7 years ago in December I found a cheap ticket to a new destination, a city I haven’t seen yet. I went with a friend and I had one of the best weekends in my life. This is how and why I fell in love with Istanbul, the city on two continents. The surprise city that got me from having no expectations to being thrilled, drunk and ultimately in love. With its cobbled narrow streets on a rainy day, its tasty food, its mosques and sound of prayers, the colours of the Grand Bazar, its nightlife and, finally…. one of its inhabitant. What else could I have asked from a city?!
15h in Istanbul
Any return to a city I love is pure joy and Istanbul is on top of that list, even for a 3rd visit. So a 15h layover was an opportunity I couldn’t miss even-though I had to pay the price of a sleepless night. After all, layovers are nothing but free visit and a chance to see more of the world.
At 7:30am Taksim Square was sleeping. The restaurants on the little streets around were all closed. And I was hungry and needed wifi and a place to leave my luggage for 10h. Anywhere this would be a challenge but not in Turkey, a country were hospitality is the way of living. One shy question to a waiter arranging the chairs in a restaurant and the door opened for me and soon the food was served and the wifi turned on. I left a big tip and multiple thank you.
Now getting rid of my luggage for the next hours. The only options I found online were either too far or closed. I got the idea to ask for information a person that could actually offer the solution, a guy in a travel agency. He got the idea and came with the suggestion to store my suitcase for 10$. Problem solved. I was now free as a seagull to wander the city until evening and discover new places or see again my already favourite ones. Some call it most instagrammable spots, I call them simply my beautiful places.
The Old Tram
In Taxim Square there was something I missed on my previous two visits in the city: Nostalgic İstiklal Caddesi Tram, shortly the Old Tram, that brings the mood of the 19th century straingt to 2020. You know it’s coming when the busy street gets empty in the middle. It’s fun to watch people jumping on its back and makes great photos too.
The heart of the city and one of the places that I could visit 1000 times and more and love it every time. I took the metro from Taksim to Kabataş and then change the line straight to Sultanahmet, in front of the gorgeous Hagia Sofia.
For the first time, the line to enter inside the famous Blue Mosque was this time doable so I entered inside. Usually it’s a wait of at least 1h and a discouraging line. I walked barefoot on the soft carpet covering the pavement inside the dark interior where high stained-glass windows allowed little light inside, among worshippers whispering the morning prayers.
Ohh the perks of being a morning person, which I will never be! The early hour got me inside a place I first time missed because I didn’t know about it, the second time I confused it with another but the 3rd one was the lucky one for Basilica Cistern, used in the old times to supply water to the Great Palace of Constantinople. Now used for great photos mostly.
As a bonus of the area are the colourful houses a few meters away from the entrance to Basilica Cistern, on Yerebatan street, just in case there is not enough time to go to Balat and Fener, famous for their rainbow like streets.
The Grand Bazaar
Wandering the little streets around the bazar until I find an entrance, playing this search and find game is one of my favourite activities in Istanbul and I do it every time I am in the city.
Getting lost inside it’s the next most favourite. Being one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 streets and more then 4.000 shops spread on an area of 30K m², the place is a labyrinth. It is huge, colourful and vivid. My favourite are the stores with hundreds of Turkish lamps. Enter inside one and feel just as dreamy as in a story from One Thousand and One Nights. Taking photos is forbidden but if you start with a conversation and ask nicely, they will allow it gladly.
The afternoon found me in Eminönü, one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Istanbul which also stands as the city’s crossroads. Probably my favourite area for expressing the very essence of the entire city in one place. A live photo as seen from the Galata Bridge, with its spectacular views to its iconic landmarks: Bosphorus Bridge and the Süleymaniye Mosque, with the boats moving up and down between the docks, the crowds wandering the streets from the Spice Bazar nearby and the seagulls singing their songs over the sea, people, mosques and bridges. An always stop to my favourite baklava place in town, discovered by chance during visit no 2: Acemoglu Baklavari. It’s totally worth risking a diabetes here once you decide how many types of sweets to try (J)
I took my box of treats and devoured them while walking on Galata Bridge, among its tens of fishermen reaching their fishing poles for the catch of the day. This street show is all about life in the old Istanbul, of past, present and future, for a long as the bridge will stand there and the sea beneath it.
Located on the other side of the harbour, this is the place for funky cafes, cocktail bars mix, hipster boutiques, old family-run shops in Ottoman-era buildings tattooed with street art and graffiti, a veritable art gallery in open air. Galata Tower watches over with a restless eye since the 13th century until nowadays.
My hours in Istanbul were blown away in the air by the Bosphorus breeze. Evening came with grey clouds of the forecasted rain for that day. I left the city sinking in a silent blue hour, spreading over the mosques, the bazars, the fishermen on Galata Bridge and all the other favourite places I have there. I wished I had another glass of wine with a view at 360 Istanbul, the bar in Taksim Square. Next time.
Next: Hygge in Copenhagen