reflections

Musings: My Istanbul Turkey Wrap-Up and Musts

I’ve been meaning to get this wrap-up done for a while and was finally in-part motivated by Matt Mullenweg’s request for tips which you can find here: http://ma.tt/2010/05/tips-for-turkey/

Anyway, here goes.  This is a list of my musts which I did in about 4 days.  I hope it helps and if it does or you find other great things, let me know.

TRANSPORTATION:

AKBIL and the public transportation system:

Buy an AKBIL.  It’s a rechargeable magnetic dongle used to ride for all the metro, trams, buses and ferries.  You can even take the metro into town from the airport, which I would highly recommend as it will invariably take less time and as a bonus cost significantly less.  Some people say to buy one and share for your group but I found that if you do that you won’t be eligible for transfer past the first rider, and considering how cheap they are just get one for every person.
Taxis
They get you where you need to be but I found them to be less than helpful, at time deceitful (taking us on runarounds which we knew were happening but could not do anything about due to the language barrier), and unnecessarily expensive for what they offer.
Private Vans:
To get to the more obscure spots you may need to navigate the mildly baffling and freeform world of private vans.  Their stops aren’t necessarily marked, their prices aren’t necessarily listed, but they do cover that proverbial last mile.
Renting Cars:
I would avoid it at all costs.  There’s no reason to get one unless you’re leaving town, the traffic can be abysmal, you will get completely lost, and you will get towed.  To the getting towed point, I wish I had a photo or better yet video of this tow truck they have but it was astounding to watch.  A truck pulls along side a car, lowers a side mounted fork lift and lifts the car onto its flatbed.  All of this took place without the driver getting out of the truck and was done in under 15 seconds.  It was completely ruthless.
SITES:
Topkapi Palace
Simply stunning.  The full tour took us about 3-4 hours but was well worth it.  You can break for lunch about halfway at a cafe that has amazing viewsOf the Bosphorus.  The Jewels and Artifacts are truly unique and mind blowing.
Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya (aka Hagia Sophia)
One the most unique and beautiful Mosques I have ever seen.  Color, curves and scale come together for a major Wow moment.  Aya Sofya is another impressive Mosque that’s currently under a massive renovation project.
Basilica Cistern
Underground water reservoir filled with symmetrical columns and dim lighting that made me feel like I was in a Fremen outpost on Arakis? I’m in.

Grand Bazaar

World reknowned market where you can stock up on gifts and booty for yourself.  While it’s not as vast as Chatuchak in Bangkok it more than hold’s its own.Carpets tend to be the big ticket item that’s pushed but there’s plenty more to choose from.

Spice Market

Unreal array of colors, smells and tastes.  Stock up on saffron, vanilla beans, and a variety of other spices, teas or coffee.  Find some Medjools – the fattest, moistest and sweetest dates you”ll ever have.  Enjoy some real and fresh turkish delight.
A COUPLE OF ITINERARIES:

Site Seeing

If you get up really early, and based on the day of the week since most of the sites close a day a week and it isn’t always the same day, you can theoretically do all of the aforementioned sites in one day.  That said, it would be a really long day and probably best served by covering them over two days.  You’ll find that most of the sites are actually pretty close to each other and can easily be walked to/from.
Beyoglu Taksin and Tarlabasi
Take the metro to the tram up to the top of Taksim square so you can walk down Tarlabasi Street.  Believe me, down is the operative term.
Asia Side
Grab a ferry to head over to Kadikoy on the Asia side for lunch at Ciya and to check out a different side of Istabul.  The meal alone is worth it (see below).  The ferry leaves from the main ferry landing strip In Sultanahmet near the Galata bridge.
Bosphorus
Take a half-day to full day if you have the time ride up the Bosphorus.  Gorgeous, refreshing, and you’ll be on a boat.
It’s on the Asia side.  It’s a nice ferry ride over To Kadikoy and the area Ciya is in is quite lively and filled with restaurants and shops.  Food wise, it was my favorite meal in Istanbul. It’s a giant buffet of hot and cold dishes and salads and you just point to a half dozen and they appear on your table.  Totally delicious.  When you find it, there will actually be three of them right next to each other: one is a kebap restaurant and is quite good but you want to hit the one across the way with the hot buffet on your left and the salad bar on your right.  I cannot recommend it enough.
Truly amazing lahmacun.  I think I ate four of them.  It’s also in a hip and upscale neighborhood
Hole in the wall but legendary shish kebab right off of Tarlabasi while walking down from Taksin Square
It’s definitely out of the way but worth it if you’re feeling adventurous.  Their specialty is roasted a lamb in a pit.  Enough said.  The desert looking thing below was something I’d never had before: it was a gooey corn meal polenta like thing with vanilla ice cream and bananas.  So good.
Ayran
It’s a liquidy and salty yogurt drink.  I thought I’d hate it but actually loved it especially in tandem with a lot of the meat dishes. Sometimes it’s even served in bowls with ladles so you can slurp away.  Give it a shot.
Dried Fruits:
The Medjools and apricots are both phenomenal and made the perfect day bag snack for me.  There are plenty of others for you to choose from.
Turkish Ice Cream:
It’s hard to explain why it’s so good but the best I can do its that it’s a bit chewier than what we get in America or Italy – it might be due to some gum arabic or some kind of binding agent.  Anyway it’s delicious.
OTHER MUSTS:
Hamami
Go ahead and do it, get pummeled into submission in a super heated octagonal room/platform.  I went to Cagaloglu Hamami and was really pleased with the outcome.

Cooking class:

Cooking a La Turka – www.cookingalaturka.com

It’s a couple hour cooking class where you make 3-4 classic Turkish dishes in a small group environment then sit to dinner and eat your warez.  I really enjoyed it, the food was great and I learned a few things.  Win.
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