So I’m wrapping up my Turkey posts with a roundup of my five favorite things about Istanbul. I think the tag “five faves from…” could easily apply to anyplace and anything, so watch out… it might just become a regular feature around here!
1) Sweets at Saray. There are lots of sweet shops selling pasha lokum, more famously known as Turkish delight, along Istiklal Caddesi. But all of them pale in comparison to Saray Muhallebicisi, a restaurant, tea and dessert shop that’s been satisfying Istanbul’s sweet tooth since 1935. Saray’s huge storefront window, filled with a tempting array of Turkish sweets, is completely mesmerizing.
Until Saray, I never knew watching syrup drip could be so hypnotic. You are getting sleeeepy… you will want to eaaaat meeeee…
Brisk, efficient staff in old-school uniforms dish out tray after tray of sweets to a packed house and long queues at the takeout counter. Towering stacks of treats disappeared literally in minutes. It was fascinating to watch.
Speaking of sugar frenzy, this was another one of those moments where everything was so yummy I forgot to take pictures. Just take it from me, those sweets in the window are every bit as rich and delicious as they look. Best washed down with a hot Turkish tea or strong Turkish coffee!
With a soaring, seemingly unsupported dome (a true architectural feat of its time), what Aya Sofia is today is… magnificent.
From the stunning ceiling that once held 30 million gold mosaic tiles (tesserae) to the chandeliers that hang overhead, Aya Sofya left me in awe and simply thankful to be there.
Some beautiful mosaics still remain on the second floor. Great detail, vivid colors, and lots of gold—which I love! They seem to glow even after more than a thousand years.
When I travel, I’m always on the lookout for a funky accessory or two to take home with me, and markets are great places to look. These chunky rings fit the bill perfectly!
I found Ortakoy to be a really nice, relaxed, and very local place to walk around. People just hang out by the riverside for a chat, a snack or a glass of tea (or all of the above) while enjoying the view of the Bosphorus. That’s Asia on the other side of that bridge, by the way.
Steaming hot and loaded with toppings, it was the perfect lunch on a chilly fall day. It was cheap and filling too!
5) Cross-continental cruise. After shopping at the market and stuffing ourselves with kumpir, Marlon and I hopped on a ferry that took us on a short cruise up and down the Bosphorus. This strait connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmaris, but more importantly, has Europe on one shore, Asia on the other.
Aside literally putting you between Europe and Asia, the Bosphorus cruise is also great for sighting all the ultra-wealthy homes (stately mansions and chic, all-glass apartments) lining both shores, with their jacuzzis and yachts out front.
Like the strange and silly couple we are, Marlon and I had a laugh sticking our noses in the air and showing off our “summer mansions” to an imaginary yacht full of imaginary guests.
To me, it was all very Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But to Marlon, this photo was all about “I’ll bet my orchids, it’s brewed!” Can anyone remember what commercial that was?
Much has been said about how Istanbul is where East meets West, Europe meets Asia. Seeing this for the first time is where it really hit me, with a jolt. Yes, it looks like a European boulevard. Even the idea of an evening stroll is so European. And if you have any doubt that you are still in Europe, you only have to peer into the narrow, sloping side streets that branch off from Istiklal Caddesi.
But the energy, the rush and the madness is all Asia. And instead of wilting at the sight of this crowd, I felt alive. It was the spark of energy I needed after a long day of traveling… and a long time away from home.
I think it mostly has to do with the people. With a population of 13 million, Istanbul definitely feels much more like Manila (pop. 19 million) than Amsterdam (pop. 800,000), and that is especially obvious on Istiklal Caddesi. It seems that half of Istanbul was walking there that Friday night. Another thing about the people… well, they look like me! I can’t count the number of times someone talked to me or Marlon in Turkish during our stay.
… or go to church. Or both, because this store and the church are right across from each other!
Another thing that reminded me of home? Street food.
These yellow “flags” are how I discovered midye, mussels stuffed with rice and spices.
Georgie and Bavaria belong to Suzan, our fantastic Airbnb host in Istanbul. My personal theory is that cats are an indicator of a great apartment and a thoughtful host; I was definitely right this time.
Black-and-motley Georgie was the most affectionate cat ever, purring and cozying up to us literally from the moment we walked in the door. (Note: hire her to give Rogue some coaching.) She even climbed into bed for a cuddle on our last morning… just like Rogue would if we were at home! As you can see, she had lots of bonding moments with Marlon. Bavaria was more reticent, but being deaf and very old, that was easy to forgive.
Turkey is cat country. There are big, beautiful, fluffy cats everywhere—the type that would be pet store material in Manila. Being the crazy cat lady that I am, I couldn’t resist snapping pictures of the cats I saw. Coo over the cuteness, after the jump!
In Amsterdam there are shop cats, restaurant cats and even pub cats, but street cats are a rare breed. I didn’t realize how much I missed them until I got to Turkey. They were everywhere—yowling to be fed under the table in Goreme or sleeping outside a jewelry store in Istanbul. And though they were always underfoot, not once in six days did I see a single Turk kick or even shoo away a cat. I even saw a hulking, macho leather-clad biker type bend down to scratch the cat sleeping underneath his bike.
Even the (slightly) posh restaurant we treated ourselves to on our last evening in Istanbul had its own cats, complete with their own bowl of food and water by the door. It’s hard to claim to be really posh with two fat cats like these sprawled across the floor. And I like that.
Dog lovers, I haven’t forgotten you. Say hello to the scruffy scoundrel of central Goreme!
Don’t say I didn’t throw you a bone. Har har har.
I thought it was going to be easy to stick to my low/no-carb diet while in Turkey. (“They eat a lot of kebabs right? Grilled meat? I should be fine!”) As you can see, I was way off the mark… but quite happy to be wrong!