Wednesday, January 12, 2011

my take on Istanbul-part 1

i wrote this to a friend who will be going to Istanbul for 5 days. following is my email to her.

"dear, sorry for the late reply. as promised, i've included places that you should visit in istanbul during your 5 days trip.

first of all, please get yourself a map of istanbul as it will help you a great deal. since you'll be staying around sultanahmet area, getting around is easy as long as you're prepare to walk.
so, no.2, please wear a comfortable walking shoes as the streets are paved with cobble stones that makes wearing heels is an almost painful experience even for the runaway models.
no.3, get use to taking the tram that connects most of the major attractions if not all. it's really cheap (1TL , i think) and super convenient. but it's super packed during peak hours as it's one of the main transportation used by the locals and tourists alike.
no.4, refrain from buying carpets in istanbul! you will never get the best deal, i promise you that much. unless you are very well informed about carpets in general, don't even try to look as you will end up buying and you'll be spending the rest of your short trip having a monologue about how you should have walk away when you had the chance. believe you me, it's not worth it. come back to kl and i'll take you to the best carpet shop in town and from the best carpet of the world, yes, persian carpets. remember turkey had great influence from persia in terms of language and food, and i believe carpets is one of them. buy from the best.
no.5, try not to take taxi as the taxi drivers are one of the rude i've ever encountered which makes our drivers rather polite and tolerable. and yes, they will cheat you.
no.6, always try to bargain, the prices are never what it seems regardless how sorry/offended he/ she looks. bargain!

my take on places to visit while in Istanbul:

1. Grand Bazaar- a must but please, please refrain from buying anything from there. the better place to buy is outside the bazaar especially the shops on mahmutpasa street and streets parallel to it. if you walk along mamut pasa, you'll end up at spice bazaar. i bought my first trench coat there at rm120. you'll see locals buying stuffs at mahmutpasa. there are many things from tshirt, coats, lingerie (yes, best and cheapest lingerie i've seen) to hair pieces, jewellery, scarfs, bags, handbags...anything. you'll go nuts.
2. spice bazaar- but it has more than spices but mainly food stuffs like dried herbs, all kind of nuts, honey, sweets, lokum (turkish delights), dates...and alike. do walk around the bazaar. there is a stall with fruits that i like. you'll see the freshest figs and uncracked almonds, walnuts...many others....i love it. i attached the pix for you ( me in front of fruit stall). there is a restaurant called bab-i-hayat that serves good lamb kebap. choose the one from the displayed menu on the wall. also serves good yogurt drink especially after those long walks. another restaurant called pandeli has really nice interior but way expensive and the food doesn't really make me wanna jump and shout about it. i spent quite a bit of time at bab-i-hayat coz it has better and lively ambience compared to pandeli which can be rather stiff and uptight. mat and minah sallehs like it there and hence, the uptight air about it. spice bazaar is at eminonu area.
3. now, from spice bazaar, walk toward galata bridge, the only connecting bridge from old to new towns. walk around the ferry area where there are stalls that sells fresh fish sandwich (called balik ekmek, balik means fish). must try. and if you feel there's some space left, try the mussel, usually near the balik ekmek stand. 2TL for 2 stuffed mussels. super filling! but not for the faint-hearted.
4. at end of galata bridge crossing over to karakoy, walk to immediate left and you'll see a row of fish stalls, yes fresh produce. walk along and you'll see stall that sells fresh cooked fish. after all the meat, this would be a nice welcome. the istanbulus, yes they are called such, are almost vegetarians aside from their kebab and fish. they are very generous in their salad serving so enjoy lots of green and the tastiest tomatoes with the fish.
5. after the meal, i doubt you'll be in mood to walk so take a train at karakoy headed to kabatas (make sure you're the right lane). get down at kabatas and take an underground train to taksim square. this particular line only serves one way and non-stop between kabatas and taksim square (about 5mins journey!).
6. once at taksim square, heads towards Istiklal cadesi. it's about more than 1km walk of shops until you reach the end and almost too steep down back to the fish market at karakoy but worth the walk. this is at beyoglu area. i would like to suggest that you spend a good day here. go around 11am where all the shops and cafes are fully open, have lunch, walkabout, coffee, more walkabout and when time for dinner, go to any of the many restaurant in these areas. now, for good and nice ambience, take a walk into cicek pasaji or avrupa pasaji, pasaji means passage where as you walk further inside you'll see many restaurants, seafood mainly. this is where the locals hang out after work. yes and yes, guys and good looking ones. look for restaurant called cumhuriyet where you can listen to good fasil music (traditional turkish) on the 2nd floor. do this, eat your dinner on 1st floor for nice and relax ambience and around 8pm adjourn to 2nd floor to the music. that's where the guys (half drunk, if you lucky) hang out. order your raki, yeni raki is the famous one and just chill. once you're done with fasil, go out and take first, i think, turn to your right and walk all the way down and turn to right and you'll see many pubs with live bands competing with one another. again, guys and many guys. the only setback is they sing in turkish! but so what.
7. reserve a day to go to blue mosque, aya sofya and basilica cistern. bring your camera and scarf in hand, you'll know why. go to blue mosque in the morning, it's open at 9am. walk about and when done, walk around the area at back of the mosque to arasta bazaar. look for elif cafe and have your lunch there. order karniyarik among others. it's aubergine stuffed with minced meat. you'll see a lot of it around. my favorite. after fuelling, queue up to aya sofya. yes, i assure they'll be queue. worth it. and then go to cistern. must. once done, go towards topkapi palace or you can reserve that for another day. these places are all within walking distance so prepare to walk. around late noon, go to han restaurant and sit around the nargile or shisha as we know it. find a comfortable spot, order your tea and baklava, and yes, smoke nargile and chill. if it's too early for dinner, walk down to the park, not big but nice walk around to get your stomach hungry again. go to 'tarihi sultanahmet koftecisi selim usta' for your dinner or lunch or both. i love this place that i go every 2 3 days. it's crazy and addictive. order the lamb and broad beans....yes, you'll end up with excess gas"