Day 18: Istanbul

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It was our last full day in Turkey and my family and I wanted to make the best of it by checking off the last few things we still hadn’t had the chance to see. We got up early to catch the ferry from Eminonu to Uskudar. Uskudar is on the Asian side of Istanbul, and only a 20-minute ferry ride from the European side.


Right off the dock was a large park with several kiosks selling kabab sandwiches and snacks for hungry commuters. We bought several doner kabab sandwiches and containers of ayran and sat down to enjoy the view of the Bosphorous.

Ayran and doner kabab

Üsküdar ferry dock

We explored the neighborhood for a bit and then took the next ferry back to Eminonu. At Eminonu’s Golden Horn, we peeked into Yeni Mosque for a few minutes, exploring the courtyard and busy area outside full of hawkers selling grilled corn and freshly-baked bread.

Yeni Mosque

Yeni Mosque

A few steps away lies Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar, which you can smell before you see. The aroma of coffee, cinnamon, olives, peppers, and saffron all blend into a heady scent that draws a steady stream of Istanbullus and travellers alike.

Dried fruits, nuts and spices at the Spice Bazaar

Olives at the Spice Bazaar

Fruits at the Spice Bazaar

We bought coffee at the renowned Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi and a cezve, or Turkish coffee pot at a stall nearby. On our way out, we purchased some eggplant, okra and tomatoes for that evening’s dinner.

The next morning we got up early to say goodbye my uncle and his wife, who were heading back to Tehran. My family and I took the metro to Ataturk Airport, where we awaited our flight to London, with a quick stopover in Munich.

I had caught a cold during my last few days in Turkey and by the time we reached London, it had developed into full-fledged pneumonia. The overnight stay we were to have in our hotel ended up being an overnight trip to the emergency room (thanks for being free, NHS!). Suffice to say the transatlantic flight back to the states was excruciating. But aside from that little snafu, the trip was an amazing experience. It’s been three months and I’m still dreaming of Istanbul. And Paris. And London.

Day 17: Istanbul

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On our second attempt to visit Kapali Carsi, my family and I made sure to go on a weekday, when the main part of the bazaar and all of the merchants were sure to be open. Kapali Carsi, or the Grand Bazaar, is one of the largest markets in the world with different areas devoted to trades ranging from gold and rugs, to spices and fabrics, and just about anything else you could ever imagine. We spent the better part of the day there, but I think we could have spent closer to a week exploring in order to see every corner.

Kapalıçarşı Grand Bazaar

The main way was bustling with people, but the side alleyways were more sparsely packed, making for more determined merchants.

Kapalıçarşı Grand Bazaar

Kapalıçarşı Grand Bazaar

The more we walked, the more I noticed a trend. When I spoke Persian, most merchants would state their price lower than when I spoke English. I suppose the logic is that if you’re visiting from Iran, you can’t afford as high a price as those visiting from Europe. I used this to my advantage, although interestingly enough, most merchants approached me in Spanish instead of Persian or Turkish.

I noticed another trend. Quite a number of female tourists were interested in purchasing belly dancing costumes. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this, considering that I overheard more than one specifically request “the kind that Turkish girls wear!” Pardon? In any case, ladies, baby blue and fuschia polyester costumes are so last year. The latest issue of What Turkish Girls Wear said so.

During our visit, I bought an inlaid backgammon set, a hookah, a few evil eye trinkets, Turkish delights, Ottoman-era coin earrings, and a turquoise ring. I suppose it’s a good thing that I only had enough time to spend one day in the bazaar or I might have gotten carried away.

On our walk back to our flat, we stopped to purchase a box of freshly-baked sutis, which looked exactly like but tasted like a sweeter and crisper version of Iranian bamiyeh.


With sweets in one hand and handicrafts in another, I’d say it was a pretty productive day.

Day 16: Buyukada

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When I was planning this trip several months ago, I wanted to pack at least one day trip into our time in Istanbul. The Princes’ Islands, and most notably the island of Buyukada, stood out as a must-see. Buyukada is not far from Istanbul, taking only 90 minutes by ferry through the Sea of Marmara.

We took the tram from Aksaray to Karakoy and then the IDO ferry from Karakoy to the islands. Buyukada is the last island stop, and the largest too.

Büyükada ferry landing

The Princes’ Islands gets its name from the Byzantine Ottoman era, when princes and other royalty were exiled here. Given the beautiful homes, tree-lined streets and horse-drawn carriages everywhere, it doesn’t seem like such a bad place to be stuck in. Today, Istanbullus come here in the summer for a quiet break from the bustling city.

Büyükada carriage


My family and I walked up and down the picturesque hilly streets for most of the afternoon, taking a break to buy some albaloo (Yes! Turkey has albaloo too!) to snack on later.


After we circled around much of the island, we stopped for ice cream and tea at a cafe while we waited for the last ferry of the day to arrive. On the ferry, we took in the most breathtaking views during sunset as the boat stopped at the other islands to pick up more passengers.


Sea of Marmara

All that hill climbing had made us sleepy, so after we arrived at Eminonu dock in Istanbul, we hopped on the tram back to our apartment, just in time for dinner and a good night’s rest. Buyukada may not be as fast-paced as Istanbul, but what it lacks in action it makes up for with charm.

Day 15: Istanbul

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Although Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, many shops are closed on Sundays. We had planned to visit the Grand Bazaar on Sunday, since I had incorrectly thought that most of the bazaar would be closed on Friday instead. And that’s how we found ourselves standing in front of a closed gate on a Sunday morning in front of the bazaar.

This minor snag in our plans didn’t throw us off by too much though, since I simply switched the next day’s activities with the current one. The bazaar was on the way to the Istanbul Archaeology Museum anyway, and a few tram stops later we were at our destination.

The museum actually houses three museums within the entire complex: the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Museum of Islamic Art.

Istanbul Archaeology Museum

Istanbul Archaeology Museum

Originally part of the Topkapi Palace outer gardens in Gulhane Park, this incredibly rich museum has seen its fair share of battle, as evidenced by uh, these lovely statues with their heads lopped off:

Istanbul Archaeology Museum

Indoors, the museum houses over one million pieces. With so much to see, we were in need of some caffiene afterwards. We walked a few blocks to Mado, a two-story cafe housing a beautiful view of Sultanahmet and the strongest, thickest Turkish coffee ever.

Tea and coffee at Mado

Now this is what I call strong coffee.

After we finished our drinks, we returned to our neighborhood in Aksaray to do some shopping for dinner. By now it was feeling like our own community away from home – the baker, the butcher, the pharmacist, and the produce sellers all recognized us and we would exchange merhabas and salaams whenever we stopped by.

Day 14: Istanbul

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Having acquainted ourselves with the heart of the city’s historical sites in Sultanahmet, my family and I now set out to spend a day in Istanbul’s Galata district, home to Galata Tower and the ever trendy and happening Taksim Square. So happening, in fact, that as soon as we stepped off the tram, we walked right through a group of teenagers hanging out at a soccer-themed stage promoting the Eurocup, blasting Turkish hip hop, and then walked right past a gay rights march. Taksim Square is considered the heart of modern Istanbul.


That’s the Tunel, which is the world’s second oldest subway line (the oldest is the London Underground). You can see the beginnings of the gay rights march to the left.

Taksim Square leads into to Istiklal Caddesi, or Independence Avenue, a long street famed for it’s range of shopping. I found everything from Puma and Adidas and Topshop boutiques to rug merchants and tanbur craftsmen along this street:

İstiklal Avenue

We had originally planned to see the Sufi Mevlevi Monastary, also in this neighborhood, but once we got there it turned out it was closed for renovations. I was dissapointed; this was one of the places I was most looking forward to during our trip. Nevertheless, we turned around and veered to a side street to find Galata Tower, built by the Geneoese in the 12th century:

Galata Tower

We rested for a while beneath the tower, people watching and munching on Turkish fruits as we regained our energy. (For the Persian-speakers reading, did you know Istanbul is full of golabi jangali? I was so excited, that’s one of my favorite fruits and it’s so hard to find in the U.S.!)

Near Galata Tower and by the foot of Galata Bridge lies the Galata fish market. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many fresh fish in one place in my life. I was on the lookout for mussels to cook at our apartment, but everywhere I went, I was only able to find people hawking steamed mussels with lemon. Raw ones were nowhere to be found, so we picked out a red snapper to take home instead.

We took our time walking across the bridge to get to the nearest tram at Eminonu station. The view afforded a stunning landscape of the Golden Horn, and fishermen were lined up along the entire bridge, ensuring a steady supply of fresh fish to the market.

Galata Fish Market

Fishermen at Galata Bridge

By the time we got home we were exhausted, but we didn’t mind. We had the freshest, most succulent fish to look forward to that evening! Paired with rice and a glass of ayran, it made the perfect meal to end the day.