Hey guys and girls,
Hope you’ve had a wonderful weekend?
I finally managed to work through the pictures from my trip to Turkey back in December. It feels like a distant memory already so it’s a bit weird blogging about it. Istanbul is one of my favourite cities – there’s just something so magical about the tangled cobbled streets, the endless blue Bosphorus and, well, don’t even get me started on the food!
We stayed at Hotel Sokullu Pasa in Sultanahmet – there are so many cheap flight and hotel options in Istanbul that we didn’t bother with an AirBnB for a change.
Trams are a good way to get around. They’re a cheap and efficient mode of transport. It’s worth buying an ‘Istanbul Card’ which works on trams, trains, buses and also on the ferry. Taxis are also cheaper than most European cities but if you use them all the time, the price will definitely add up.
The blue mosque is one of the iconic buildings on the Istanbul skyline. It was built in the 17th century and has a courtyard, five main domes and six minarets.
It was such a grey day – it makes the courtyard look quite glum.
The inside is magical, though, come rain or shine… (Prepare yourselves for far too many pictures!)
It’s covered in hand-painted, blue and white tiles.
And intricate stained glass windows…
Inscriptions in Arabic:
Really wish we could have gone upstairs to get a closer look.
Seriously, look how beautiful it is!
It doesn’t look too shabby by night, either!
Thousands of shops, two hammams, multiple restaurants and cafes all lie within the famous covered market. It’s definitely worth spending a few hours just getting completely lost and perusing the wares. But be warned, prices are often inflated multiple times over – be ready to haggle!
You can find everything from carpets through to jewellery.
And beautiful hand-painted crockery.
Stunning tea cups and pots.
But the shops selling these beautiful, colourful lanterns are without a doubt my favourites.
There are also a few spice shops but it’s best to skip these go to the Spice Bazaar.
One of my favourite places in Istanbul – I love coming here and stocking up on herbs and spices.
The shopkeepers are all very friendly and invite you in to sample their selection but after multiple visits, I now make a beeline for the hazer baba shop and grab my usuals.
I absolutely adore the piles of spices, the colours, the smells, the flavours – all the potential ways they can change the outcome of a recipe…
Mountains of Turkish delight…
The shops surrounding the covered market sell other foods such as fresh cheese, olives and fish.
Taksim is like the centre of the new town – filled with shops, restaurants and lots of people! There’s a cute old rickety red tram that runs up and down the main road, Istiklal Avenue…
There are always kids who run alongside and climb on the back for a free ride…
There’s also a lot of cool street art around.
Ortakoy is a nice neighbourhood in Istanbul located on the edge of the Bosphorus. There’s a little market area and plenty of cute cafes to sit in and people watch.
There’s also a beautiful mosque by the riverbank:
I love the contrast of the old architecture of the mosque vs the modern day suspension bridge.
Mid afternoon pano:
A 63m tall tower located a small distance from the water bank, the Galata Tower is well situated for panoramic views of the city.
We planned out visit to catch the sunset, although it was a very cloudy day:
And stayed till it got dark outside:
(Yes, I know, my night photography needs work!)
The tower is lit up in the evenings – such a pretty sight:
A wonderful little park located on the Eastern side – we took a taxi to cross over.
The view is absolutely incredible:
Here’s a pano, I only wish it had been a clearer day:
Evenings strolls in Istanbul can be so much fun – lots to see and do!
Restaurants at the Galata bridge:
Walking over the bridge – there’s always locals fishing over the edge:
Streets of Sultahnamet:
Little cafes and restaurants on the side streets:
Exciting corner shops:
There’s a whole array of places you can go to smoke shisha/hookah/nargile pipes – we joined the locals at Bread and Water (located about 10mins from the grand bazaar) and were really impressed. It’s rare to find a shisha so smooth and enjoyable.
Apple tea and a traditional drink called salep – made with milk, cream, vanilla and cinnamon:
Funky little restaurant located in Taksim.
Perfectly grilled chicken skewers served with a selection of four mezze – each, absolutely delicious, made with fresh ingredients.
Lamb chops served over a tomato flatbread:
Dessert was incredible here, sweet crystallised pumpkin chunks, offset with a drizzle of tahini and topped with toasted walnuts. Perfectly balanced and delicious.
Ekşili Tavuk, or chicken and peppers cooked in balsamic vinegar was really enjoyable at this place.
A fancy and pricey fine dining restaurant with incredible views over Istanbul.
The food and service weren’t too shabby either… Highlights include:
Vegetable manti dumplings served with a smoked yoghurt and sumac.
Hazelnut rice pudding (sutlac):
Honey flavoured ice cream served in a mulberry sauce with cinnamon crumbles.
This was probably the most expensive meal we had in Instanbul, and whist it was really good, in my opinion, it was far from the best.
A little hole in the wall that serves some of the best Iskender kebab around. Fresh bread topped with tender, charcoaly lamb doner, topped with garlicky tomato sauce and a big dollop of yoghurt. Yum!
A little restaurant located near the spice bazaar. They have the best ezme salad dip, served up with fresh, warm bread.
Chicken shish, served over tomatoey bulgar wheat.
If you only order one thing in this place though, let it be the kunefe, cooked in the traditional way, over hot coals.
One of the oldest, and best places to get baklava in Istanbul, as recommended by a good chum of mine.
One of the members of staff saw me with my rather large camera which screamed tourist and I ended up explaining I have a blog. He introduced me to the owner of the place:
A sample of the sticky baklavas served with kaymak (similar to clotted cream) with Turkish tea. We were taught to cut the pieces into halves, flip them over, smear with kaymak before placing in our mouths. After a few chews, you inhale, to enhance the flavours.
I was pretty sceptical but quickly sold. It was so, so good!
Next time, I’m gonna treat myself to a baklava burger…
A popular dessert cafe, selling everything from baklava through to cake, but the main attraction is the turkish delight.
Turkish desserts are always best served with Turkish tea.
I thought they were good, but prefer the selection in Koska (below), in particular, the double hazelnut.
A cute little cafe where they have great options for brunch…
Dreamy Turkish eggs – a couple of poached eggs served over garlicky yoghurt, drizzled with a cumin chilli butter. I made my own version a few weeks ago for which you can find the recipe here.
Local women making fresh flatbread in restaurants.
Filling them with everything from spinach to cheese:
Kumpir – this is basically a jacket potato on steroids! There’s a whole row of shops selling these in Ortakoy.
After cutting the potatoes open, they mash the fluffy centres with butter and cheese and top with as many different things that you can think of – sweetcorn, peas, red cabbage, Russian salad (i.e. more potatoes), sausage, couscous, sausage, gherkins, olives and mushrooms, then top it all off with a herby yoghurt sauce and some chilli. I nodded along to it all until they offered ketchup and mayo.
Islak burgers – aka wet burgers or otherwise known as Turkish hamburgers. You can find plenty of these around Taksim, a simple burger with garlic tomato sauce left to steam.
Kebab sandwiches – found on more or less every other block, sandwiches stuffe with chicken or lamb cooked on a vertical spit, fries and salad. Yum!
Roasted chestnuts – these don’t really need an introduction – the perfect treat on a cold evening.
Simit – these are like Turkish bagels, sliced through the middle with plenty of cream cheese in the middle.
Dondurma – the Turk’s take on ice cream, it has an interesting chewy consistency, though don’t expect them to hand you your cone without some fun and games.
Fresh pomegranate juice – super cheap and worth trying out!
I planned a little excursion to Cappadocia – an hour and a half flight away from Istanbul. You can sign up to a managed trip with the various travel agents around town or just do it yourself which ends up being a little cheaper and far more flexible.
We stayed at the Ottoman Cave Suites…
An actual cave for a room:
Here are the highlights:
Monasteries and churches carved out into the rock formations.
If it wasn’t such a glum day, I think the views would have been a lot prettier.
The artwork/frescoes were beautiful (definitely got told off for taking pictures inside, these do no justice):
Made a few friends outside too:
Love the painting:
Wishing tree – the little blue eyes are supposed to shield you from ‘evil eyes.’ You make a wish and place one on the branches and wait.
An ancient multi-layer underground city, 60m deep, able to home 20,000 people. They had everything from stables for their animals to churches down there.
This circular rock on the left is actually the door, you can go round the side and push it into place (well two or three strong people could…)
The ceilings are quite low so it can get a little claustrophobic down there.
You can see the various levels here.
Super deep water well:
The stables (where they kept animals), that’s troughs in the walls.
Hot air balloons
This was one of the highlights of the whole trip. We had to get up super duper early and were picked up before sunrise. Unfortunately, it was really windy in the morning and so we missed a sunrise flight, and so there was a lot of waiting around with fears of not being able to get up in the sky at all.
^ another friend.
But eventually, we got up there…
And boy, the views were spectacular.
It’s a shame it was cold and grey.
^ mushroom valley
There are lots of cute little shops worth exploring – don’t forget to haggle!!
We stumbled upon this place by accident and got invited in to watch the owner make clay pots…
I ended up buying one of these beautiful handpainted plates too:
A recommendation from the pottery guy above and rated highly on Trip Advisor, we decided to check it out. It’s worth booking in advance, the restaurant is tiny and very popular with both tourists and locals.
They serve food made with local and organic ingredients. The starter soup was simple but delicious.
Chicken with veg – also quite basic but also great!
Service was very, very personal, they even gave us a little ‘gift’ before we left.
If you stop by here, opt for the testi kebab, cooked in a clay pot, topped with bread to seal and served over hot coals. Yum!
And that’s it from me.