I was in Turkey on a work trip this week and after just 2 days in Istanbul, I was already planning my next trip. It’s such a fabulous city with so much to see and do. I absolutely love exploring new cities and absorbing the culture. S obviously didn’t go with me and although I missed him, I have to be honest and say I enjoyed 4 days of walking around the cobbled stone streets, learning all about the city’s history and eating an entire ice cream on my own without having to share it!! It’s the little things! 😉
So without further ado, here’s my quick guide Istanbul:
1. What to eat – Turkish food is so full of flavour and the meat is soft and succulent. My two favourite dishes were Lahmacun (flat and crispy bread topped with minced meat, salad and lemon) and Lamb Beyti Kebab (Minced grilled lamb wrapped in Lavash (flatbread) and topped with tomato sauce and yoghurt sauce. Dondurma, the local ice cream, is not just delicious (chewy and thick) but the way it’s presented will you highly amused (I won’t spoil it for you in case you decide to go to Turkey but don’t miss out on it).Turkish delight – I particularly like rose and pistachio but the sheer variety in the local shops will leave you severely indecisive!
2. What to drink – Although imported wines are served throughout Turkey, the local wine is pretty good too. My favourite drink was Ayran (pronounced I-ran). It’s a lightly salted thin yoghurt drink (a bit like the Indian Chaas/Lassi) and goes really well with Turkish food. Local Turkish coffee is definitely something to try but not for the faint hearted, it’s strong stuff!
3. What to see – Oh, how much there is to see in Turkey. Although visiting Turkey was essentially a work trip, I managed to fit in a few sights one afternoon. The blue mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar and a ferry ride across the Bosphorus. The grand Bazaar is one of the world’s largest indoor markets and boy is it impressive! It sells everything from gold and diamonds to fake handbags and tea sets. The vendors will do anything to woo you into their stores, including calling you Jennifer Lopez (yes, they believe flattery will get them everywhere). Just remember, in the Grand Bazaar you have to have your haggling hat on or prepare to be seriously ripped off!!
The Blue Mosque is spectacular to look at but my favourite is Hagia Sophia. Built in the 500’s, it is a stunning piece of architecture. As we climbed up approx. 4 floors to the viewing gallery at the top, over what was essentially a cobbled stone walk way, I marvelled at how it was built at a time when cranes and diggers were not around. But the most amazing thing for me was the combination of Christianity and Islam co-existing in the décor. The Hagia Sophia was initially a Church before a Muslim King ordered for it to be converted into a Mosque. Although they took off the crosses and tried to remove traces of the Church, they left gold mosaics of Jesus and his family. Even though big black round discs were erected all over the mosque (which sort of ruin it), the remnants of it’s early days are clearly seen. In a world where religion is constantly dividing us, it was nice to see the two brought together in this beautiful museum.
The ferry ride across the Bosphorus is well worth it, giving you landscape views of both the cultural European side and the up and coming Asian side (Turkey lies across two continents, I didn’t know that until recently!).
4. How to get around – Taxi’s are easily available and unlike in London, they are pretty reasonable. However, the driver’s don’t usually speak English and unless you know where you’re going or you’re headed to a pretty big landmark, I found the Metro and the Tram much easier to navigate.
The only thing I
didn’t like struggled with in Istanbul was the smoke and the lack of personal space etiquette. Almost everyone is smoking and maybe I’m so used to being around S in London and in places where smoking isn’t allowed that I really felt it while I was there.
As if my impression of Istanbul wasn’t good enough, as I was leaving, at the airport, I stopped at a little shop to buy a book and before I turned around to leave, the shopkeeper stopped me and pinned a little evil eye and pink dolphin to my top, for luck! I left Turkey with a little bounce in my step, already looking forward to my next trip 🙂