Istanbul had been both of our "must-visit" lists for years and we were both excited to spend 10 days in the city. Having such a long time and a single AirBnB to unpack meant that we actually were able to experience the city rather than fly through it. We absolutely needed it. The city is absolutely enormous and there is just so much history, culture, food, etc. to experience. Compared to the rest of Turkey where we had been in highly touristy areas, Istanbul was our first chance to get off the beaten track. Below I give a best, worst, and funniest breakdown of our time in this amazing metropolis.
- The food. Oh the food. It's not surprising that there are dozens of blogs dedicated to scoping Istanbul's amazing eateries. From fine-dining to the greatest street food you can find, Istanbul has it all. One highlight was the kumpir, a baked potato with every topping under the sun. Favorite restaurants included
- The ferry system. It's amazing how the Bosphorus is so critical to the industry and transportation of the city. People jump on and off ferries faster than they change subway lines in NYC. All the while drinking delicious tea.
- The neighborhoods and views. Istanbul is absolutely enormous and we were lucky to have so much time to explore. From finding amazing bakeries in back alleys to the street art, it was the most we'd felt immersed in a city on the whole trip. Plus, with water views all over the place, it's gorgeous. Definitely go up the Galata tower and then chill out in the square with a beer. It's a fun scene to watch. Also, I wished I had learned to play backgammon as it was everywhere and offered opportunity to meet more locals. Next time.
- The history and architecture. Everyone says it, but it's pretty hard to grasp how many important things have happened in Istanbul over the years. The main sights are spectacular, easily rivaling major European capitals. They do get packed out with tour buses though so try and go early. And don't get too caught in Sultanahmet. It's like visiting NYC and only seeing Midtown. Necessary but not sufficient. Make sure you go to the Basilica Cistern if nothing else. It's quite a sight to behold.
- The Istanbul Modern Art Museum. Beautiful location and lots of cool art. Definitely worth a stop.
- The Tunnel. A hilariously small subway up the Galata hill that was a lifesaver for our thighs. On a dark, rainy night where both of us were feeling homesick, we decided to take it for the first time. We had previously struggled to find tasty cheap restaurants near our apartment and were getting disheartened. We emerged from the Tunnel and turned to see a glimmering beacon of Americana: a brand-new Shake Shack. We sang Danny Meyer's praises and indulged.
- Being caught up in the remnants of tear gas after protests near Taksim Square. We were walking up towards the Galata Tower with a friend from college and each of us was rubbing our eyes. I thought it was allergies but then he remembered the protests had just finished. We pushed on even though it was a bit obnoxious on the lungs. Eventually it dissipated but we came upon the riot police sitting in their gear. The scary thing was they were all no older than 25, all WhatsApp'ing on their phones. Minus the riot gear, they looked exactly like the protesters they faced off against.
- Being sick on my birthday. Somehow I ended up with an annoying illness on my birthday. It ended up resolving itself quickly and we still had a great dinner. No serious damage.
- The early days of rain. We expected beautiful weather, particular as we arrived to gorgeous spring weather. It then proceeded to pour for 2 straight days. Fortunately we had 10 days so it wasn't a tragedy.
- Ending up on a quasi-double date with a couple of expats who had gone to brunch after a one night stand. They were eager to chat with us to take the pressure off talking to each other. Somehow we ended up almost going on an overnight trip with them. Fortunately their heavy social lubrication meant that they passed out in the cab on the way to our ferry terminal. Probably for the best.
- Our persistent failure to go to a Turkish bath. We discussed it nearly every day and yet somehow we always failed to make it happen. Again, something for next time.
- Whitney's effort to find a particular medication that was eventually wildly successful. So successful in fact that she now asks everyone we know who goes to Istanbul to bring her back cut-rate medicine.