After visiting Prague, we spent Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Boxing Day in Istanbul. It was wonderful, of course, as everyone said it would be.
Here are some snapshots and a few travel tips.
(If you would like to scroll through larger versions of the images, click on ‘Continue reading’ below and then on any thumbnail in the gallery.)
We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel. Going on public transportation would have involved a bus and then a tram. It sounded do-able, but would have taken about an hour and a half, and we arrived rather late in the day.
We stayed at the Hotel Ibrahim Pasha, which I loved for its tasteful, comfortable decor and the thoughtful approach of its staff. It’s a small place on a side street along the south side of the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, steps from the Hippodrome and the Blue Mosque. Downstairs in front of the sofas, the fireplaces were lit all the time. Books were everywhere. The standard rooms are very small (think Paris small), but well designed. Breakfast was delicious.
We practically levitated off the bed every morning at about 6:00 a.m. when the call to prayer began, but I enjoyed it — and also listening to the sunset call from the rooftop, while looking at the Blue Mosque and the Sea of Marmara. Upon arrival, the hotel provided us with a map and their own lists of recommended restaurants, shops, and walking routes. Everything we tried was excellent. They also have their own app for iPhone and Android.
Really, if I ever run away from home, you will find me at the Hotel Ibrahim Pasha.
We really enjoyed the food at Khorasani,* a kebab restaurant very near the hotel. We had dinner there twice (the kebabs “marinated” in pistachios were my favorite). In Karaköy, the wharf area just to the east of the north end of the Galata Bridge, we had a lunch of mezes at Karaköy Lokantasi. It has a decor “reminiscent of the Turkish Republic of the 1930s,” in the words of the Ibrahim Pasha.
When eating in Sultanhmet, have your hotel make you reservations at your chosen restaurants, so that when you are lost, and the waiters of all the other eateries are trying to pull you in, you can say, “Sorry, we have reservations.” Then, they will kindly guide you.
[Addendum: If you are vegan or vegetarian, you might appreciate this guide to eating in Istanbul.]
Do buy your Turkish Delight candy** at a stall in the Spice (Egyptian) Market (rather than pre-packaged at the airport), so that it will be fresh and you can choose the flavors (and taste samples). The best of it is so good. Get the kind made with honey and flavored with pomegranates, cherries, or pistachios. We bought some rolled in chopped rose petals. (The merchants can vacuum seal your boxes.)
The only guidebooks we bought before leaving home were the e-book versions of DK’s Top 10 Prague and Top 10 Istanbul. I think they were 99¢ each, which was about right. After perusing the shelves at the hotel, I would recommend Istanbul: Memories and the City (a personal memoir) by Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul’s Bazaar Quarter: Backstreet Walking Tours by Edda Renker Weissenbacher and Ann Marie Mershon, and Strolling Through Istanbul: The Classic Guide to the City by Hilary Sumner-Boyd and John Freely.
When necessary, we had no problem finding people who spoke English or signs in English.
*Khorasani is at Divanyolu Caddesi Ticarethane Sokak, No. 39/41 Sultanahmet. Karaköy Lokantasi is at Kemankes Caddesi 37/A, Karaköy.
** I think it’s actually a requirement of your visa that you take home several boxes. You will see crates of it at the airport.