Woke up around 730AM and had breakfast at the hotel before we began our day. I also realized the hamam scrub took away at least 2 shades of colour for me. I haven’t been this pale in a very long time. This would be the first full day in Istanbul. I had planned this trip so we had 2 half days and 2 full days to roam about Istanbul. And let me tell you, this day was super active.
We walked to Arasta Bazaar where we purchased some locally weaven, organic, ethically made Turkish towels and blankets from Jennifer’s Hamam. Jennifer Gaudet is originally from Canada. @jennifershamam. Haci was very knowledgeable and helped us out. He also gave us a tip for the best baklava in town (which we visited later that day).
Our next stop was the Sultan Ahmed Mosque aka the Blue Mosque (certain parts under restoration – many locations we went were also under restoration). You need to take off your shoes to enter the mosque and you can also rent a headpiece for females for free to visit. It is free to visit.
Hagia Sophia was next on our itinerary where we bumped into our new friend Shu who we met in Cappadocia in line. The ticket fee was 60TL – $14.98CAD. It was so beautiful and you just have to keep looking up. The light coming through seemed magical. Hagia Sophia was a former Greek Orthodox Christian cathedral which later became an Ottoman imperial mosque and is now a museum (Ayasofya Müzesi).
Just 500M away from Hagia Sophia underground is the Basilica Cistern aka Yerebatan Sarayi (meaning Sunken Palace). The Basilica Cistern was the major water reservoir of Constantinople. Later on was the water storage for the Ottoman period for Topkapi. It cost 20TL entry fee (Also note that this entry fee would not be covered by the Museumcard if you purchased it). It is the size of a cathedral and has 12 rows of 28 columns to support it. There are two massive medusa heads in the far corner of the cistern. The statues showcase the head of Medusa on its side and upside which is said to have removed her powers.
Back onto the tram we went to continue across the bridge to the Karaköy area. First stop – Rainbow Stairs – They weren’t quite as vibrant of colours as I had thought they would be. From there, we walked to Taksim Square where a festival was happening. There were stalls of homemade crafts and literature. We purchased some handmade jewellery. For lunch, we stopped by Kizilkayalar for a hamburger and atom (milk with honey and carrots) – 2 burgers and 2 atoms for only 30TL – $$7.49CAD. Cheap but good and fast eats.
Just outside of Kizilkayalar, you can see the famous tram come through on the infamous Istikal Rd. We walked the street that was packed with people going both directions and stopped for Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir (Turkish delight) and Mandabatmaz (Turkish coffee) – this shop is in a small alley and you can either sit inside or outside the café. I don’t usually drink coffee and the last time I had one was in a jungle in Lao, where we picked up coffee from a lady on the side of the road and was brewed on a open fire where we drank it beside a waterfall and the treehouses we slept in the night before. This coffee was different – it tasted a little more burnt and the grounds sit at the bottom of the cup. There isn’t an aftertaste to it and it is also served with a cup of water after to cleanse the palate. The coffee is brewed on a open flame in their small copper cezve and served in a little espresso cup – 7TL a cup.
At the end of Istikal Rd, it led to Galata Tower. Entry fee is 35TL – $8.74CAD. We went up as the sun was slowly setting. Such a nice 360 view of the city where you can look onto the Sultanahmet side and even over to the Asian side. The balcony isn’t that large so it does get crowded to move around and people move slowly through.
We took Haci’s advice and went to Karaköy Güllüoğlu – delicious and WORTH the visit. We ordered the Şöbiyet with Pistachio (with milk filling) and a normal square baklava. Haci’s number 1 tip when eating baklava – Turn the baklava upside before you put it in your mouth – that way, when you eat it, the top doesn’t stick to the roof of your mouth and makes the experience so much better.
We stopped on the Galata bridge to watch the sunset while fisherman fish off the side of the bridge. When we crossed over the bridge, we went into the Eminönü area to grab some coffee from Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi (famous Turkish coffee) and Kurukahveci Nuri Toplar (Woodfire roasted coffee). Timing was perfect as we made it just in time before both stores closed within 30 minutes. Since we were already in this area by the water with the full moon in force, we had dinner at Hamdi Restaurant before walking back to our hotel. We ordered the Findik Lahmacun 5TL (Turkish pizza), Urfa Lahmacun 20TL (Turkish Pizza), Fistikli Kebap (kebab with pistachio – 50% veal, 50% lamb meat) 54TL & Ayran (diluted salted yoghurt drink) 7.50TL.
We decided that it was a nice night to walk back to our hotel. It took about 30 minutes but we got to see more of the city that way. Many of the stores were closing or closed so it was a very peaceful walk.