A decision to visit a new country/city is never a bad idea. So I started my year with some Turkish Delight.
Where I visited:
I thought it was a smart travel idea to make a stop in Istanbul before heading to Spain – the flight connected via Turkey, so why not?? Great idea right, especially since I was planning to spend my birthday somewhere new this year. So I went for it: flew out of Lagos, Nigeria on the 13th of January, arrived in Istanbul on the morning of the 14th, just in time for my birthday on the 15th. In retrospect, I kinda wish I had spent my birthday with family and close friends; I felt a little alone and I also couldn’t receive calls because I was traveling. Nevertheless, l had an amazing day with new friends that made me feel like family – we had our own mini celebration, which made it well worth it. I REALLY enjoyed my time in Turkey; after the first couple of days I started to like the city and the food was amazing (any country with good seafood options has my heart!)
Where I stayed:
I stayed at Bahaus Guesthouse Hostel which is located in Sultanahmet. It is centrally located and close to majority of the tourist sites (Hagia Sofia, Sultanahmet Mosque, Topkapi etc). The hostel was nice and neat. The staff was also very nice and very helpful. They gave good recommendations on places to eat and visit. The hostel has a rooftop, with a great view of the city from the rooftop. They serve free breakfast, and have evening events everyday on the rooftop.
How I spent my days:
Day 1: I arrived in Istanbul at 6am – there was a delay with our bags but after about an hour, they finally arrived. I had booked a shuttle from the airport to the hostel. I got to the hostel at around 8am but my room wasn’t ready, so I checked in and waited in the lobby. I was so exhausted. I walked a couple of blocks to find breakfast, after which I returned to the hostel lobby. While I was waiting, I met some Aussies who had just arrived from Israel, and we chatted and made introductions. (They became the Istanbul crew for the trip). As soon as my room was ready, I immediately went up to get some rest and pretty much slept the entire day.
Day 2: Yes, the most anticipated day of the year – my birthday! Fortunately (or unfortunately) for me, I spent half of my special day laying in bed begging Mother Nature to have mercy on me – so I stayed in and just took in all the birthday love and messages and responded as well. Later in the afternoon, I walked around Sultanahamet and grabbed lunch at a really good fish restaurant (forget the name).
Later that evening, I went to dinner on the hostel rooftop and met up with the Aussie crew from Day 1. When I told them it was my birthday, they were so excited for me and showed me so much love (they genuinely made my day more awesome). I mean, nice people still exist – especially Australians. Shout out to them! They decided to celebrate my birthday, so we went to a shisha place, and they got me birthday gifts – Baklava and Turkish sweets! We spent the rest of the night gisting and talking and they just made my birthday so awesome. We headed back to the hostel and I waited up for my friend who was coming in from Paris. I was so glad she made it on the trip. Shout out to my sister, lover, friend and blog co-editor for sharing my birthday with me 🙂
Day 3: We woke up just in time for breakfast at the hostel (breakfast was super basic and wasn’t amazing, by the way), after which we met up with the Aussies. We all decided to tour the city of Istanbul, so we headed to the Asian part of Istanbul (commonly called Asia) on the ferry. We walked around that side of town and ate lunch at this nice restaurant called Gulumoglu (the food was really good here). Overall impression of the Asian side of Turkey is that it is less touristy. Some of the guys wanted to get a hair cut and shave, and experience it the Turkish way, so we all went along for moral support. It was quite an experience. The barber was very friendly and served us tea while we watched. On recommendations from the locals, we caught a small yellow bus headed to Kadikoy – and went to a nice market there. I particularly love the way they displayed the fish, and seafood in general.
We walked around the market for a bit then found a good looking shisha spot and had Apple tea, Turkish coffee and some gooood Shisha. After a long day of walking and sightseeing around Asia, we headed back to the hostel on the ferry towards Eminonu. Right by the ferry stop back on the European side are these floating boats which sell fish sandwiches. We had to buy one of the fish sandwiches (Really famous in Istanbul, apparently) and it was well worth it. We walked through the famous Spice Market, did some window shopping and then headed back to hostel. We rested a little bit before heading out to explore the nightlife in Istanbul.
The guys had made reservations at this nice restaurant by our hostel called Albura Kathisma. Since it was a couple of the guys’ birthdays as well, we decided to have a birthday dinner celebration – good food with good drinks and great conversation (another really cool guy from the hostel visiting from Washington, DC joined us for dinner as well). One cool thing about this restaurant – it has a hidden gem which I won’t mention here because I don’t want to ruin the surprise. If you ever go to Albura Kathisma, just ask the waitstaff about this when you’re done eating, if they don’t show it to you! The food here was also really good – I think everyone enjoyed their meals.
After dinner, we went to Taksim (here you find bars and shopping – it has a good mix of cheap and expensive bars). We went bar hopping to a few bars in Taksim, and started searching for a good club to spend the rest of the night. It took us a minute to find a place (apparently Thursday night is not a big party night in Istanbul) and when we finally did it wasn’t too ‘turnt up’ so we left. We finally ended up at a club called Olimpia. It was pretty decent but at this point of the night, most of us were so tired – we stayed at the club for a few and then headed back to the hostel.
Day 4: We woke up a bit late on day 4. We decided to spend our day doing more touristy stuff so we went to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia, two must-sees in Istanbul. The architecture is really beautiful, and it looks great when they’re lit up at night. We then decided to find late breakfast/lunch in the area and ended up at this family-owned restaurant called Ayasofya Kebap House. They gave us a regular tourist menu with chicken and lamb kebabs and the like, which we ordered. While eating, we saw other folks at the restaurant eating other things that looked good, so we asked the owners (two brothers) and they told us it was homemade Turkish food made by their mom. (Tip: When you’re in Turkey, always ask to try the homemade Ottoman dish for the day at the local restaurant – highly recommended. The meal was made of small plates of bulgur, eggplant, some kofte and other stuff. ) The guys invited us for drinks later that night but we didn’t go. We walked to the Grand Bazaar to do some window shopping and buy last minute souvenirs (Amy practiced her B-school negotiation skills here). We ended up buying matching outfits haha – as per sorority sisters 🙂
Owners of the Ayasofya Kebab House
Part of our homecooked Turkish meal
Grand Bazaar – spices everywhere!
After a long day of walking around, we went back to hostel, rested for a bit then headed to the historic Kumkapi district (has a traditional Turkish feel) for dinner. We ate at this fish house restaurant called Kalamar. Kumkapi was quite lively – there was live traditional Turkish music being played outside, and most of the restaurants in the area had outdoor seating, so the musicians would go up to the guests and make them dance! Was fun to watch while enjoying our dinner.
Day 5: We visited the Blue Mosque and it was absolutely beautiful inside (it is so interesting that the architecture here is very similar to the Cathedral in Cordoba). We made sure to go after prayer times, and since it is considered holy, female tourists are made to cover their heads, and everyone takes off their shoes. Another must-see in Istanbul. After this, we decided to do some aimless roaming around Istanbul to see what we find. We stopped by Bambi Cafe, a fast-food spot, and grabbed a quick lunch. We decided on the Kumpir, which is an interesting take on American baked potatoes. It is a baked potato stuffed with yogurt or cream and garlic and some vegetables. It was quite tasty, and we washed it down with some ayran (the popular salty yogurt-y Turkish drink, definitely an acquired taste for me!) We went back to the Spice Market to buy some peppermint oil and dried fruits (the lights went out in the market and that happened earlier on in the day as well!). On our way back to the hostel, we couldn’t resist and we stopped at the floating fish boats and got some more delicious fish sandwiches.
One of the many cats we saw around Istanbul. Forgot to mention, there are SO many stray cats AND dogs around the city!
We had booked appointments for Turkish baths earlier on (Another must in Turkey – what’s more Turkish than a Turkish bath?), so we got to the hostel and got ready for the bath. The hammam organized a driver to pick us up from our hostel and drop us off after the bath which was pretty convenient. The bath itself is an experience! I really enjoyed it even with all my black girl hair problems. It starts out with about 20 minutes in a sauna, and then the women lay you out on a slab with all the other ‘bathers’ and give you a thorough scrubbing, followed by a massage. You then head back into the sauna for a bit, and then top it all off with a nice cool shower.
Later that night, we decided to explore the other part of town called Ortakoy (a classy upscale neighborhood in Istanbul). We took the tram from Sultahanmet to Kabatas then a taxi to Ortakoy (cost about 15 Lira). We were looking for a place to eat then decided we would go clubbing after dinner. We ended up at Brasserie Bomonti restaurant. The food was pretty good and the atmosphere was really upbeat; everyone seemed to be having a great time. After dinner and drinks, old age kicked in and all we wanted to do was go to bed – so we did just that. I really enjoyed this part of town, I think the next time I’m in Istanbul for another long vacation, I’ll explore more of Ortakoy.
Day 6: Last day/travel day back home. The hostel arranged a shuttle to take us to the airport so this was quite convenient. One thing though about Ataturk airport – be sure to get to the airport early because they have a security check before actual baggage checking (we definitely weren’t expecting that).
I’ll say Istanbul is a nice place to visit, but honestly, which city isn’t ? Every city has its own charm – however I must say I was quite impressed with Istanbul – it definitely met my expectations (oh, I forgot to mention that we were mini celebrities in Turkey – I was Beyonce and Rihanna, so I definitely enjoyed that! :))
Great trip overall! Awesome way to spend your birthday week in a new country, and was glad to do it with friends, old and new.