Ohhh Istanbul! You either love it, or hate it! Or one day you love it, the next day you hate it and then you love it again. Just like a roller-coaster ride haha. Istanbul is an enormous city and when I say enormous, trust me, it is extraordinarily wide. I stayed for 7 nights and still didn’t have time to actually explore this city at its fullest. I guess not even half! And you know how I travel… wake up early in the morning and come back to the accommodation at midnight after walking all day, so I really did my best. Also, Istanbul is the only city in the world that is located on two continents. Now you are in Europe and after you cross a bridge, you are in Asia. How cool is that? In this case, you can imagine the mix of cultures in this city. Amazing vibe! But please, let me tell you more…
Ok, so how big is actually Istanbul? I needed a comparison in my head to actually figure it out so I took London for example. Classic! I’ll leave the following link here, in case you’re interested: http://comparecities.org/en/compare/Istanbul-London. When it comes to its population, the only difference is that on December 31st 2017 there were 15 million people living in Istanbul and not 14 million as in 2013. 15 million! FIFTEEN MILLION! In Romania there are now 19 million people living in the whole country, just saying.
Istanbul is definitively a middle east city. It is a modern city, a wonderful one but the atmosphere, the architecture, the way of living belong to Middle East, which seems normal, due to its location. So even though part of it is in Europe, you won’t be feeling like being in Europe at all, trust me on this. Oh, and another thing that you should know before visiting Istanbul is their currency, which is TL = Turkish Lira.
So it was a little bit overwhelming for me, to be honest… being in Turkey for the first time and also being in such a big city with so many people everywhere. A bit chaotic I would say, but you get used to it quite quickly. The bazaars, the spicy foods, the friendly people who always want to sell you something, the tea that is offered to you by everyone so casually in the streets, the mosques that can be heard all over the city… I loved everything in the end. And I actually miss that chaos!
Now let’s get started. I will tell you exactly what I visited during my stay there, from 23rd to 30th of June and also everything that I experienced while being there.
DAY 1. We didn’t actually do anything special that day because we were on the road from Bucharest to Istanbul. We chose traveling by car because it was really affordable, being 4 of us: mom, stepdad, husband and I. There are 680 km between my hometown and Istanbul, so we were on the road for 10 hours or even more, as far as I remember. Visiting Istanbul was my mom’s wish because she watches Turkish soap operas. YAAAY! Also, it was her birthday on June 24th and stepdad’s birthday on the 25th. So they wanted something different for their 50 years old birthday in 2018.
We stayed at Enderun Hotel (rated as “Excellent 8.8” on Booking) and paid 221 euros for 7 nights – breakfast included – double room. Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and Basilica Cistern are a 15-minute walk from the hotel so the location was pretty nice.
We then went outside for a stroll just to check the pulse of the area. And to eat, coz we were staarrrrving. By the way, the food is so good that you will surely gain some weight while being in Istanbul. I did for sure. I mean even if you are not hungry, after smelling all those spices… you cannot stop tasting their food. Tasting this and tasting that meant almost 2 kg extra for me after spending 8 days there. OOOOPS
For the internet and GPS, husband bought a sim card from Turk Telekom, paid 15 euros and I also got to use it by asking husband to share hot spot whenever I wanted. Whenever I wanted meant always haha.
That night was the first time when I saw such a big amount of people roaming around the streets, that night I understood that this was going to be a very unique experience and couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning and start discovering this city step by step.
DAY 2. Had our delicious breakfast, then went to visit the Hagia Sophia Mosque, being super close from our hotel. It is located in the Sultanahmet Area where there is also the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. Wanted to visit Blue Mosque first, because it was free for visitors, there’s no entry price, but when I got there, it was closed for prayers. When this happens, only Muslim people are allowed inside, no tourists. Therefore, change of plans… sat down for a cup of traditional Turkish coffee and visited Hagia Sophia afterwards, saying that I will visit the Blue Mosque later. I’m now realizing that I never got to visit the Blue Mosque actually. Yeah… sometimes I am so overwhelmed by everything around me that I say to myself: “It’s ok, I’ll come back later”. But then, truth is… I never come back. Happens to me frequently while traveling. Anyway, mom visited it and said it was under renovation, so I don’t regret it that much.
Paid 10 euros to enter Hagia Sophia and I was very surprised to see that it was formerly a Greek Orthodox Christian cathedral, later transformed into an Ottoman imperial mosque. Saw Jesus on a wall and I was like: “What the… is Jesus doing here?”. But then made a little research and all made sense in the end haha.
Looked for a rooftop to have our lunch and we ended up at Seven Hills. It was very close to Hagia Sophia. You can actually take photos of the mosque from up there. Totally recommend it. It’s just perfect! The weather changed quickly and got cloudy and windy, but they had blankets. Phewww
After lunch, we just kept on roaming around without any exact direction and I can tell you this: Istanbul is a very contrasting city. I mean on one street you may see a lot of cute restaurants with cozy vibes, then you see people living in poor neighborhoods, then you see skyscrapers. Took me a while to actually get used to this. But it’s somehow fascinating at the same time.
Oh and they are super patriotic. You will see Turkey flags everywhere. I mean literally everywhere. In the streets, restaurants, people’s houses… everywhere.
We then went back at the accommodation, because it was mom’s birthday and we arranged with the hotel to go on a cruise on Bosphorus for 4 hours, dinner + drinks included and also some traditional music + dances for 40 euros each. It was a bit expensive, but I guess it was worth it. During this cruise I realized how big Istanbul is. I mean we went on a continuously ride with the ferry for 1 hour and 30 minutes and Istanbul was still on both sides of the Bosphorus.
DAY 3. Went to the Grand Bazaar!!! It was very close from our hotel, I guess 10 minutes maximum. The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. In 2014, it was listed no.1 among the world’s most-visited tourist attractions with 91,250,000 annual visitors. The Grand Bazaar is often regarded as one of the first shopping malls of the world.
Spent almost 50 euros on buying tea. Yeah, tea! Ok, I didn’t want to spend that much but it happened. Actually never thought they’re so expensive and found out the prices only at the end when the vendor was already handing me the bags. So I paid. First tourist trap – done! With regards to the Turkish people, some of them are genuinely friendly and nice, some of them pretend to be friendly so that they can take advantage of you as a tourist and some of them are not even that nice. I had to deal with all kinds of people over there, that’s why I said in the beginning that one day I loved Istanbul, one day I hated it and the very next day I loved it again. You’ll see what I mean…
After visiting the Grand Bazaar, we then went to Topkapi Palace which was absolutely gorgeous. Never had the chance to actually see with my own eyes how the middle east architecture looks like so I was super impressed by all the amazing details. Entry price – 10 euros per person and it was totally worth it!
We then went with mom and stepdad at the same rooftop as the day before, Seven Hills… because we wanted them to also enjoy the views we had the previous day. It was stepdad’s birthday on that day and wanted them to feel good in a special place. So we had our lunch with that perfect view again!
Kept on strolling around the neighborhood and then went back to the hotel. I was beginning to feel frustrated coz I was in Istanbul for 3 days already and kept on visiting the same area – the Sultanahmet. So I told mom that starting the next day she will only get to see me in the morning at breakfast and then at midnight when I would come back at the hotel. So said, so done.
DAY 4. Had breakfast then hit the road! Went to Eminonu and took the ferry until Kadikoy which is on the Asian side of Istanbul. This side is very local and tourists rarely venture here, which is surprising because it’s actually quite close. So if you’re looking for an authentic experience far from the noisy tourist path, you’ll enjoy the low-key picnics, strolls around small streets and perhaps even enjoyment at not being hassled every second to buy something. Here, nobody tries to take advantage of you being a foreigner, what you pay is what everyone else pays! Below I’m showing you some pictures I took on our way until the Eminonu ferryboat station, which was actually trough the Grand Bazaar.
Just next to the Eminonu ferryboat station you have this wonderful view of the Galata Tower, which is one of the landmarks of Istanbul. So beautiful, right?
If the public transportation through the city can actually be a pain in the aaa… uhm let’s just say uncomfortable coz it’s a crowded city (remember those 15 million people), then the water transportation is super prompt and also very cheap. Hundreds of ferryboats are roaming around throughout the day! We paid less than 1 euro = 4 TL, as far as I remember. Annnnnd in 15 minutes we were in Asia. New land for me! YAAAYYYY
We first stopped at a very cozy cafe in Kadikoy and had a beer. You must know that alcohol is not sold everywhere but still, there are many places where you can order beers or wine for example. Their beer is Efes, you should try it.
I remember a funny moment while being super hot outside… husband and I sat down at a terrace and ordered two beers when the vendor said: “We do not sell alcohol”. Then we both were like: “And now what?”. Ehhh no worries… you’ll just drink a lot of tea in the end, just like we did. And I am still drinking tea on a daily basis since I visited Istanbul in June. Keep in mind that I am writing this blog post at the end of November. So tea has been part of my life since past 6 months. Thank you Turkey! Thank you for bringing tea into my life. PS: I am actually having a “chai” at this very moment haha.
If you are a cat lover, then I am telling you… Istanbul is cats’ favorite city. They are treated like royalty! You’ll see them everywhere!
After wandering around Kadikoy, we then went to the Uskudar area and I sooo loved this part of the city. Along the Bosphorus you may find many many terraces and restaurants where you can actually sit very casually on rugs and have your tea while watching the ferry boats, the sunset over Istanbul, orrrr looking at the Maiden’s Tower which appears like floating over the water. Sorry I don’t have a picture with this tower… but it started raining when I wanted to take pictures of it. The weather was actually pretty weird. I mean it rained every day… stormy weather, then hot, then cloudy again, then sunny again.
Had our lunch at a very nice restaurant nearby, named Salacak Balik. It is recently renovated, looks super cool and the food is exceptional. Totally recommend it if you are in that area.
Afterwards, took the ferry from Uskudar station to go back to Eminonu, European side of Istanbul. Buuuut, listen… the thing is that you don’t actually know which way the ferrys are heading while they’re stopped for boarding… And if you are in a hurry and don’t ask, then you might take the ferry in the wrong direction. Which of course we did. But it was fun, saw more of the Asian side of the city from the ferryboat. We then took the ferry backwards and visited the Taksim area.
About Taksim, what can I say… I was mesmerized. It is a major tourist and leisure district famed for its restaurants, shops, and hotels. Also, it is considered the heart of modern Istanbul. Here you can find as well the red vintage tram “Nostalgic İstiklal Caddesi Tram”. It was already getting dark so we both agreed, husband and I, on coming back the very next morning in the same area.
DAY 5. Went directly to Galata Tower. Paid 5 euros per person and climbed wayyyy up until the top. Don’t worry, there’s an elevator! Also, you’ll find there a very beautiful restaurant if you ever fancy having a dinner with a superb view. This could be the place! So here’s the view you have over Istanbul from the Galata tower.
After visiting the tower, we started wandering through the Taksim area… took photos with the vintage tram, visited some shops because they were on sale… nothing special. Ohhh I am lying. Something special did happen at that time. Wait for it! Hahahaha
Now here’s a funny story! The story when I lost my camera for 60 minutes in Turkey. Ok, so there I was… in a Koton store because of the discount prices. No woman can resist, I can assure you of that haha. After buying myself a dress, realized I didn’t have my camera with me. Oh my oh my! Went back to the fitting room, wasn’t there. Fuck! I was screwed. Asked some employees over there to help me, but they weren’t allowed to show me the videos from the store without bringing in the police. Whaaat???? Ok, calm down Andreea. Calm down. Having tears in my eyes, went outside the store and there it was. A policemen car standing right in front of me. Talked to the police officer and he told the manager of the store to show me the recordings. Now here’s actually the interesting part. After 30 minutes of watching, saw myself how I tried on some bags and when I wanted to put them back at their place, I also removed my camera from my shoulder and put it there with the bags. I mean… I literally exposed it there, in case somebody would have liked to buy a bag + an Olympus camera as a bonus! Anyway, all is well when it ends well, right? This was just an ordinary day while being on vacation. Now pleeease don’t tell me to pay more attention in the future, coz I know I won’t haha.
Recovering my camera also brought my appetite back so we stopped and had our lunch in Taksim (can’t remember the name of the restaurnt, don’t kill me). Afterwards, took the ferry to Balat, which is such a colorful neighborhood! I was precisely looking for some buildings over there, but after searching them for 2 hours, still couldn’t find them. I also asked for help from my Turkish Instagram fellows, but still, no luck. It wasn’t my lucky day I guess… Anyway, took some photos in the area. Enjoy!
DAY 6. For this particular day, had in plan to visit the Princes’ Islands. Ok, what are these Princes’ Islands? During the summer months the Princes’ Islands are popular destinations for day trips from Istanbul. As there is no traffic on the Islands, the only transport being horse and cart, they are amazingly peaceful in contrast with the city of Istanbul. Most ferries call in turn at the four largest of the nine islands: Kinaliada, Burgazada, Heybeliada, and finally, Buyukada. Şehir Hatları vessels, the big traditional Istanbul ferryboats, make the 95-minute voyage from Istanbul’s Eminonu ferry docks to Kadıkoy, Kınalıada, Burgazada, Heybeliada and Büyükada at least 8 times daily for a fare of 4 TL single/one-way ~ 1 euro.
The most beautiful island is Buyukada, or at least the biggest and the most famous one… but it’s also the farthest one. First island is Kinaliada where you can find some beaches as well. Because we were already in Istanbul for 6 days and didn’t lay down on a beach until that moment, we decided to get down in Kinaliada for few hours so that we can relax a bit under the sun… and then continue our way until Buyukada.
So said, so done. We went directly to one of the beaches that was super close to the ferry dock and rented some sunbeds. You see… the price for 1 sunbed was 15 TL. So for husband and I, had to pay 30 TL. We gave the guy who was in charge of the place 50 TL. Guess what? Waited for the change. And waited and waited and waited. And nothing. Ok. We also ordered a coffee and one bottle of water. I said to myself, he is going to include the coffee and the water in those 50 TL that I paid. Yeah sure! NOOOOOT!
After 20-30 minutes, the same guy came to ask for another 15 TL for the coffee and the water. I started explaining that we already paid 50 TL soooo he was the one who actually had to give us back some money. Turkish guy didn’t understand English. Ok, to be honest, I think he just pretended not to understand English. I took my telephone and started calculating in front of him, explaining at the same time that we paid more. This guy asked another Turkish guy to come and help him with this ‘situation’.
The other guy who by the way had a very fit body (as if I would have ever gotten intimidated by his muscles) also started asking for money. In which language? Turkish, of course. WTF, seriously? Now there were two guys that were asking for money in Turkish without giving me a chance to explain what the hell happened in English. The whole beach was looking at us, of course. We then just paid and went away because I didn’t want to make a scene. I hate when people are scamming other people… but I mostly hate when people are scamming other people by just lying them in their face. This was one of those days when I really hated Turkey haha.
When I got up from the sunbed, wanted to get off my swimsuit and put my dress on… so I went directly to some changing rooms that were near this place named by the way: Dezire Pastanesi. Do not stay here! Anyway, while I was changing my clothes, another woman started asking for money because I was using the… changing room. I was speechless. For real.
Then I was like “Ooook… I will walk in the streets in my swimsuit” which I totally knew it was going to be considered rude. Why? Because Istanbul is not Barcelona, for example. I mean you cannot casually walk in your swimsuit without having 30 men staring at you, as a woman. But still, I didn’t want to pay a single extra penny to that place. So I revealed my bottom to the world until I found a public bathroom where I could properly change my clothes. I also gave Dezire Pastanesi a bad review. End of story!
However, the bougainvillea on the island was gorgeous! After this incident, we didn’t want to stay there anymore, so we decided to go further to Heybeliada island. Waited for the ferry, asked for info before getting on that ferry just to make sure that it’s going to be the good direction… all people on boaaaardddd and guess what??? The ferry started going in the opposite direction… meaning back to Istanbul. I was expressionless. Couldn’t believe it! But it also started raining, so it was actually a good thing that we didn’t continue our visit to the next islands that day.
Soooo change of plans. Once we arrived back in Istanbul, visited the Suleymaniye Mosque. Well, visited… but not exactly visited it. The mosque was closed for prayers. Arrrgghh! Just took some photos outside the mosque and admired its grandeur from the outside. Amazing construction, seriously!
Afterwards, went to visit the Basilica Cistern. The entry price is 5 euros. It was interesting, but if you don’t have time to visit it, don’t worry. You can still sleep well at nights without adding this place on your ‘to do list in Istanbul’. The cistern is located 150 meters southwest of the Hagia Sophia and it was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.
We then ended our evening by wandering a bit more through the city, took some more photos aaaand that was pretty much it for that day. But hey, look at this wonderful street below! PS: I so love it when I take pictures of random people and they see me and then start smiling at me.
DAY 7. Had a choice to make. Going to the beach, or visiting Buyukada island. Chose visiting the island of course. So here we go again… to the Eminonu decks and heading to Princes’ Islands. Below you may get a glimpse of Istanbul’s traffic.
Don’t mind me! Sometimes I think I think too much! Or maybe I just wanted to look interesting hahah.
After we finally got to Buyukada island, we immediately started roaming around and I have to tell you that this island is so so so soooo beautiful! Please don’t miss it, if you are visiting Istanbul. It’s a total different story… being on an island without cars at all, only bikes and carriages. People were so happy, peaceful… bougainvillea everywhere… cats, dogs, seagulls living in harmony. Everything was so nice! Cute restaurants, good food. Very very nice! Let me show you.
Had our lunch there, also had some tea and after spending few hours on the island, returned back to Istanbul. It was a very relaxing day, I think I enjoyed the most being in Buyukada! So happy that I didn’t choose staying at the beach that day and visited this island instead.
DAY 8. Just had our breakfast and said goodbye to Istanbul because it was our last day being there. We then headed back to Bucharest, Romania. After driving the whole day, we finally got home.
I think I visited almost everything that I wanted in Istanbul, besides Dolmabahçe Palace, which I know is also super beautiful. However, didn’t actually see much of the city itself, geographically speaking. I think I saw only a quarter of Istanbul.
Please keep in mind that Istanbul is not quite a beach destination… even though the Bosphorus strait connects the Black Sea with the Marmara Sea. Anyway, below are few beaches, in case you decide adding them on your list while visiting Istanbul:
- Dalia Beach – Black Sea
- Solar Beach – Black Sea
- Burc Beach – Black Sea
- Kylios Beach – Black Sea
Uzunya Beach – Black Sea
- Kadıköy’s Caddebostan Beach – Marmara Sea
- Yeşilköy Çiroz Beach – Marmara Sea
After few days of being back home, started missing the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, started missing the chaos, started missing the agglomeration, started missing it all.
Istanbul was a very nice and unique experience for me. Realized how curious I am about different cultures, different customs, different religions, different people. But you know what? In the end we are all the same. We are humans and humane…
Until next time,
- Our stay in Istanbul: 23.06.2018 – 30.06.2018
- Bucharest – Istanbul and return: gasoline 150 euros in total / 75 euros per couple
- Accommodation: Enderun Hotel 221 euros
- Total: 300 euros as a couple
PS: If you are using booking.com to find the best accommodations like I do, then you should use the following link to receive 10% of your money back on your next travel! It’s a win-win situation… so why not?