Biscuit Travels - 72 Hours in Istanbul.
How do you pack in all the sights of Istanbul in 72 hours? The answer is that you don't but you can try. I just scratched the surface and still came away wanting more.
It is raining but despite this I see the beauty of Istanbul, heading first along the Golden Horn towards the Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmet district. This is the most visited place in Istanbul but you can see why. The Sultanahmet Square is flanked and surrounded by the Blue Mosque at one end and Topkapi Palace at the other.
On this very wet February day, I could still see the wonder. I can only imagine what it would be like in the sunshine but I would rather not have to think what it would be like in the high season...overwhelming springs to mind. Even in the rain we have to dodge the tourists as they arrive in their hundreds.
Dinner at Aheste was a delight. Tucked away in the Beyoglu district with an unassuming front door leading to a fun and energetic restaurant serving wonderful mezze plates of spiced Mediterranean dishes.
The Galata Tower and the climb up to the top (well there may have been an elevator!) was worth the view. Dodging those who are up there just to do a tiktok or a dance lip sync (this new phenomenon is something I, as a nearly 50 yer old, really don't understand and to be honest don't really want to learn!) you had a 360 degree view of the vastness that is Istanbul.
On our walk towards the Grand Bazaar we stopped for a bowl of soup at the Orient Express Restaurant. Positioned next to the old ticketing hall, the stain glass windows were enough to make you stop and wonder what it would have been like in the heydays of train travel to Constantinople in the 1900's.
The Grand Bazaar is where we were heading. Not to be missed and a fun and vibrant place to just walk around. Little stalls with their stallholders all vying for your attention. The hustle and bustle was intoxicating. Get ready to haggle and never accept the first price offered would be my advice.
Dominated by a visit to Dolmabahçe Palace with the opulence from the Ottoman empire ( All influences could be seen from Baroque to Rococo to Neo-Classical ) along the banks of the Bosphorus, was a wonderful respite from the frantic city outside the gates. Don't get me wrong, it was busy even in February but the calming nature of the water gives you the impression of space. The rooms inside were incredible, from the crystal balustrade of the main staircase to culminating in the ceiling in the grand ceremonial hall. It made you question where the wealth really came from?
Some would say mad but I just couldn't leave Istanbul and not see the most instagrammable district of Balat. Famed for the brightly coloured houses, coffee shops and small eateries, I had to go and visit. Not being drawn into one of the many cafes, I opted for Balat Sahil Restaurant, a little place on a very busy road. Known predominantly by the locals and therefore on entering we knew that we were one of a few tourists to visit. For the budding historian in you, the photos of old Istanbul on the walls and references to Atatürk and his republic, this restaurant is a must. A fun place to visit for an authentic experience and as very little english was spoken and no english menu offered, you never quite knew what you had ordered until it arrived and even then it was a mystery!!
As if we hadn't eaten enough, our last dinner was another round of mezze plates of spiced beetroot, warm vine leaves stuffed with chickpeas, aubergine with a goats cheese cream with almonds all rounded off with a surprisingly good glass of Cabernet from Turkey. Just delicious and only a short walk back to the hotel in a place called Yeni.
Expect to walk everywhere as the traffic is very congested and public transport via the tram is good but if like us trying to even buy a ticket for the first time was problematical!!
Don't expect english to be spoken everywhere as we encountered language barriers in many places.
Take out Euros as well as Turkish Lira and always haggle!
The mosques will often be closed for prayer throughout the day but are well worth the wait.
Hope you are not scared of cats as this should really be called Cat City for the number there are!
Stay longer as there is so much to see and we are already planning a return visit.
We stayed in Soho House and felt spoilt throughout our stay. It is one of the houses where you don't need to be a member.