For the past couple of years I can across multiple people, Turkish natives and Americans, who told me that I had to go to Istanbul. I finally had the opportunity to setup a trip to fly out to Istanbul as part of my 2 week trip in Europe.
I took advantage of the Turkish Airlines layover program which allows you to layover in Istanbul up to 10 nights and then you fly to your next destination. So decided to fly from Barcelona , layover in Istanbul and then head to Berlin .
By time I made it to my AirBnB, it was in the early evening and I was a bit tired. The apartment building we were staying in had accessibility to the rooftop where it has a great view of the city for pictures. Upon making it to the roof, I ran into some locals who were very nice and we got to know each other a bit for the brief time I was up there. They told me explicitly that 3 nights wasn’t enough to see the city but I had to do my best.
The next morning I ventured into the city and was approached by a guy offering boat tours of the city. I figured this was a great way to see the city in a different way and get some great pictures.
While on the boat I came across a family originally from Uzbekistan but they were currently living in Istanbul. They wanted to take pictures with me and talk to me but a hurdle was language. They spoke Uzbek, Turkish, Russian but no English. Only one of the daughters knew a few words of English, so Google Translate became our friend. It was interesting trying to get to know someone through my an electronic device but we made it work.
After the boat tour, I asked if they wanted to have lunch together and they gladly accepted. We went to a local Turkish restaurant and for a brief period of time, they treated me like I was family. Even though there was a clear language barrier, they were patient with the misunderstandings and we ultimately got our points there. There were plenty of moments where the translation made no sense and then we tried again and I’m like “OOOH! That’s what you meant” lol.
After lunch we went our separate ways but I took their contact information to stay in touch.
I eventually made my way to the markets and to the Grand Bazaar. I’ve never been to a place like it. First let me say that they have everything. Yes, some of the items are counterfeit but they are pretty good quality. Everyone is trying to get your attention so they can sell you items and if you make eye contact for .01 second, they have you. I actually appreciated their hustle. You can haggle prices a little bit but the currency difference between the US Dollar and Turkish Lira gives you the advantage and cost savings already.
The big takeaway from my first full day there was that it felt like there were markets as far as the eye could see and lots of mosques. Some of the mosques you could tell were going through some renovations but they were beautiful to see in person.
The following day was my last full day in Istanbul and I decided to meet up with the family from Uzbekistan again. We met by Topkapi Palace and headed to Gulhane Park where it felt like every school kid was at. Gulhane park used to be part of the palace but is open to the public to visit. It’s actually a very pretty place to visit, lots of fountains, tulips and people enjoying themselves.
After the park we went our separate ways again but it was nice to see them again. I made my way by some markets looking for Turkish pastries and candies it wasn’t hard to find. They have so many different flavors, textures, you name it. He would have me taste one and then setup to have me taste another. I kept telling the guy that I don’t have any more space to carry items but it was tempting to take more.
On my way back to my AirBnB, I had to take more pictures of the view from Galata Bridge. The weather was perfect and the scenery was gorgeous.
The end of my last night in Istanbul I went to Galata Tower which has an observation deck 169 feet high up, so it makes for great pictures. The problem for me was that I didn’t like how the outer part of the observation deck was constructed and my fear of heights kicked in quick, so I took a few pictures and left.
To cap off the evening, I went to this Turkish restaurant that was close to the Galata Tower called Pepo’s and the food was delicious. I attempted to get chicken and the waiter up-sold me and I got this monstrosity instead…either way, the food was delicious and I can’t complain at all.
My Final Thoughts: I enjoyed myself in Istanbul. Would I go back? Possibly, yes. I will need to be on a tighter budget than I was before but I could see myself coming back to Istanbul. It was actually a great city to mix in with the rest of my European trip. If you are on the fence about going, I hope this was a nudge to get you to go.