We’ve only arrived in Istanbul a few days ago, and I’m already in love with this amazing city. We are staying in an Airbnb in Şişli, a centrally located neighborhood on the European side. It’s not super touristy here. We love shopping in the small neighborhood stores. Our favorite place to eat is a little restaurant just around the corner, where the workers have their lunch and the whole neighborhood gets take out food in the evening. The food is absolutely amazing and reasonably priced. There is also a fabulous pastry shop along our street. The waiter seems to like me, he gives me chocolate éclairs when he sees me walking past the shop. Don’t ask because I don’t know, I’m old enough to be his granny, haha.
A 10 minute walk gets us to Osmanbey metro station and access to this giant city. The official population count is around 15 million, some estimates are much higher. It’s not unusual for a bus or metro trip to some destination across the city to take 2 hours or so especially in rush hour. But I totally can’t imagine driving here, traffic seems completely insane.
We took the metro to Shishane station and went for a wonderful long ramble around the Galata tower neighborhood right from Taxim Square down to and across the Galata Bridge. This area is full of interesting shops, some trendy, some touristy, and some where you just wonder, like who buys old, used rotary telephones? Restaurants in this area are a bit higher priced, but generally in Turkey nothing is really expensive because of the exchange rate.
Another nice long walk begins at Seraglio Point, you can easily get there by bus. Google maps works well in Istanbul, and I highly recommend using it to find your way around, otherwise Istanbul gets rather overwhelming. Take in the view, then cross the road and enter Gülhane Park. Right now, end of March, the park is starting to come alive with spring flowers and is really beautiful. We will return to this part of the city to visit Topkapi Palace and Aya Sophia another day, this time we had another destination in mind.
Not far from these famous monuments you come to the Grand Bazaar, a wonderful treasure cave! The bazaar building is amazing with vaulted ceilings and mosaics. You could buy absolutely anything here but we have been advised that the same goods are available elsewhere in the city for much better prices. The bazaar is a tourist attraction and the prices reflect that. If you really want a Turkish carpet it’s better to go to one of the less touristy neighborhoods like Şişli and shop there. But you also absolutely must go to the Grand Bazaar for the experience!
Istanbul can be overwhelming, and you might be tempted to just take a taxi to get from point A to point B. Unfortunately the cab drivers have a reputation for being dishonest. They will pretty much always take the scenic route, having your Google maps open on your phone and letting them see that you are checking helps a little bit. Another precaution is to agree beforehand on the price, but then they might pretend to not find the address, take a couple of loops around the block and charge extra for that. If you feel that you have been cheated take a picture of the license and complain to the police. Not sure how much they can actually do about but they like to appear helpful.
We found the majority of Turkish people to be extremely honest. I don’t remember the last time I saw people leaving valuables on the table in a restaurant while having a quick chat at another table, this is not uncommon in Turkey. I think, it’s still a good idea to be cautious as a visitor, but on the whole we’ve felt really safe here. There is however one more profession with a very bad reputation and that’s shoe shine men. Some of them prey on tourists, trying to trick you into having your shoes done without stating a price and then taking as much money as they can get. Just stay away from them and polish your own shoes!
We still have two more weeks in Istanbul, so stay tuned for more installments of our adventures here. We are planning to explore some of Istanbul’s parks and more of its fascinating neighborhoods.