The last trip me and my husband did before our children came was to Turkey, so for us to do our first trip without children there, pretty exactly five years later, seemed like a perfect idea. Besides, this trip was to celebrate our 10th anniversery (a few months ahead of the actual day, better early than not at all!). We have been wanting to experience the city where Europe and Asia meet, and were lucky to find flights for a good price.
What does a married couple like us want to do when they get to escape the everyday life to Istanbul? What do you do on a rare escape like that? Well, we both ended up with wanting to walk around inhaling the feel of the city without having to think how far kids can walk, when they’d have to pee or eat again. Long delicious meals in restaurants without interruptions. Tea breaks with chats that don’t involve how to organise things but just talking. Seeing historical and beautiful buildings. Enjoying the sun, the spring flowers, and time to relax and read in the hotel too. Gosh, we sound boring…
We stayed in the old town close to e.g Haga Sophie, the Blue Mosque and other most historical buildings. Perfect spot for us as we could have walked up and down the narrow streets for ages always finding something interesting to look at. I loved all the small shops and how all streets still belonged to a certain craft; there was a street for shoe shops, another street for pottery, a third for cashmere scarves etc. Many of the buildings were well maintained and had a lot of lovely details, most pretty small, and when walking you’d see some old ruins or the rests of the old Colosseum and the city walls here and there. And then there was the bright sun that made everything beautiful.
Istanbul was easy to get around in. Distances were not as long as I initially thought, I believe eg that it’s about 4 kms from Haga Sophia in the old town to Taksim Square in the newer part. But there are a couple of easy metro and tram lines to be used. We got the Istanbul card from a friend and that one was easy to charge money on and made the fares cheap. We also used it for the 15 minute ferry ride across to the Asian side of the city.
Due to the lovely weather and us being boring and probably too tired, we didn’t enter a single museum or mosque, not even Haga Sophia. But we admired them from the outside, and they are impressive and worth a visit! We did, however, pop into a tourist information close to one of the most famous museums in the world. The guy on the counter wasn’t very helpful:”I’ll give you brochures and you can read yourself about what to do” “Shopping maniacs all over the city, oh, not you, lady, but all the others” “there is nothing to see on the Asian side of the city” “You can find about the ferries from the brochure”… But he must have been the only person not volunteering much information. The BigBus and cruise sales people where everywhere, and I am sure the hop on hop off bus tours are a good way to see the city if you are not as eager to walk as we are. Also, I was impressed by how hard people seem to work and I liked the way they seemed to be pretty honest.
So the first day we did a long walk fascinated by the city and ended up at the ferry terminal, hopped by chance on a ferry to Ûskender on the Asian side. That was a lucky one, on our whole trip we both enjoyed Ûskender most. There was just such a feel to it. There were no sights as such but there were small shops (like everywhere in the city, there is not an inch that hasn’t been made good use of by vendors) with true character, (yes, in my opinion even more so than elsewhere), small lanes there too and we had our best meal there for a good price. Later we read in the brochure that this suburb is one that tourists haven’t really found (yet), which probably is true as people hardly spoke English (but where still happy to communicate) and even in the restaurants everything was only in Turkish. It is still pretty easy to order a kebab, what it came with was a pleasant surprise. I suppose the suburb felt more authentic and less “trimmed on the surface” for tourists compared to the more touristy areas.
Back on the European side we went to the bazaar, look at those arches and decorations!
Of course we had to see the newer part of the city too, and enjoyed an easy tram ride to get close to Taksim square. From there we walked back to the main bridge. The bridge was intriguing with a great view and loads of men fishing. I wonder how there can be so many fishing rods in a lone and none seemed to be tangled. And they got loads of fish too.
We tried one of the 2 hour Bosphorus cruises, up on the European side, back on the Asian side as well as around the Golden horn seeing a number of lovely palaces. However, after one hour we would have both been happy to hop off as everything started to look the same and we were both freezing. During the off season these cruises were sold for 40 TL but as we were unsure of whether we want to go but then ushered on in the last minute we got a much better deal than that.
We also considered going to Miniatürk, a park that tells the Turkish history via a great number of 1:25 scale miniatures of prominent buildings. But boring as we are, we opted for another walk and the sunset (which we tried to see every night on our initial honeymoon), and then wine, cheese and crackers..
Had we had one more day, we would have visited the park. No, actually, had we had one more day, as my husband is a kiwi we would have gone to Gallipoli. That is a 6 hour bus drive from Istanbul and the trip is doable in one day but surely more enjoyable if one is able to stay a night somewhere close to the sight. Next time.
In summary, we had such a reviving time in Istanbul! I feel lucky that after 10 years I still mostly enjoyed my company (and not having schedules nor constant interruptions). As for the city, it definitively was a city one needs to experience to get a feel for it! I wouldn’t mind going back, especially if that would include Gallipoli, but I wasn’t left with a feeling where I absolutely have to come back.
Ps not a great city for people in wheel chair and in most places strollers are not practical. Loads of steep hills, uneven streets and stairs on side walks.