Turkey, if I had to describe you in five words, you would be: crowds, cats, bread, meat, and sweets. Last spring break I traveled for a week through this beautiful country. Here, I’m sharing with you the itinerary we followed (Istanbul - Ephesus - Pammukale - Kapadokya) in three different posts (plus, cool insight and tips). This first one is on Istanbul, a city of where the east meets the west, and ancient culture encounters modern times. Foodies!!! Sorry but I will not be talking about eating vegan/vegetarian. I found it to be possible (vegan is quite hard, though). One of the easiest vegan things you can go for is “Çig Köfte” (raw meat) which is made from bulgur, pomegranate sauce and spices, yummy yummy. I also enjoyed that you could get fresh pomegranate juice almost everywhere at a very good price.
We landed in SAW (Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen International) airport, which is quite far from Istanbul actually (keep it in mind if you fly to this one!). To get to the city you can take a Havabus which takes you to Taksim for just 15 TL. Depending on traffic, the route can take anywhere from 40 minutes to almost 2 hours. That night we walked a bit around Taksim, and had dinner at Saray where we, of course, indulged in sweet baklavas for dessert.
Get an Istanbul museum pass: it costs 125 TL and you can access most major museums for 5 days. There is also a “Turkey Museum card” but apparently it can only be purchased by Turks (or so I’ve read online). Also, for Istanbul, get yourself hold of a public transportation card: super cheap and convenient.
The first thing I like to do when arriving to a city is a free tour, it gives you an overview of what is around and usually they provide you with advice on how to get around. This is the one we did. The tour included (we didn’t go inside the buildings): Sultanahmet area, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Grand Bazar, and the Spice Market.
After having lunch at a small restaurant, we walked around and went to see the Suleymaniye mosque (it ended up being my favorite), the mosaic museum, and the basilica cistern (20 TL and open everyday). We finished the day walking around the Grand Bazar (closed on Sundays) and tried ayran (yogurt based drink that is slightly salty) to accompany dinner.
Wakey wakey, yes being a tourist can also be a bit exhausting. Rise up early to save time to enter Hagia Sophia (closed on Mondays): first a church, then a mosque, and now a museum. It is such a remarkable and beautiful ancient building with walls and ceiling decorated with mosaics. Oh, and don’t forget to make a wish at the “wishing column” ;) Right afterwards, we went into the Topkapi palace (closed Tuesdays), an enormous complex where you can apparently even see items from Moses, Abraham, and Mahoma (or so they say). The palace was used by the Ottoman Empire from 1564-1853. Very close to the complex is the archeological museum (closed on Mondays). We missed it because we thought it would have the same opening times than Topkapi palace, but it didn’t.
Something very nice and very cheap that you can do is hop on a ferry to get to the Asian side of Istanbul. It costs under 4 TL and you can use your public transport card.
I felt very grateful to see two friends from college when I studied abroad in San Diego. One of them took us to Florya area and went for dinner at Mado where we ate: manti (a type of turkish ravioli) and dolma (yes for veggie people!). The hospitality and friendliness of Turkish people is exceptional (we experienced this throughout the whole trip).
On our last day we went to the gardens near Topkapi palace and to the Grand Bazar (closed on Sundays) to purchase some turkish sweets for the rest of our travels. We also went up to Galata tower (25 TL) to see the panoramic view form there. For the evening, we met with another friend and went for drinks and something to eat to Balkon (definitely a must!) and then for dinner at Emirgan Sütiş by the Bosphorus.