how you’re going to get it home.
- Ferry ride to the Asian side of Istanbul. There are tons of tourist cruises you can choose from, but by chance Mr. KC and I missed ours and it all turned out for the best. Tourist cruises will run you about $20/person, but a ferry ride to the Asian side ran us about $3 for the both of us. The 40-minute boat ride to Katikoy was still amazingly scenic and offered us the chance to wander around Katikoy, grab some baklava and a coffee and head back.
- Turkish bath. Check your modesty at the door and prepare for the bath of a lifetime. Cağaloğlu Hamamı will leave you wondering where all that dirt that comes flying off came from.
- Aya Sofia. I debated whether or not to include any of the usual tourist stops (Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, etc), but there’s a special place in my heart for the Aya Sofia and it takes my breath away every single time. Get there as early as possible to try to avoid the crowds and get a few moments in the quiet.
- Buy a carpet! I know it’s so cliché and there walking through the Grand Bazaar is enough to swear you off carpets forever. That’s why I go to the Arasta Bazaar near the Blue Mosque. There’s a carpet shop at the very end called Et-Ne carpets. I’ve now purchased 4 rugs from him and love every one of them. Ask from Murat and tell him Jessica from Chicago says hi. 🙂