Most of my trips don’t make sense to other people. But, because A) I spent 96% of my life as a student with classes/homework obligations B) I’m poor and C) I want to see everything in the world, they make sense to me. One such trip is when I went to Istanbul for two (okay really it was 1.5) days. Two days is not NEARLY enough to get to know ANY city. I still had a blast, and here’s what I did to make the most of my time.
See & Do
I cheated a bit here. When you’re traveling as a lone (black?) female, you attract a lot of attention in places like Istanbul- at least in my experience. People want to talk to you, hang out with you, and… hit on you. Perhaps more on this later, but you can generally tell people’s intentions, and pursuing conversations with the first two types of people is GREAT if they’re not also the last type.
Anyway, my point is that because I made some non-creepy friends, I got to see A LOT of Sultanahmet and Galata, two areas that I recommend if you’re time constrained but want to see the city. One of my friend’s friends in the US gave me a list of ‘to do’ things in Istanbul and said “you won’t have enough time to do these things”, but I did! Here’s some of what I saw that was awesome:
Mosques. They’re SO beautiful and differ greatly from the also beautiful Christian worship places that I’m used to seeing. It still floors me that people were able to create such decorated buildings for whatever higher power they believe in. This includes the Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmet Mosque (or the Blue Mosque), and Yeni Cami (the New Mosque)
Taksim Square. Very lively with shops and street performers. I saw lots of traditional (?) dances and songs being performed. One song that a group of teenage gypsies did was so beautiful that I still think about it today. I walk EVERYWHERE (hopefully even as I’m old), and walking to here from Sultanahmet via the bridge was beautiful – especially at sunset!
Galata Tower. Has lovely views of the city! But for a cheaper price, I liked:
Going to a cafe by Galata Tower. There are restaurants/cafes that have rooftop seating (sounds ritzy, but the one I went to at least is pretty inexpensive) where you can see similar views to Galata, but with less people around and more food.
Spice Bazaar. There are two big markets here, and this is the one with lots of good food. The Grand Bazaar is the other market and has a ton to look at.
Order ice cream. Don’t ask. Just do it.
Randomly wander through the streets. Exploring is the best! I actually don’t recommend wandering by yourself here unless you’re good at ignoring creepy men. Seriously, I rolled my eyes at everyone who told me that pre-trip, and then realized what they meant during-trip.
I love food. Not staying longer in Istanbul is probably one of my biggest regrets in life, because there’s so much food that I’ve never even tried! I doubt I ate the ‘key’ things – so I’d probably go with an actual Turkish person or blog’s recommendations if you’re looking at this to see what to eat (or anything in my posts- I’m just writing so I don’t forget). Of what I can remember, here’s what I tried:
Fresh cheese and veggies for breakfast. I haven’t been able to find this type of cheese anywhere (I *think* it’s peynir, but not sure). I would go back for the cheese alone.
Borek. Burek is a flaky, savory, amazing pastry and this one had cheese. Brb salivating.
Lokma. It’s like a syrupy fried dough. I’m not the biggest dessert/sweets person, but this is “best thing I’ve ever eaten” status.
Doner kebabs and Adana kebabs. The latter also being in the “best thing I’ve ever eaten” category. I had these collectively probably four times in these two days, and repeating foods on short trips is something I try not to do.
Bread with hummus as we know it and black olive hummus. This sounds simple but if you had it from wherever I had it from Turkey, you would melt.
Turkish coffee. Because you only live once.
And last, I would like to remember some of the people I met. It’s always fun to meet new folks and share stories, experiences, culture, language. Because Istanbul is such a huge (Muslim) city, I also met people from parts of the world I’ve never previously met people from- Algeria, Syria, Indonesia, Utah (I’ve never met someone from there before AND she wasn’t Mormon! Way to break stereotypes).
So, shout out to the gay Muslim Syrian refugee who was struggling as one could imagine – I hope you’re able to find peace; the other refugee who I complained about having student loans to but turns out his university was one of the first places ISIS bombed and had to quit to sell ice cream in Istanbul; the souvenir seller on Taksim street who talked with me about anti-blackness in the US vs North Africa and how people just need to dance + enjoy their lives; the cruise cook who came from a small poor village but now travels the world and is a reminder that you should always pursue your dreams; the English teacher who moved to Istanbul at 42 and is a reminder that it’s never to late to pursue your dreams; and everyone that genuinely asked me about hip hop/rap and why I didn’t have Jordan’s – y’all are funny.