WED 7TH -SUN 11TH MARCH 2018
After a very smooth flight, with many Turkish families on board, I was ready to immerse myself in Turkish culture. On arrival, I ventured into the Bus Station, and after a little help from the locals, found myself on a large bus taking me to Taksim Square, in the centre of Istanbul. This included an hour of horrific traffic and unbelievable driving.
It was time to find my little airbnb with the instructions given to me… A busy High Street led to a very steep hill, where a helpful man in a coffee shop offered to help me find my airbnb. He locked up his shop, took me up another hill and straight to my door! Finally arrived! After a brief and relatively friendly welcome by my host, I ventured out - exhausted and starving. I wandered up a street lined with student cafes and hangout joints and found myself on a rooftop cafe bar with shisha. The menu was totally uninspiring (soggy burgers and greasy cheese sandwiches), so a large bowl of nuts and some Turkish filo parcels with spinach and feta were a welcome alternative; (was hoping to try out their hummus but after countless attempts asking for some, I walked away empty handed).. Emails up to date and then off to bed.
DAY 1: THURSDAY
Walked all the way down from the 6th floor of my airbnb - POURING - walked all the way back up, no site of an umbrella - back down! Luckily the little shop opposite had one umbrella left.
I’d planned to go to Soho House to get some info for my trip as I wasn’t sure my hostess would be quite so helpful. The forecast was rain for Thursday and the rest of my trip, sun, so it made sense to sink into some work there, some good coffee and a snug base. Breakfast - big coffee and a bowl of delicious warm and fruity oatmeal. Lunch - hummus (it was great, quite heavy and bumpy and lumpy but very enjoyable) and a bowl of beetroot, quinoa and avocado salad (not hugely original).
For the afternoon I decided to head to one of the well known Turkish Hamam’s for a proper bath, detox and massage. It was a good 40 minute walk from Soho House and a great way to see the city.
On route - Lots of Baklava shops which were absolutely amazing.
On the way back, dinner at ‘Guney’, A great sociable and buzzing restaurant in Karakoy, a fun neighbourhood known for its delicious red wine and good food.
I had a range of the meze options which were absolutely delicious - aubergine paste with walnut and tahini, lots of bread, olive oil and feta was by far the favourite. Hummus, warm and again, not a smooth texture but delicious.
Early morning walk over Galata bridge to the Spice Market and Grand Bazaar.
Wandered up and down through streets and streets, getting lost, forgetting quite how large this market is, both inside and out. Some great conversations with guys at the Turkish Delight stands and some of the most delicious Pistachio chocolate covered triangles I’ve ever eaten - breakfast complete!
Next stop - coffee break in the sun next to the Bazaar, opposite the Galata Bridge researching for best hummus restaurants…
Long walk along the river and out into the suburbs in the sun, to Chora Church. Very interesting walking through hilly suburban streets. The church was covered in scaffolding and only the ‘Chora museum’ and 2 parts of the Mosaics were available to see, so I decided not to pay the hefty fee and popped into the recommended Asitane restaurant next door instead. This was a white table cloth vibe with only one table occupied (women drinking wine), which didn’t appeal so back into town - this time on a bus.
After more market walking and backstreet climbing (so many hills!), I came out on the front again near Galata Bridge. A buzzing local Turkish restaurant offered everything from Kebabs to Lentil Soup and Hummus… This time I went for the big spinach plate with egg and yoghurt, served with lots of Turkish bread. Great choice.
I then walked back along the buzzing streets with more baklava and coffee shops, to visit the hotel where I stayed with my family 15 years ago, the ‘Blue Hotel’, right next to Aya Sophia.
More walking, a chai and some work catch up, plus many snaps of the meal below; I felt it necessary to take photos of some hummus two guys were eating!
More walking, back over the galata bridge,and a recce of many restaurants where I found a great vegan haunt (perfect for Saturday’s breakfast) called ISO and had a drink at a restaurant with beautiful views over the Bosphorus, lovely but not the most buzzing place for dinner.
I headed towards the Jazz Cafe which is where I was planning to go after dinner. I ended up at the same restaurant as the night before - such a great ambience, lovely food and great service. I was given a great table and ordered a large glass of red wine, lentil soup to start (which is a staple dish here and I can see why!) and a delicious tahini falafel dish.
Total km walked : 21!
50 minute walk through the new town back over the bridge to the old town (getting to know this route rather well!) and up to Aya Sophia. A short coffee break on route with some pistachio baklava. I wasn’t quite ready to indulge in the traditional Turkish breakfast consisting of cheese (however the sweet cheese pastry which I often get given when I visit manufacturers in the industry in London is amazing… maybe later!)
Queues at Aya Sofia!! Tip - get there early or don’t go on a Saturday.
It is one of the most beautiful buildings and in my opinion more beautiful outside than in. There is still a huge amount of renovation work occurring inside so a lot of the views are blocked with scaffolding.
Onwards to the Blue Mosque which is opposite Aya Sophia and across the gardens. The courtyard was open which has a wonderfully holy and humbling feeling about it but the mosque itself is closed for renovation until May.
I spoke to a man outside who showed me to a secret passage where the women pray and from there, up tiny circular stairs, I was able to look through the window into the mosque which was amazing.
Seeing these places feels much more humbling when no one else is there… Aya Sophia was slightly ruined by the numbers of people inside, the noise and the clicking of cameras. Still a very special place, especially looking away from all the people and up at the beautiful ceiling..!
The afternoons plan was to visit Kadakoy, a ferry ride across the Bosphorus, known for its charming and chic neighbourhood with more cafes to enjoy and the famous fish market. However due to fog, no ferries were crossing. Instead I befriended a young Turkish man, after asking him which Metro I needed, and we ended up walking together to the station, back in the direction of Aya Sophia. He was able to practice his English which was perfect as he’d had a lesson for his erasmus that morning. The Metro was steaming! He mentioned that it was never this packed but must have been due to the fog. We both decided to give it a miss and said our goodbyes.
I decided to head back along my favourite street to get lunch. I’d been eyeing up ‘Noah’s pudding’ at ‘VALIDE’, a great coffee shop with a wonderful hidden upstairs area and terrace - great when it’s sunny. I chose ‘Noah’ for my lunch, a large orange bowl of fruit and nuts mixed with some sort of jelly (sounds odd but it’s good!) sweetened with honey along with a cappuccino. Opposite on the other corner is ‘Hafiz Mustafa’, a high end chain of the best Baklava, coffee and cake in Istanbul. Highly recommend.
After a while, I thought I would try the ferry again. Along the way I stopped at a snack shop and found a very interesting ‘Chickpea paste bar’... It was delicious! Certainly something to try making at home..Back on the pier, the ferries still weren’t leaving. I stayed for a while, thoroughly enjoying the noisy chatty conversations being thrown back and forth between ticket officers and commuters.
The old city was heaving by 3pm. The tunnel back under the road was like a stampede. Every alleyway into the Bazaar was also snail paced, full of Turks, perhaps Turkish tourists, perhaps locals - I wasn’t sure but I was still yet to hear the voice of someone from the UK. I’d been mistaken for Russian, Argentinian & Brazilian (often it’s Dutch).
I visited another Mosque around the corner and found another hub to relax with an orange juice. More Istanbul and restaurant research and a reminder of how easy it is to phone a friend in London :)
By the evening I was so exhausted from all the walking but was determined to make it to ‘French Street’ which was, to my utter surprise, the street next to my apartment! I hadn’t realised that this busy little hippy restaurant by the apartment had a walkway through it which was just the beginning of French Street. A very hippie, quirky and extremely steep street with lovely old steps and tables outside on either side, I settled for the restaurant where the waiters said they would make me hummus even though it wasn’t on the menu.. The waiter said he’d do anything that any of the other restaurants couldn’t do and with a seat opposite some live music, I couldn’t resist.
The chef made a portion of hot hummus from scratch for me and the waiter also brought me his own speciality of grated carrot with tahini and olive oil (another new winner!)
A great fun evening with the local Turks.
I headed to the neighbourhood that I was yet to visit, Cihangye and found a great place for local Turkish brunch - a typical turkish buffet with cheeses, hams, hummus and dried fruits as well as bowls of tahini, nuts, nutella, breads and so much more. As it was my last day and this went on till 3pm, I thought I’d come back and make it my main meal of the day as a late lunch.
Of course, coffee first. After my walk I decided on ‘Journey’ as my cafe. As a more upmarket area of town I found myself amongst English speaking Turks and more hipster characters with a relatively European/Turkish menu and a price tag. Very enjoyable anyhow - indulged in a book and coffee in hand, I was bashed over the head by a magazine - a guy who thought I was his mate!
We ended up chatting, exchanging business cards (he flies to London once a month and has lived all over the world), and advised that I visit Fatih, the Syrian district renowned for its hummus.
He advised I get a taxi as it’s miles away. Of no interest to get a cab in what was the hottest day so far(!), I walked back across the Galata Bridge (I thought I had said goodbye to this bridge) and all the way back to the area that I had walked to on my first day to Chora. However, I went a another way and saw the workmen’s streets which were full of groups of men working on their various trades.
By the time I reached Fatih (60 mins later), the street was full of activity but there weren’t as many restaurants as I expected, having hummus on their menus. I took a few photos and then rushed all the way back to Cihangye to make it back to the buffet place before 3pm!
By this point I had unbelievable blisters and walking along the main road back was not so fun so I jumped on a bus and after some more painful walking (I got off too early), I made it to the place just before 3pm but they’d already put the buffet away… disaster.
That restaurant was hidden from the sun so I felt better after finding a lovely cafe nearby where I was able to sit outside in the sun, drink coffee and eat a local honey and date cake instead.
Somehow the late afternoon had crept upon me and it was time to collect my suitcase from a local cafe near where I’d stayed. They’d kindly kept my bag for the day as my airbnb guests didn’t offer this service. I ate roasted chestnuts from the street food vendors, brought some Turkish Delight and got on the very busy bus back to the airport.
The plane was swamped with English speaking people which was rather a surprise and unfortunately I was back to reality again.
Tips - Tamsin High Street is like Oxford Street, without the congestion but instead people hoarding towards you. I’d avoid this at all costs unless you want high street chains, doner kebabs and being surrounded by the millennial Turk.
Sustainability: There’s a LOT of fishing. Stale bread goes to the fisherman but the amount of fish being sold for the famous ‘Fish sandwiches’ off the Galata Bridge on the key is somewhat rather shocking… but perhaps its relative. Something to look into.