Istanbul had always been a dream. I remember humming along to ‘it’s Istanbul not Constantinople’ a hundred times before boarding the coach in Varna, Bulgaria. The coach was probably the best way to get to Istanbul from the Black Sea at the time, though I had been told it would have been better to hitch hike for some reason or another – something to do about ‘excitement’ or ‘risk’, can’t remember. I do remember getting my bags thoroughly searched as I crossed the border so don’t try anything sneaky unless you have some sort of a masterplan. Border security is pretty serious and neither Bulgarian nor Turkish border police are the kindest of the kind.
It only takes about six hours to get to the mega-polis and a return ticket will set you back no more than £30. Having said that, prices are always subject to change depending on the time of year, as is the case most of the time, sadly.
As expected the city was nuts. It felt like it had no borders; as soon as we crossed into Turkey from Bulgaria I felt like we were already in Istanbul, trawling through traffic to get to the city centre. The bus dropped me off in Taksim Square, the heart of the city, where all the youngsters hang out till the early hours of the morning. Taksim is famous for its transportation links, shops, restaurants and hotels.
It’s also home to the second oldest ‘subterranean’ urban railway system after the London Underground. The Tünel was inaugurated in 1875 with one line connecting Karaköy station and Beyoğlu station. Ironically it was conceived by a Frenchman yet the Paris Metro wasn’t inaugurated until twenty-five years later in 1900.
My friend Zeren picked me up from Taksim and we went to her lovely apartment in the Asian side of the Bosphorus near kadıköy but not before picking up an Ayran and the best kebab I have ever had in my whole entire life. One thing about Turkish people is their hospitality; if you’re ever invited to visit Turkey by a local, expect to be pampered to the absolute max. Zeren showed me everything, from the Blue Mosque to the famous Hagia Sophia church.
We took the ferry down the Bosphor and checked out all the mansions which belong to either really rich people or really important people. Funnily enough, the following day I went to visit my friend Laurens whose family owned a house on the Bosphorus. We had a few beers with his Australian mates in his beautiful house and the next day I went out with Zeren again, only this time we didn’t do much sight-seeing but focused more on the eating and drinking part. If I have to be perfectly honest, the very best thing about Turkey is the food.
We started off having a fresh drink in a lemon garden called Limonlu Bahçe (literally meaning garden of lemons in the Turkish language), a charming little place tucked away in one of the quieter streets of Taksim. It was very tranquil and very refreshing, just what I needed after the plentiful beers and bloody marys from the night before.
Later we made way through the streets until it became afternoon, the hangover was near gone and it was time for some roof-top cocktails in a high rise restaurant called Leb-i Derya. A bottle of red and some lamb for dinner and we were set for the night. This place was beautiful. Stunning views of Istanbul’s white rooftops and the sun setting at dusk. It’s quite pricey but totally worth the visit. I felt like I was living out a chapter from One Thousand and One Nights in Arabia.
The last day (I was only there for a few nights), we did everything the Turkish way. Breakfasted with Turkish coffee in fenerbahce, on the Asian side, a yachtclub right near the sea. Then we made way to Kadıköy Saray to eat some lovely, (I mean this in the most genuine possible way), kokoretsi (a meal consisting mostly of lamb or goat intestines – sounds disgusting but don’t judge before you try!). We also visited the famous must-see market Kadıköy market which is just about the busiest thing I have ever seen. Did some serious bartering as you do and of course bought nothing because funds were running low and there was more food to be eaten.
Right before leaving we visited a typical Turkish diner and ate Iskender. This is just about the most delicious food I have ever eaten. I still eat it on a regular basis. But to this day nothing compares to that serving of Iskender I had in Istanbul. I will never forget it. Cheap as chips but a hundred times better. And that was that. A quick trip to Istanbul and back to Varna.
The coach back was a nightmare. But that’s a whole different story to be told another time. I strongly suggest Istanbul as a starting point to Turkey. The country is so vast and diverse in terrain. It has some of the nicest seas and resorts in that part of the world and the food and the people never let down. 8/10. However, a piece of advice – Girls should never wear short shorts else they will get harassed – I know I did and this was a serious let down. I would give it a 5/10 but the food was too good.