For Breakfast on the first day we went to Ops Café, in the the Karaköy neighborhood, a cool neighborhood on the shores of the Bosphorus. There, we had what they called an “Albanian Breakfast”, with sliced meats, cheeses, olives, a mix of veggies and as well some bread with sweet spreads (Nutella, jelly, honey, etc.). I topped it off with a think, delicious Turkish coffee (which I am still not sure how to properly drink, it contains coffee grounds to thicken it, but I don’t think the waiter understood me when I asked if I should drink/eat them…). On the second day, we returned to Karaköy, but tried a different place, the name of which escapes me. We had a similar spread, but it took much longer than anticipated.
As a result of our longer-than-expected breakfast, we ended up at the Süleymaniye Mosque at 11ish, just as it was again closing for visitors. Seeing the inside of this mosque was quickly turning into Istanbul’s version of my Moby Dick, but we took the setback in stride and decided to head to…ASIA!
I knew going to Istanbul that there wouldn’t be enough time to take a full Bosphorus cruise, which can last up to a full day and visit both the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. However, I consider myself of a bit of a history and geography enthusiast (or nerd, depending on your point of view), so I knew I wanted to travel on this waterway that so many have travelled before. Luckily, there are numerous ferries that cross almost constantly, so we hopped on and headed to a new continent.
Below: Ferries docked in front of the Galata Bridge
The Bosphorus has been for thousands of years an important strategic waterway, and all sorts of rules now govern what kinds of ships and how many are allowed to travel through it. As it currently stands (to my knowledge), Turkey is in charge, but the Turkish Straits (Bosphorus and the Dardanelles) need to stay open for shipping traffic. Turkey can restrict military traffic for countries that don’t have a coastline on the Black Sea. There are other rules though, as I mentioned, and in the end it is a fascinating example of international affairs and policies and such, though it might better suited for a different blog…
Below: Shipping traffic on the Bosphorus, with the Old City in the background
The goal for the Asian side of Istanbul was to walk to see the Maiden’s Tower, a lighthouse a little ways off shore, the origins of which date from the year 1110. It has obviously been rebuilt a few times since and it gets its name from the daughter of a Sultan. An oracle prophesied that the girl would die before her 18th birthday, so in order to prevent this from happening, her father kept her on the island. Unfortunately, on her 18th birthday, a snake snuck onto the island via a fruit basket and bit the girl, killing her. One website I was reading very bluntly stated that this wasn’t likely true, but I will let you decide for yourself.
Below: Maiden’s Tower and Mr. Golden Sun making his first appearance in Istanbul
On our way back to Europe we grabbed a simit, which is essentially a Turkish Sesame Bagel, but surprisingly found ourselves still hungry after that, so we headed to a restaurant called Beyaz Izgara, which is located on a side street near one of the entrances to the Grand Bazaar and had been recommended to us. It is essentially a food stall, with barstools that seat you at the counter, looking in on the guys working there. They specialize in Köfte (Meatball) sandwiches, which is exactly what I ordered. The sandwich came with a drink and a small dessert, and it was nothing short of amazing. Delicious flavor, perfectly cooked, plus you get your choice of 4 sauces! The desert was a fried pasty with a sugary sauce called Tulumba, sweet and the perfect finish to the savoury sandwich.
Below: Köfte goodness from Beyaz Izgara, up and in your face
After Beyaz Izgara, we went once again to the Süleymaniye Mosque, and it turns out that the third time was the charm. We took our shoes off and headed in. The space was wide open, with thick red carpeting, and a massive circular lighting fixture hanging over the main area. I concentrated more on absorbing the atmosphere than taking pictures, especially because there were people praying at the time. I did, however, look up at one point to see the gorgeous painted ceiling, seemingly miles above us, which you in-turn can see below. I have observed Muslim prayers before, but I have never been inside an active mosque (they were closed to visitors in Marrakech). Hearing the calls to prayer echoing from minarets always makes me appreciate that I am traveling, and I find Arabic calligraphy absolutely beautiful, so I was happy to get a chance to visit inside such a historic place of worship.
Below: looking up at the ceiling of the Süleymaniye Mosque
We took our time heading back to our flat, and spent the early evening napping (we were on vacation, after all!) and packing, because we needed to catch the shuttle bus to the airport at 4am the next day. We didn’t really research where to go to dinner that night, but instead wandered around the neighborhood looking for places, and eventually we stumbled across Canım Ciğerim, a restaurant specializing in şiş, or skewered meats. Basically, you order what kind of meat you want, and you get the meat cooked on skewers, as well as flat bread and a whole bunch of side dishes. Essentially, what you do is put the flat bread in your hand, then place the meat skewer on the bread and grab it all in a fist. Then, you pull the skewer out, leaving the meat in the bread. Then, all that is left is to pile on the sides (parsley, arugula, mint, onions, tomatoes, etc.), roll it up and enjoy, similar to a soft-shell taco. I ordered the liver on a bit of a whim, and it was the perfect choice, tender, delicious, light flavor, absolutely superb (and the house specialty, which I later found out as part of my post-meal research)
Below: Mouthwatering liver şiş at Canım Ciğerim
After an amazing dinner, our trip was largely at an end. We took the Havaş Shuttle Bus to the Airport at an ungodly hour the next morning. The Shuttle runs 20 hours a day, and is a cheap and reliable way to get from either of Istanbul’s airports to the city.
People have written about Istanbul countless times through the years, each with their own take on the city. I know I wasn’t there long enough to learn everything there is to know about it, but I was definitely there long enough to be intoxicated by it, by the meeting of cultures it represents and energetic feelings that consume it. We tried to make the most out of our time there, and I hope you get a chance to too!