Thursday, October 6, 2011

Istanbul Part II

Visiting Istanbul
Today I'll give you my opinions about where to stay, eat, and play in Istanbul.  Well, more like, I'll tell you where we stayed, ate, and played, and then whether it was a good time or not.  Mostly it was.


First, we stayed with my parents in an apartment they rented in Galata.  Galata is an ideal location because it's right in between the sightseeing areas in Sultanahmet and the eating/going-out areas in Beyoglu (namely, the stretch of Istiklal Cadessi between Tunel Square and Taksim Square).

{the view from the apartment my parents rented in Galata}

My parents rented their apartment through a service called Istanbul Holiday Apartments, but my other friends who we met up with in Istanbul had rented their apartment in the same area from Airbnb for an even better price.  The hotel prices in Istanbul can be outlandishly high, so an apartment is a good way to go.

After my parents left, we lugged our suitcases over to Sultanahment and the Alp Guesthouse.  This place was reasonably priced, in a safe (albeit more touristy) area, and was clean and comfortable.  The staff was super welcoming and accommodating (and didn't charge us extra when we canceled one of our nights there).  It was just a 5 minute walk from Sultanahment Park (where all the sights are), and I would definitely recommend this place!

{the only picture I took of our room; the rest of it was nice, too!}

{the view from the hotel's terrace, where breakfast was served}

For our last two nights we stayed at the W (on Brian's residual I-used-to-be-a-consultant Starwood points).  (Um.  I know, right?  I feel like I should apologize or something...I don't understand how this is my life.  But I'll take it.)

The W is located in Besiktas, about a 20 minute cab ride north of Beyoglu (along the Bosphorous), and worlds away from the tourist crowds.  It sits among renovated row houses, chic cafes, and fancy boutiques.  It's a whole other side of Istanbul.

Obvi, you should stay there if you can.  Do you really need convincing?

{imagine some Euro-techno playing in the background to get the full effect, because really, it was playing on the radio whenever we walked into our room}

I don't think I can explain to you how thankful I was to have those two days of luxury at the end of this trip.  It's not like we were really roughing it before, but you know, a girl needs a nice shower and some body lotion every once in a while.

{this shower.  un. real.}

Plus, there was a deck with a view of the Bosphorous, and a corkscrew just sitting on the desk, waiting for a bottle of wine (and a grocery store just one block away).

Oh Starwood, you are too good to me.

*A last note on hotels -- there was a hotel called Marmara Pera Hotel in Beyoglu (close to all the action on Istiklal Cadessi, but with a fabulous view of the city) that we walked past, and that I fantasize about staying in one day when I grow up and get paychecks and such.  If you're in the market for an upscale hotel, check it out.

Ok, let's talk food.

Eating and Drinking

Turkish food is heavy.  Your appetizer will either be drenched in olive oil (that actually tastes like olives), or pickled.  There is always bread.  Lamb is the meat of choice (unless, of course, you're in the mood for seafood).  Dessert always has the option of cream.  So basically, Turkish food is GOOD.  This is not the time for your diet.  (Slash, why are you on a diet?  Go live your life already.)


Most hotels will provide a traditional Turkish breakfast for free with your stay.  All of the hotel breakfasts we had were delicious, but the one weird thing is that they usually provide NesCafe coffee gratis but make you pay extra for Turkish counter-intuitive.

Three Noteworthy Lunches
1. The Fish Sandwich

Along the banks of the Bosphorous, on the Eminonu side of the Galata bridge, there are a whole bunch of bobbing fishing boats loaded (I mean, loaded) with mounds of grilled fish fillets.  And there are hundreds of people (not many of them looked like tourists) swarming all around, lining up, trying to find a seat, and chowing down on these sandwiches.  The guidebook makes a whole big deal about how authentic they are, and my dad remembers the fish being really fresh and delicious.  Plus, they're super cheap (like 3 TL - a buck 50).  So we lined up, had my dad order something frantically and shoved our way out of the crowd, hot sandwiches in hand.

But the thing is, they weren't very good.  They were just plain bread, lettuce, raw onions, and grilled fish.  The fish was bony, and the sandwich needed some sauce, or seasoning, or something.  So whatevs, I would observe from a distance but not go in for the buy.  Just my 2 cents.

2. A classy cafe lunch at Assk Cafe

Assk Cafe was perhaps my favorite lunch of the trip.  It's hidden behind an upscale grocery store called the Metrocenter, and I knew it had to be good when we walked up and found every parking spot taken by a Mercedes or a BMW.  And good it was.  A perfect setting right on the Bosphorous with a view of the bridge, a fresh and modern menu, and a clientele that could have been straight out of Hollywood.  They even handed me a pashmina to keep warm when the wind started up!  Ahh, luxury.

{watermelon, feta and mint salad, and my pashmina}

3. Man food: the kumpir

This is a "kumpir":

In other words, a baked potato, cut open and the insides mashed with butter and cheese and salt, and then loaded with olives, corn, peas, red cous-cous, sausage, and sour cream (thankfully it came with hand wipes!).  As you can imagine, it was finger-licking good.  We found a whole ally of kumpir carts behind the mosque right in front of the Bosphorous Bridge in Kurucesme, but I'm sure they must have them elsewhere in the city, too.  

As far as street food goes, this is tops!

Four Noteworthy Dinners
1. Dinner at a Meyhane

A meyhane (may-ha-nay) is a bar that serves mezes (small plates) along with raki (like Turkish ouzo) or your drink of choice.  People sit here alllll night and eat and drink and smoke and eat some more.  It's awesome.

I took no pictures of the food, just the smoking (figures).  But the food was good - marinated fish, olives, dolma, pickled beets, etc.  I don't remember what this meyhane was called, but there are about a billion in the alleys off of Istiklal Cadessi (istick-lal ja-dessi) in Beyoglu, and they all seem to be busy on the weekend nights!

{the fam}

2. Zubeyir Ocakbasi

The night after you go to a meyhane, you might need something...quieter.  Something hearty.  And this is the place.  It's all about the meat here, and mostly it's all about the lamb.  The waiters were really helpful in choosing our food, and everything about this place was just solid and good.  It's a great place to come try out the more traditional Turkish meat dishes.

3. Corvus

And when you get sick of lamb kebap, you can come here, to Corvus Wine & Bites in Besiktas.  Corvus is a winery that grows grapes and produces wine on an island in the Aegean Sea, and this is their wine bar.  The bites are appropriately bite-sized, the flavors are rich, the decor is foodie-modern, and the clientele screams independently-wealthy-tortured-artist.

It was mentioned in the NYT here, too.

4. Borsa

Borsa is for a fancy night-out in Istanbul.  It has a beautiful view and the cuisine is modern-Turkish.  I had the veal and it was ohsogood (sorry if veal offends's my fave).  The best part is that for all its fanciness, it won't break the bank.  

It made for a lovely last night in Istanbul!

*A last note on dinners - my parents had dinner at the Istanbul Culinary Institute restaurant (one of those places where culinary students cook for you) and loved it (my dad said it was the best salmon he'd ever had)!  It was an older, quieter atmosphere, but the decor was really hip and modern, the menu looked tasty and imaginative, and the prices were totally reasonable.  It's in the Beyoglu neighborhood.


Turkish desserts are very straight forward - they involve some kind of flaky pastry (either filo or kadayif), and some kind of nut (either walnut or pistachio), and they are always soaked in a sweet sweet syrup (so sweet it will make your toes curl in delight).  None of this crazy American salted-caramel stuff.  Kadaif rolled with finely ground pistachios is my absolute fave, but I didn't meet a dessert I didn't like on the whole trip!  

For the best spot, head to the spice market, but instead of going inside, go to your right into the outdoor non-touristy market.  Wander around for a while and you will find a few dessert shops that have the real stuff.  (There are also some kebap places in there that I wish I'd tried, so try them and then tell me what I missed!)

Drinks with a View

There is many a view to be seen in Istanbul, and restaurant and bar owners have capitalized on that.  Everywhere, you will find signs advertizing rooftop terraces.  But most of these places are expensive, and I'm sure they don't have great food (the better the view, the worse the food, right?).  So you should go, but just for drinks.  The most well-known of these is probably 360 in Beyoglu, right on Isticklal Cadessi.  We meant to make it there, but we didn't.  But we did make it to Vogue in Besiktas!  And what a view it was!

{free olives - score!}

If you go to a place with a view of the Bosphorous Bridge, you can watch the light show as it gets dark!


The Turkish people must be extraordinarily caffeinated.  Between the Turkish coffee in the mornings and the tea breaks every ten minutes, it's a wonder that those people ever go to sleep.  But when in must go to a cay bahcesi (chai ba-che-see) (tea house)!  Make sure to order some nargileh (hookah) with your tea, (the apple, or "elma" is the best).

The place we went off of Istiklal Cadessi also provided bagammon boards if you're into that sort of thing.

Finally, the last thing you MUST do is go to Suada pool club.  Suada is like a giant adult playground that floats between Europe and Asia.  Yeah.  You look to your right and it's Europe, and you look to your left and it's Asia.  Mind-bending.

{the view as we pulled up to Suada in the taxi boat; Asia on the far side}

Once you get to this magical island, you can swim, eat, and drink (poolside or not), and watch the sun set and the light show on the Bosphorous Bridge.

If you stay at the W, then entrance to the club  is free.  But if you don' costs 90 TL per person (like $50)...but still, I think it could be worth it to be here on a Saturday afternoon.  We went on a Tuesday, so there were hardly any people there and it was more of a "spa-like" atmosphere than a party atmosphere, but I imagine that Saturdays must be kind of insane.

  {oh, you know, just swimming on two continents at once...NBD}
{Europe?  Or Asia?}

Once in a lifetime for sure.

I hope I've helped out any of you who may be planning a trip to Turkey!  I'll have some last remarks on the experience tomorrow and then we can talk about other things ha.

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