1. Eating the Barbeque a the Ciragan Palace Kepinski: This is by far THE BEST bbq buffet I have or will ever eat. My entire blog could be devoted to writing about what I saw in this BBQ- but I am no food expert. It is an experience that you will never forget. Amazing.
2: Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia: Adjacent to each other, split only by a Roman Hyppodrome, one can see the blend of cultural relics coming together in harmony. The hyppodrome has been built over, however the memory of it remains as 3 obelisks (one from Egypt, the other from Germany, and the third from who knows where) decorate the street. Inside the Blue Mosque one gets a glimpse of everyday life, where men are allowed in the main cavity of the mosque, as women are hidden behind beautifully ornate blinds. The separation of male and female areas is unique to any place I have ever been to. The Aya Sophia, on the other hand, is exclusively a museum, as one can see incredible byzantine mosaics juxtaposed to writings of the Koran.
3. Looking up & the Kariye Muzesi: Everywhere you look, there is something to be seen. Especially up. When Constantinople was overtaken by the Ottoman Empire, they chose to conceal most of the Christian iconography by placing a special type of plaster over the churches. This special type of plaster protected and preserved many of the mosaics and frescoes that can be seen today, in almost perfect condition (with some touching up, of course). If there is a place that is worthwhile going that perfectly demonstrates the beauty of the Mosaics it is Kariye Muzesi. Our tour guide, Dilderai, took us to this church because he believed were the most well preserved and representative of the time, obviously now turned into a museum for the quality of the frescoes.
4. The Bermuda Triangle of Istanbul: If one takes the Aya Sofia, the Egyptian Bazaar (Spice Market) and the Grand Bazaar, you are entering into a very dangerous zone. Every tourist that walks into this triangle never comes back the same way they came in….They always come back poorer. Every store owner makes you believe like if you were their bestest of friends, as they offer you tea and try to sell you their entire store. It is worthwhile visiting, but by no means should one ever buy anything full price. If you have bought it half price you’re only halfway through the battle. If you get it down to 75% off, then you have yourself the actual price of the item you are buying. The Grand Bazaar has over 4000 stores selling stuff… anything you can possibly think of is found in the Grand Bazaar. The Egyptian Market, on the other hand, primarily sells foods and spices (hence the name Spice Market by the taxi drivers), and behind the Blue Mosque one can find the Arasta Bazaar, boutique open-air bazaar that has items of better quality.
5. Take the hit and buy some Caviar: While at the Egyptian Market, swing by and buy some Beluga Caviar. After all, you are pretty close to the Caspian Sea, and the Caviar is incredibly fresh and incredibly delicious. I am by no means a caviar expert; I’ve probably tried it 3-4 times in my life, but it was truly incredible. There’s nothing better than a picnic with fresh cavier right?
6. Beware of Taxi Drivers. They suck. They try to rip off tourists that are not accompanied by tour guides. Taxi drivers would choose NOT to take us to places because we were with a tour guide that spoke Turkish. They would say they were waiting on a specific customer (tourists without any knowledge of Turkish or of the streets of Istanbul). Dilderai, our tour guide, would have to say, street by street, how to get from one place to the other; as, if they are not indicated, they will take the longest trajectory possible (Istanbul has traffic as bad as, or worse, than Sao Paulo in certain places). Thankfully, the prices are very reasonable….you just don’t want to have your time wasted in a taxi.
7. Take the Boat Tour. The weather we got in istanbul was rather unexpected. Everyone told us to brace ourselves for the blistering, humid, heat of the city, however we arrived on a cold front week and the weather was an awesome 20-25 C (68-75 F)…. which allowed us to do more than usual because the weather was not a problem. In fact, it rained 2 nights – almost to the point that Istanbul was the only city in this stretch that I have had to wear a jacket at night. In any respect, because of the cool weather and the rain, we were lucky to have some pretty scenic skies when I went on the boat tour. You catch the boat first right off of the Egyptian Bazaar (For about 5 Euros) and they take you up the Bosphoros until the 2nd Bridge…. in all, a 1.5-2 hour ride. Here are some highlights:
8. Dolmabache and Topkapi Palaces, Galata Tower. Here, you only get a glimpse of what life would have been like if you were an opulent Sultan. Both are now museums crowded with people, but we were lucky to have our tour guide Dilderai, whom, for some reason, knew his ways and everyone that worked in every tourist attraction, so we never had to make a line. EVER. The Dolmabache Palace has a great assortment of royal gifts given from every corner of the globe, jewels that few would even imagine (86k Diamond!), and some religious relics that have thankfully not been lost – the footstep of the Prophet Mohammed, or the stick Moses carried (definately not a place for skeptics right?)… The Galata Tower is really not worth going to other than having great 360 degree views of the city, as it now is a restaurant and from what I’ve heard a nightclub. I’ll have to come back to Istanbul someday as I hear the nightlife is pretty stellar.
9. The city is in desperate need of public infrastructure. When you have a city of 18+ million people, it is hard to keep the place organized, not to mention clean, safe, and comfortable. Although there are some great highways that connect the parts of the city we traveled through, there is a small metro/tram/bus system that does not do the city justice (I guess I am seeing it with the eyes of being in Berlin for a month, as there is an excess of public infrastructure for the mere 4 million people that live there). Although there is so much to see, it is hard to get around in such a large city. The best piece of infrastructure I got to see while in Istanbul was the underground reservoirs, built who-knows-how-long ago…. You’d think we’d have it better by now…
10. Go for longer than 3 days… For three days, I thought we did all the key touristic spots and perhaps even a little more. But there is still way too much to discover.