Turkey

Istanbul Practicals

I stayed 9 days in Istanbul and still couldn’t get enough of this historic city. I really enjoyed myself and want to share how me and my colleague managed our trip.

Transport

To/From Airport

There is a metro line that connects Ataturk to the city center.

To save us the hassle of looking for our hotel at Sultanhamet, we just booked transport from one of the numerous kiosks at the arrivals area of Ataturk airport. Cost was 25 USD.

When we transferred hotel to Taksim, we hailed a cab off the street for 35 lira. We could have taken the tram to Kabatas then the funicular to Taksim but we worried how we would manage the narrow turnstiles with our luggages.

From our hotel in Taksim to Atatur k, we booked transport with our hotel for 90 lira.

Around the City

Of course, the Istanbulkart is the way to go. Rides are cheaper with the card rather than paying per route. We bought our cards at the magazine kiosk near the Serciki station for 10 lira. Much cheaper to buy direct from the machine at 6 lira. We never took the bus but we used the card for both tram, metro, and boat.

The tram and metro have stops that connect with each other. We mostly used the tram.

Useful stations are:

Kabatas – Funicular to Taksim

Karakoy – Funicular to Tunel for Galata Tower

Eminonu – Bosphorous boat tours, ferry to Uskudar

Gulhane – Topkapi Palace, National Archaeological Museum

Sultanahmet – Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque

Beyazit – Grand Bazaar

Sleeping

Sultanhamet or Beyoglu? I too asked that when deciding where to stay. Since we were staying 9 nights, we decide to spend 4 at Sultanhamet and 5 at Beyoglu. Good decision.

Staying at Sultanhamet allowed us to just walk or take the tram (if we were tired) to the main sights such as Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia, and the Blue Mosque.

At Beyoglu, specifically at Taksim, we were able to shop and shop and enjoy the vibe of Istikal street with its crowds, shops, street musicians, cafes, and restaurants.

You can say that by staying at both areas, we experienced two sides of Istanbul — the historical at Sultanhamet and the modern at Beyoglu.

Eating

The Sultanhamet area seems to have the monopoly on kebab and doner meals.

I enjoyed eating more at Taksim as there were more varied choices and there were places that were like fastfoods with main meals on display. There are many along Istikal Caddesi.

Much cheaper are those on the streets away from Istikal. We found this place at a narrow street just opposite the street of our hotel. We ate here many times.

The price is much lower and the food is much better than the one we had along Istikal.

All of these plus a small bottle of Sprite is only 20.50 lira. The desserts here such as sutlac are also much cheaper. I didn’t notice anything different from the 3 lira version I had here to the more expensive one at a cafe along Istikal.

The fact that many locals eat here says a lot.

Shopping

Typical tourist souvenirs such as magnets, carpet-design pouches, and keychains were cheapest at the old city than at the Grand Bazaar or at Taksim. If you want to buy the cloth used for scrubs in the hamam, you can get them at shops along Galip Dede Caddesi at the end of Istikal. They’re just 5 lira compared to the 10 lira I got at a small convenience store in the old city. At the Grand Bazaar, it was 20 lira. I also bought a pestemal at the same street for 10 lira. It’s similar to the ones I used in the hamam.

Take note that the Grand Bazaar is closed on Sundays.

There’s a grocery called Ucler just across the Uskudar pier on the Asian side. I bought my olive oil soaps there for just 8.90 lira for a pack of 5 soaps. Much cheaper than the 5 lira soaps at souvenir shops. The bakeshop there also sells bahklava at a much lower price– 54 lira/kilo for hazelnut compared to 68 lira at the fancier shops.

July seems to be sale season (“indirim” means sale) as all the shops at Istikal and at the Forum Mall were on sale and prices were really slashed down.

My favorite shop was LC Waikiki which seemed to be the Turkish version of H & M. Clothes and shoes were really cheap.

Even items that weren’t on sale were quite cheap (39.95 for shirts, for example).

Istanbul is a city that demands to be discovered and explored. I never felt that the 9 days spent there was too much.

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Turkish Sweets

I love how Turkey has a penchance for sweets. Big thanks to the Ottoman rulers who cultivated the population’s sweet tooth with unique delicacies.

Mostly everone associate’s Turkey with two sweets: Turkish Delight (locally callef lokum) and bahklava. My sisters have been bugging me for bakhlava ever since I got here. Bakhlava indeed is love. The very mention of its name lights up mine and my sister’s eyes. The combination of pastry sheets, honey, and nuts is just amazing.

At Taksim, lokum and bahklava compete for space.

Just like Turkish lutes, provenance and heritage seems just as important in lokum and bahklava as makers advertise their year of origin. Choose among 1461, 1864, or 1905.

This shop seems really popular as they have multiple branches. They also have nicely furnished cafes.

But Turkey is more than these. There are other delights such as fried dough dipped in honey.

Citir Halka is saccharine heaven. Bite into it and honey drips. Fancy cafes at Taksim also sell this but you can get this local treat at a stall at the market street in Uskudar.

Kazandibi is a caramelized chewy milk pudding. It’s so good especially with a scoop of ice cream. You wanna close your eyes and remember your past loves.

Sharing the spot of my favorite dessert with kazandibi is sutlac, a creamy rice and milk pudding that looks like a souffle.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to bring these desserts back home with you. They wouldn’t last in a 12-hour flight.

And of course, there’s Turkish ice-cream. That sticky and chewy ice-cream made thick by extracts from the root of a rare orchid. It’s as much fun to eat as it is to purchase some on a cone as the vendors try all sorts of tricks.

For more conventional tastes, Turkey has wonderful hand made chocolates, too.

There’s also the popular Moazzaic Cake which is a dark chocolate cake with crushed cookies. Perfect with Turkish coffee.

This dessert from a cafe in the old city is banana on a chocolate cake smothered with thick marshmallow-like cream and nuts.

It’s like “tres leches” with a burnt caramel top. Very good with just the right amount of soaking.

With hefty servings of main meals, the challenge in Turkey is leaving room for all these desserts.

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