One thing I have been massively lax about this year is sharing my travel experiences so I’m going to start the catchup process now with a quick note about my most recent trip which was to Istanbul. Sadly my camera gave up the ghost part-way through the trip so I don’t have as many photos as I would have liked and a good chunk of them have been taken on my phone but hopefully you’ll find something useful here.
We stayed in the old part of the city, very near to the Blue Mosque in a hotel called the World Heritage Hotel. It’s a small, boutique type hotel which I cannot recommend highly enough. The hospitality was like nothing else, we were offered the receptionist’s iPhone charger to take home with us when we thought we’d lost one and we also bumped into one of the staff of an evening who stopped just to check that we knew where we were going. AMAZING!
Before I went to Istanbul, I imagined it might be a bit like Marrakech in that we’d be constantly harassed as 3 females travelling alone. It wasn’t like that at all. There’s a huge police presence in the most touristy areas and as soon as you say your first no to the traders, they back off. That was really refreshing. What was also nice was that almost all tourists respected the culture of the city and dressed conservatively, in longer sleeves and trousers.
Food-wise I was underwhelmed. The main courses were “ok” from what I experienced; I mean they were great value for money but nothing I’d rush back for. The baklava and the Turkish delight were fabulous though! I don’t usually eat Turkish delight but it revealed its true colours here and the pistachio flavour with the bits of nut in is just the best!
What’s interesting is that you might think that the Asian side of the city would be the more conservative but actually it’s the more modern side. We took a boat trip across there one day and it was great. Approaching it from the boat, it looked run down, cheap and not at all like the sort of place you’d want to go. Walk a couple of streets down from the docking station though and you’ll enter a maze of shopping streets, bars and restaurants and find the most western part of the city.
You’ll also find some awesome street art so be sure to wander slightly off the beaten track. Check out the example below, there’s so much going on in one picture, it’s brilliant! For travellers in their 20s, I’d suggest staying on this side of the river and taking the boat across for the sight seeing rather than doing it the way we did. The boat’s only about 4 Euros per trip so it’s virtually free.
There are only two things we encountered which I would suggest avoiding. The first is the cafe / restaurant in the Topkapi Palace grounds and that’s purely because it’s insanely expensive. We had some delicious chocolate cake in there but it was at least 3x the price of everywhere else and seemed to be on a par with English tourist attraction prices. It was a bit of a nasty shock.
The second is the hammam. We went to Cemberlitas Hammam and while it was ok, I really didn’t enjoy the experience very much. The place was heaving like a cattle market, the women were rude and there weren’t even any signs to say where to go so we were wandering like lost lambs when we first arrived. If you fancy a Hammam experience, I’ve had much better in Marrakech so I suggest saving your pennies towards another holiday.
Overall, Istanbul is a hustling, bustling city and there’s certainly a strong presence of religion there but it also feels really safe and it’s not especially huge so you can easily walk around it. My favourite part of the whole trip was when we went to Gulhane Park. It’s big, it’s well laid out and it’s beautiful. On a warm day in the summer, I could easily imagine lazing around here for hours, not least because there are loads of friendly stray dogs around! The dogs are tagged and one gentle giant followed us around for about half of our walk 🙂
Definitely visit if you get the chance but for my money, Budapest is still the winner if I had to suggest one city for you to visit x