"Istanbul - UNDER CONSTRUCTION!!" Istanbul by maykal
Istanbul Travel Guide: 7,638 reviews and 19,502 photos
UNDER CONSTRUCTION - am currently working at one tip per day speed!
After spending six months in this fascinating city, I think I should force myself to write down at least a few thoughts down. Istanbul, though, might well prove to be impossible to put into words. The problem is not the lack of things to write...it is more how the hell do I start?!
Normally, when attempting to describe a city, I start with the main tourist sites, so following that formula, i ought to begin with my impressions of Topkapi Sarayi, moving through describing my awe at the huge dimensions of the Blue Mosque, to a colourful haggling scene in the Kapali Carsi (Grand Bazaar). But here, I must confess to hardly ever venturing to that part of the city.
On my first day in istanbul, back in 2001, I traipsed round Topkapi as part of a herd of tourist sheep, admired the scale of the interior scaffolding from Aya sofya's gallery, and was jostled among the tour groups and over-eager salesmen in the depths of the Grand Bazaar. While undoubtedly impressive and enjoyable, I'd feel a fraud trying to write a tourist guide about these places. If this is what you are looking for, try another istanbul page...there are plenty, many of them excellent.
My istanbul of 2001 seems a world away from my Istanbul of 2005. Sultanahmet, the historic area of the city containing most of the major attractions, was an hour away from my house, an hour's walk from my school, but during that hour, I would transform from a short-term resident to someone to be shouted at in a plethora of foreign tongues. "Hello, welcome, you are English? Amerika very good, you want carpet? Parlez-vous francais? Hablas espanol? Just to look, we have Asda price!"
Summer was not the best time to visit museums and palaces. After four hours of lessons, the last thing I wanted to do was trail round Dolmabahce Sarayi in searing heat, or inspect intricate miniatures at the Islamic Art Museum, or queue for an hour to catch a glimpse of the world's largest diamond in Topkapi. No, usually, the only thing on my mind after class was breakfast and coffee! And Istanbul has no shortage of kafehaneler, cay bahceleri and lokantalar.
I've said this a thousand times on my pages, but I will say it again. The best way to explore a city is on foot. Some tourists do the city by taxi, chauffeur driven from the Topkapi Palace to the archways of the Kapali Carsi and onwards to the Galata Tower. OK, they might see those attractions, magnificent as they may be, but it is what lies in between that they miss. The main joy of Istanbul is taking a walk, a long walk, from one area to another, meandering through alleyways, climbing steep cobbled hills, turning a corner to find a stunning sea view, every time discovering something new. Every day off was spent beating a new path between Taksim and Eyup, or Balat, or Karakoy, or Fener, or Kasimpasha
Of course, I wouldn't always have the energy to walk miles every day. Other days would be spent in a cafe with a friend, chatting in (broken!) Turkish and throwing dice on a backgammon board, while puffing on a nargile pipe, a tea on one side, an empty coffee cup on the other. Or we might end up in Nevizade Sokak, getting slowly inebriated on Efes beer sat on stools in the street. Or maybe hunger would catch up with us and take us into a kebab shop, or a pideci for a Turkish pizza, or on the roof of Simit Sarayi eating those rings of bread with sesame seeds.
I made it my aim to try and visit all of Istanbul's neighbourhoods. Little did i realise how exhausting that would be. It became clear early on that it was not a realistic goal, so i decided to concentrate on a select few areas instead. Studying in Taksim, the areas around there seemed a logical place to start. Istiklal Caddesi was a daily addiction, and every day I found myself walking the length of this enormous shopping street at least once. Each time, however, I'd dive into a different sidesteet and explore the Asmalimescit, Tunel, Galata, Cukurcuma, Tarlabasi, Kasimpasha, Cihangir...
Karakoy was another favourite, lying at the bottom of the steep Galata hill. Seedy in places, it may have been, but never dull. Over Galata Bridge, there was the Bazaar quarter, a maze of twisting alleys, some touristy, some not. Eminonu, Kucukpazar, Fatih, Aksaray, Capa... Some areas were bustling trade centres, full of Russians and Arabs rushing around buying clothes in bulk. Other areas belonged to another era, old wooden houses leaning precariously over their inhabitants gossiping on the cobbles below. Onwards to Fener, the old Jewish quarter of Balat, Edirnekapi, Eyup and the holy shrines, Alibeykoy...
Sometimes I'd be tempted to hop on a ferry over to Uskudar Kadikoy, over in Asia. Other times, I'd attempt to walk home, passing Dolmabahce first, then through Besiktas, an ice cream or gozleme in Ortakoy, then under the first bridge to Arnavutkoy, Bebek and Rumeli Hisar, before nearly killing myself with the steep climb to the top of the hill and Duatepe Park, just round the corner from my house in Rumeli Hisar Ustu. Other times, I'd tire of the city, and set out to walk up the Bosphorus as far as Sariyer!
With such a wealth of things to see, I find it a shame that the majority of visitors to Istanbul restrict themselves to Sultanahmet with a brief foray into Taksim and maybe a cruise up the Bosphorus. Sultanahmet is part of Istanbul, not Istanbul as a whole. It is just one of 1001 faces this amazing city has to offer.
You might already have guessed that I am something of a Middle East junkie. First it was Arabic, which took me to Syria...then a chance meeting with a Turkish girl changed a 2 day trip over the border into a mammoth hitch-hike round the snow-bound south-east of Turkey. I was hooked on Turkey then, and returning to university the following september, i took up a second language alongside Arabic...yep, you guessed it, Turkish! Five years later, my Turkish had gone steadily downhill through lack of practice, so finding myself with six months to spare, I took the chance to come to Istanbul and enrol myself on a Turkish Language course. Just off from Taksim Square, DILMER is where all manner of oddballs like me end up, learning 101 verb tenses and tying our tongues in knots over ridiculously long Turkish words. Courses run every month, and there are six levels, ranging from complete beginners to gaining a certificate to allow you entry into a Turkish university. Would I recommend it? As a way for learning Turkish, it seems to work if you put the effort in...but at the same time, to get anywhere with Turkish you have to practice it outside class. As a way to justify a prolonged stay in one of the most intriguing cities on this planet, then yes, I'd recommend it 100%!
- Pros:So much to see, so much to do, a week is not long enough!
- Cons:Rush hour traffic in hot summer sun,
- In a nutshell:In 6 months of exploring, I only scratched the surface...
All over Istanbul, you'll see small carts with circles of bread covered in sesame seeds for sale...this is simit.... more travel advice
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