In bad travel blogger style I kept putting off writing about Istanbul, with the good excuse that I was sooo busy. Busy learning Turkish in private classes and in a school, busy playing tourist, busy not playing tourist, and so on. Now after having spent 4 weeks there I’m heading off. There is no way to summarize Istanbul in one sentence, so if you want to know you’ll have to read the full article (evil laugh).
Here is the result of learning Turkish for 1 month with Elif, before and after:
Goodbye dinner after 2 weeks of classes in the Royal Turkish Education Center:
Old and new friends
I didn’t only make new friends, I also met again some friends from Ireland and from previous trips, hooray.
Sultanahmet – The usual tourism stuff
For a few days I set out early in the morning to see the main tourist attractions in the Sultanahmet area and I guess it’s true that the early bird catches the worm – it helped avoid the crowds. Another good idea was buying a museum card for 5 days in my first stop, Aya Sofya, which is 85TL and gives access to a lot of museums (it can be purchased in any of the included museums). Not only did this make it much cheaper in total, but also allowed me to avoid ticket sales queues at each of the included museums. I tried to go to as many of the museums as possible in the 5 days, so missed out on the Süleymaniye Mosque and the New Mosque, but I came back later for that.
Beyoğlu – touristic and non-touristic stuff
Although Sultanahmet is worth the visit of course, I preferred the Beyoğlu area (around Taksim square and Istiklal street) because it’s central and it has much more to offer besides tourist stuff – I just loved the area around where I was staying (close to Çukur Cuma Caddesi), because it’s silly mix of antiquities, vintage and designer shops, grocery stores and cafés and looots of hills. I booked a room through airbnb there for 10 days after having spent more than 2 weeks at my friend Yurdaer’s family’s place. They were so warm and welcoming, but unfortunately spending 2 hours in a bus per day is something I can’t handle on the long run so I moved to the center.
Kadıköy – going totally local
There are a lot of bars in Beyoğlu , but somehow I mostly ended up in Kadıköy in the evenings. It’s a great place for a relaxed walk, to sit in one of the Moda area’s seaside cafes, have ice cream in Ali Usta, check out the shops ranging from hippie clothes stores over book shops to just anything aaand there are loads of bars and restaurants.
One of them has cherry kebab when it’s the season, I need to come back for that…
-Golden Horn: Boat to Eyüp Mosque+cable car to Pierre Loti view point.
Interestingly enough I was more impressed by Eyüp’s tomb and the atmosphere in there and rather under-impressed by the view from the cafe at Pierre Loti. Being squished in a queue with loads of people for whom it was a very special moment to see the Prophet’s friend’s Eyüp’s tomb probably created some contagious feelings, whereas waiting in the queue for the cable car to Pierre Loti only to be told that they have to do maintenance the very moment it would have been my turn to get into the cabin, combined with the fact that in the meantime I could have walked up and down a few times the 500 meters or so, left me a bit disappointed. Luckily I had used that time to talk to my mum via skype, so it didn’t make much of a difference. For claustrophobic people (which I’m luckily not) coming during the week is probably a better idea to avoid crowds and queues.
-Bosphorus:hop on hop off boat tour
This tour is the fastest, cheapest (15TL) and most enjoyable way to visit a number of amazing palaces, museums and mosques along the shore of the Bosphorus.
I’m not sure if it’s actually possible to view them all in one day, I guess it’s better to select some places and check closing times in advance to avoid hopping off in vain like I did (Beylerbeyi Palace closed at 5pm). Dolmabahçe for example can be easily visited without doing a boat tour, since it’s close to Kabataş Tram stop, and Ortaköy with it’s beautiful, unusual mosque and it’s Kumpir (filled huge baked potatoe) and waffle stands is almost within walking distance from there.
I was glad that they sold tea on the boats and that I was wearing warm clothes, 15 degrees+wind feels quite cold… And amazingly enough I don’t get sea sick on the ferries, since the seas around Istanbul are calm.
Istanbul Modern: Nice art gallery with a diverse selection of art works using different media and materials. There is a nice view from the café, but didn’t have time to sit down there
Pera Museum: Probably would have learned more about Turkish art if the first floor hadn’t been closed for a concert. The other floors were very interesting, too, though.
Arter: Exactly the right amount of art work for a relaxing art stroll (free admission)
Glasst. : Amazing artwork made of class. http://glasst.works/
Sakıp Sabancı Museum (see above slide show for images): Can be visited during the Bosphorus hop on hop off boat tour. It shows Sabancı’s house (he was a famous Turkish business tycoon) including a private art collection, an exposition about calligraphy in Islam, and temporary exhibitions. I was quite pleased to see that Sabancı loved Ayvasovsky, too, there were quite a few paintings.
Galata Mevlevi house: It’s not an art gallery as such, but it explains very well the life that the followers of Sufism were leading in this kind of establishment. Until then I only knew about the Dervish’es swirl dance, but actually they were striving centers for artistic activity (marble paper, music, calligraphy, …), some of which is shown in the exhibition.
Some more places I loved
Arthere Istanbul: An art place and café that among other things offers workshops, I went to see a free concert there.
Protestant German speaking church in Istanbul: They regularly have interesting talks called the red sofa (in German language) given by people who lived in Istanbul a looong time ago. That’s how I like learning about history! Great discovery thanks to my “classmate” Rainer, like a lot of other places.
Kariye Museum: Off the beaten track rather, but worth the visit, even if part if it is closed for restoration. It’s a like a children’s book in beautiful mosaics. The mosaics were covered with wooden panels when the church was transformed into a mosque, which is why they are so well preserved. On the way there I could catch a really nice view of Mihrimah Sultan Mosque from the top of the city walls.
I tried out a lot of new foods, especially sweets and desserts 🙂 I didn’t feel like eating meat this month and still hardly know the difference between döner, kebab, köfte, … Shame on me haha, but the sweets are just too good.
Random break in the otherwise coherent post. Three of the pictures show cats AND graffiti. Find out which ones.
Things I loved + things I hated
-My favourite neighbourhood: Kadıköy. Loads of nice bars, hippie shops and not hippie shops, I love walking from there to Moda (spotted some dolphins on the way), or to:
-My favourite place for a walk: Caddebostan, or anything along that coast line including Pendik.
-My favourite means of transport: Ferries and metrobüs. Because they are faster, are less shaky than buses and… there is network to surf the internet, unlike in the metro. And something to look at from the window. I love the fact that the Istanbulkart (rechargeable transport card) works for all the means of transports (except dolmuş and taxi). Luckily Mert had already bought one for me before I arrived.
-The best view: from my airbnb room in Beyoğlu (go have dinner on the Goethe Institut rooftop and you’ll see it)
-My favorite food: Künefe
-Something else I like: The prayer calls. They are nice in Istanbul and even when I hear several at a time from different mosques it doesn’t sound horrible.
-But I can’t get used to: using buses. Even if transport is quite good, everything is just very far and a bus is not something I want to be in, especially at rush hour. Well well, I guess I will never want to permanently live in such a big city
-And döner with fries inside is just wrong to me… I’ll have döner in Germany again and continue trying new stuff instead while I’m in Turkey.
I’ll have to come again to see…
For the next four weeks I want to head south along the Aegean and Mediterranean coast all the way to Antalya and from there to Cappadocia (map). Started with Çanakkale where I just arrived. Hopefully I will be less lazy posting…