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Istanbul Eats and Excursions

by on December 29, 2011 · 6 comments

in Trip Reports

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The Sultan Ahmed, or Blue Mosque, viewed from afar at twilight.

This is an installment in my Istanbul: End of Year Mileage Run with Dad series. Posts include; Cheap Istanbul Flights: From $576 Total Roundtrip on Delta from JFK, Help Plan My Long Weekend in Istanbul, Flight Review: Alitalia JFK-Rome in Coach, Hotel Review: Westin Excelsior Rome, Hotel Review: Park Hyatt Istanbul Spa Room, Istanbul Eats and Excursions.

After an evening spent relaxing in Rome, Dad and I went to bed early and prepared to catch our morning flight to Istanbul the next day.

Day 1

We arrived in Istanbul on Friday afternoon, checked into the Park Hyatt and had lunch at the hotel’s restaurant.  Since we only had three days, we promptly jumped in a taxi and went straight to Istanbul’s old district, Sultanahmet, and got to the famous Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) right around the evening call to prayer, which was such a unique experience that made us feel immediately like we were really experiencing the city.

Though no one was praying there at the time—apparently people usually only come here to pray in the summer—there were still a lot of people around, mostly tourists. We took off our shoes like everyone else (ladies also had to wrap their heads in scarves) and walked around the huge 17th century building, taking in the impressive architecture.

After, we meandered through the jostling crowds Grand Bazaar. That experience was overwhelming since vendors aggressively try to get you to come into their shops, and there’s no way to figure out what’s a good deal and what’s not, so we didn’t do much shopping and just took in the general grandeur.

By that point we were pretty tired, so we hailed a taxi. That was a bad idea. We got caught in an hour-long traffic jam—apparently a pretty normal occurrence for Istanbul—and were exhausted by the time we got back to the hotel. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any other good options since there’s no mass transit to speak of that would have dropped us by the hotel.

We cleaned up for dinner, and just had a relaxing evening at a nice kebab restaurant called Kosebasi (it’s actually an upscale chain with locations all over the city and Turkey) across from the hotel, where we ate a profusion of mezze, or small plates, and enjoyed some great Turkish wines. I didn’t know much about Turkish wine, but these tasted pretty good to me, and packed quite a punch!

Day 2

Dad and I spent today wandering some of Istanbul’s other historic sights including Topkapi Palace and its famous harem. That afternoon, we took a ferry to the Asian side of the city and met up with TPG reader Marina, who showed us around this part of the city, which I’d highly recommend others doing. It’s not your typical tourist location – it’s mostly small street markets and locals, but that’s what I liked about it. The ferry ride itself offered great views of the Bosphorous at sunset and it only cost us the equivalent of about a dollar each way.

She also took us to lunch at a restaurant both she and a bunch of other TPGers recommended, Ciya Sofrasi. It’s right near the main ferry stop on this side of the city, Kadikoy, and is a low-key restaurant that serves tons of regional Turkish specialties. It’s sort of cafeteria style, where you look at all the things cooking, choose what you want, and then they serve you at your table. The chef is Musa Dagdeviren, who used to run the Culinary Institute of America’s school in Napa and the food was amazing and authentic. Afterwards, Marina took us to a Turkish café across the street for super strong coffee, then she read my fortune from the residue of coffee grounds left in my cup when I flipped it over onto my saucer. I’m told fortune-telling is ostensibly illegal now, but no one seemed to mind, and Marina saw an angry goat in my grounds! I’m still not sure what that means, but I can get pretty ornery.

Later that night I met some Turkish friends for a late dinner at the Radisson Blu at Zuma (also near Kadikoy), which is a hot spot right on the Bosphorus. I met a great new friend there who offered to take my dad and me on a private tour around the Bosphorus on his yacht the next day—how could I refuse?!

We also went to 360 Lounge in the penthouse of a 19th-century apartment building in Taksim, where Istanbul’s young and beautiful go to play, and hung out on the beautiful outdoor patio, where we got the total VIP treatment. I’d highly recommend it for a good nightlife outing, though there’s usually a big line to get in.

Day 3

Dad and I had a lazy Sunday morning enjoying brunch at the nearby Four Seasons Bosphorus (as opposed to the Four Seasons Sultanahmet), which was amazing. Not only was the restaurant beautiful with great views right on the water, but the gourmet spread was fantastic with meat grilled right on the outdoor patio, fresh seafood, three different risottos, and delicious pastries. It was a bit steep at $80 a person including a glass of wine, but we really enjoyed it, so I thought it was worth it.

Plus, afterwards, my new friend’s boat picked us up right at the hotel’s dock and took us for our own private tour of the waterway. My dad said he felt just like James Bond!

No tuxedos or shaken martinis for dinner that night, though. Instead, we went to another TPG reader suggestion, Park Fora, a beautiful restaurant right on the Bosphorus with unbelievably good seafood. It was expensive, but the fish and seafood dishes were so good, it was definitely worth it. My only complaint was that the tables with a view of the strait were in the smoking section, and other diners were puffing on cigars, so we eventually moved into the interior dining room for a cleaner eating environment (and so we wouldn’t lose our appetites!).

Day 4

We were catching a plane on Monday afternoon, so we had just enough time to wander around the tony Sisli and Nisantasi neighborhoods near the Park Hyatt before meeting some Turkish friends for lunch at the House Café, which was a great meeting place with good salads, and outdoor seating perfect for people-watching, and getting one last glimpse of Istanbul.

Though it was just 3 days, this was a great first trip to this fascinating and welcoming city, and it certainly won’t be my last! Though next time I visit Turkey I want to visit other areas of the country, including Cappadocia and the Mediterranean coast.


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  • Misafir

    I’m glad you liked my city :-) You made me realize how I much is miss it. Kosebasi – what I would do to have lunch there today!

  • Sam

    Excellent n thoughtful review – specially the restaurant part. Will have to add Istanbul to the wish list…:)

  • leftpinky

    People go to pray at the Blue Mosque year round, but it’s not a major residential area, so not a lot of people pray there in general. Also, if you were only there for 20-30 minutes, you might have missed the prayers, since, as I’m sure many people here know, Muslims pray five times a day. One of those is early morning and the last three are near the end of working hours till mid-evening.

    Btw, I’m glad you enjoyed 360. I think I recommended that on your original post.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=685121871 Christopher Wu

    hmm sounds great.. my travel agent also recommended 360.. though I need to figure out how to meet a friend for a Bosphorous cruise…

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