Here’s a list of things I knew about Istanbul before I arrived.
- Istanbul sits on both the European and Asian continents, separated by the Bosphorus
- The Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque are my must sees
- My friend Adrienne visited the year before and raved about this city (and the entire country)
- Turkish Delight is tasty
Yep, that was the extent of my knowledge. Pretty thin, right? When we decided to visit as a side trip from Bulgaria, we didn’t have a guide book, or even regular internet access, so I emailed Adrienne and asked her for recommendations on what to see and do in two days. She responded with a lengthy email full of places to see and detailed instructions on how to get to them. Unfortunately, my reading skills are apparently subpar and this led us to a day full of mishaps and mixups that had us exploring some out of the way places on the Asian side of Istanbul on our second day in this city.
One of Adrienne’s recommendations is to have a meal at a restaurant called Ciya Sofrasi. She had heard about it from a couple she met from San Francisco who highly recommended it, and she in turn raved about it to me! She compared it to the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld, but much nicer. Our instructions are very clear – “Take the public ferry to Kadikoy (you can catch these from Eminonu which is right next to the Sultanahmet side of the Galatta bridge. Tickets are a token system similar to the trams. 3TL each way – I think. The ferry trip is 25 min and runs every 30 min. From the Kadikoy dock, with your back to the water take the main street running up the hill (I think it’s called Sogulu Cesme). Walk up the right side of the street, and you’ll walk along kind of a small open plaza in front of a bunch of shops, and the 4th street up from the water (at the top of the plaza) should be Güneşli Bahçe though it wasn’t well labeled. Take a right down this street and Ciya Sofrasi and its sister cafe Ciya Kepab should be about 4-5 blocks down. If you see lots of markets and grocers you’re on the right street.”
We find a ferry dock and board, thinking we could just as easily walk across the bridge (the Galatta Bridge, though we don’t know that right now). But we don’t want to get lost so follow the directions exactly, or so we thought. When the ferry leaves, it doesn’t go the way we expect it to. In fact, where are we going? The Asian side is back there! I guess a map would have been helpful here.
Since we are convinced we were in the wrong place, we stay on the ferry thinking maybe it would stop on the “Asian side”…but it didn’t. When we got back to where we started, we realized that what we had thought was the Asian side, isn’t. After looking it up on my phone, we discovered that the Asian side was where we had originally gone, so we ride the ferry back again!
This time, we get off and try to find the road to the restaurant. We wander all over the hill looking for any signs of life, trying to ask the locals where we need to go. They keep telling us it’s 3k away. That can’t be right, it’s supposed to be just up the street! Turns out, we took the wrong ferry. Can you believe we’re both seasoned travelers? You would think we’d never stepped foot in a foreign country before. To be fair, the ferry docks are right next to each other.
We walk the 3k to the right part of town, which is evident by the steady thrum of tourists and finally, following Adrienne’s directions from where we should have started, make our way to the restaurant. Let me tell you, it’s so worth it! The Turkish meatballs are delicious, as is the “salad bar”. We order a little bit of almost everything and share it.
After lunch, we wander around the side streets for awhile, stopping for a Turkish coffee before heading back to the right ferry dock to the European side.
I think the Turkish coffee has made us a little crazy.
FYI – if you find yourself riding the ferry in Istanbul, this is what you should arrive to.
Back in Europe, we take a walk across the Galatta Bridge which, as we found out earlier, does not lead to the Asian side of Istanbul. I love all the people fishing off the side.
I believe this is the Süleymaniye Mosque. We didn’t get to see it on this trip, but it looks impressive. Guess I have to go back!
After our walk, we hurry back to the Grand Bazaar for some last minute gift purchasing, and then rush back to the hotel to catch a taxi to the bus station.
Little did we know just how bad the traffic in Istanbul can be! Fortunately (I think), we have the scariest cab driver ever who races through traffic to get us to the bus station with seconds to spare! Except he dropps us off at the wrong terminal! One of the workers for the bus company runs us over to the right one and after getting us there, follows us on to the bus to demand payment. Such is how it works in Turkey, I guess! The border crossing is so much easier on the way back, and we both sleep a lot more, from pure exhaustion I think. Whew! Two days in Istanbul is not a lot of time, and it’s definitely not enough to see everything there is to see. But we made it and had a great whirlwind tour of Istanbul that has only whet the appetite! Next time I’ll make sure to look at a map first though.