Istanbul is a short flight from Greece and worth checking out. Here are some things you should know before visiting this thriving city of 14 million inhabitants.
Taking on the Grand Bazaar
Originally constructed in 1455/56, the Grand Bazaar boasts over 3,000 shops with 250,000 to 400,000 daily visitors. If you are expecting a leisurely afternoon of browsing for bargains you are in for a shock. However, if you are up for combat shopping this is a fun way to spend the day. Bazaar vendors are highly skilled at separating you from your cash so do not set foot in the plaza without a solid grasp on the exchange rate. And carry small bills so you are less likely to get short changed. I consider myself a savvy shopper but after I left the Bazaar I had no self-respect.
Experience a Turkish bath
An Istanbul trip is not complete without a visit to a traditional bath house. I went to the Ayasofya which is centrally located, clean and safe.
This was my experience; I was seated on a lovely marble bench, ice cold, while I was scrubbed down by a mustached woman. I was naked with the exception of swim suit bottoms. She scrubbed and rinsed twice using a bucket of water and loofah, then ordered me to relax. After sitting for about 10 minutes she returned and rubbed my hair and ears vigorously with a towel.
When I was sufficiently dry, I was taken to another slab of marble. I rested on my back, closed my eyes and soon felt a strange tingling sensation all over my body. I opened my eyes to see that I was covered with bubbles. The bubbles were stacked at least a foot high. I giggled. After a while I was flipped over and the same procedure was done on my backside. Once this step was complete, I was ushered to a private room where I was satisfactorily oiled down and massaged.
If you can get past a scrub down while practically naked in front of a total stranger you may enjoy a Turkish bath. Otherwise just stick to a massage.
As you visit the must see tourist attractions such as The Blue Mosque, Haga Sofiaand the Basilica Cistern watch for friendly young men who want to show you around town. Be aware that some of the carpet retailers hire people to bring prospects to their carpet showrooms. I wouldn’t say it’s a scam but they do go out and fish for potential rug buyers. Avoid being a target and if men folk offer to show you the sites politely refuse.
I bought a rug in a reputable shop recommended by the concierge at my hotel, El Rincon de Fehmi. I was treated like royalty and served cherry tea while the salesman rolled out rug after rug. The selection was overwhelming but the merchant was able to narrow down a fit for my budget and style. I chose a traditional Kilim rug woven out of hemp and cotton. Luckily most vendors, including this one, offer shipping and the rug arrived safely at my doorstep one month after my return home.
Turkish Eats and Drinks
Everywhere you go the scent of baked bread is vented into the city streets. I ate roasted lamb kabobs flavored with cumin and mint leaves along with heaps of Pilaf. Turkish cuisine is steeped in Mediterranean tradition so expect plenty of lemon and olives. Don’t leave without trying the Borek, a savory pastry with paper thin layers of crust and a soft cheesy center.
Turkish coffee is known and the “milk of chess players and thinkers”. It is served in a coffee pot called a “cezve”. I drink tons of coffee so I enjoyed my daily caffeine fix. It is similar to espresso in that it is finely ground and very strong. In comparison, American coffee tastes like warm bath water.
Good to Know
English was spoken everywhere I went and there were tons of taxis so navigating the city was easy. I stayed at a centrally located inn called the Recital Hotel. It was within walking distance of the best sites and the hotel offered shuttles to and from the Istanbul airport.
I had a hard time finding bottled water after I left my room so I would recommend carrying emergency water packs. I never leave the U.S. without them. Easy to carry they fit in a small purse or bag. Keep in mind that Istanbul weather is chilly in the evening and warm during the day so wear layers.
I was impressed with the beauty of the city and the warmth of its people. Get an Istanbul map, a good camera and some comfy walking shoes and you will be set. I hopped over to Istanbul after visiting Greece and I am glad I took the detour on the way home. It was well worth the trip.
To see one of my favorite Turkish recipes check out my recipe blogs.
By Tallie @ lifeandlemons.org