Monday, July 22, 2013

Having just spent a week in my beloved Istanbul, I can reassure you that it’s definitely worth visiting even right now.

Tourism in Turkey seems to have declined sharply, especially in Istanbul, since the events revolving around the Gezi Park protests started in late May. I saw signs of this stillness nearly everywhere I went on the European side. (For another first-hand account, please see this July 18 blog post by Turkish travel writer Pat Yale: Silence Falls on Sultanahmet.)

Istiklal Street at night was eerily quiet. Usually packed cafés and restaurants were half filled (if they were so lucky) with hungry people. My six girlfriends and I had the normally-packed, reservation-only Sensus Wine Bar near Galata Tower practically to ourselves.
A very quiet Istiklal Street in Istanbul.
I hung out in Taksim on last Monday afternoon and evening and for about five hours on Tuesday afternoon. No problems. I will mention there was more police presence up by the square, but that’s all I saw both days. However, on Saturday nights, Taksim is best avoided as the Turkish police still get tear gas happy. 
Here's an afternoon view of Taksim Square taken near Gezi Park, overlooking the construction.
One of my girlfriends stayed six nights at a boutique hotel near Galatasaray for only 35 euros per night compared to the normal 129 euros per night. She was told she could stay as late as she wanted when she requested a late check-out as the hotel was dead. Because there are fewer tourists, you may get an unheard of hotel rate like my friend!

Even if it is summertime and Ramazan, I have never seen Istanbul this quiet in the three years that I lived here!

An afternoon visit to the Grand Bazaar yielded the same results. My kebab guy was ecstatic to see me. “Where have you been abla?” He served us delicious portions of patlıcan soslu and aclılı ezme on the house.

Later on, I got a steal of deal on a beautiful Kurdish kilim. His friends wished him well on his sale. “Inshallah” my girlfriend heard the Turkish rug dealer say as we returned to his third-generation family store. I hadn’t planned to buy a kilim, but I couldn’t resist the deal.
I loved both of these kilims, but I chose and purchased the one on the right.
I’m saddened to see Istanbul in this state. These small shopkeepers don’t deserve this treatment that has befallen them as a result of the actions by the Turkish government. Less adventurous tourists are afraid to travel here as they see images of the Turkish police reacting haphazardly with water cannons and tear gas in the Taksim area.

I’m certainly not happy with the Turkish government and their ridiculous responses to the protesters. However, I won’t get into that rant right now.

But I do want to remind you why you should visit and love Istanbul as much as I do!

7 Reasons to Love Istanbul

The changing colors of the Bosphorus is one of the many things I miss about Istanbul. The early mornings can turn the waters a hard, steel gray and then a sparkling, brilliant shade of blue or turquoise in the afternoon and even a murky black as the day wears on. Find a café and enjoy the cool sea breeze, or take a vapur ride along the Bosphorus.
A view of the Bosphorus from the Bostanci neighborhood on the Asian side of the city.
Regular readers know how much I love visiting this bustling neighborhood. On my first full day in Istanbul, I paid a visit to Bilge, my favorite spice girl at Ucuzcular in the Mısır Çarşısı (Spice Bazaar). This is THE place to stock up on high quality Turkish spices. I spent 150 tl on my supplies because I’m not sure when I’ll be back again yet.
Every neighborhood in Istanbul hosts a pazar (outdoor market) on different days of the week. This visit, I stopped at the Tuesday 4Levent pazar (a 5-minute walk from the Yenilevent exit at the 4Levent metro stop). I enjoyed a cheese and spinach gözleme as a late breakfast. Going to a pazar gives you a chance to see the local color of the city.
Turkish Food
I could go on and on about the Turkish food I ate on this trip in Istanbul. I’m pretty sure I gained another kilo. How could I turn down my favorite balkaymak or künefe? There were kebabs and mezes galore! I’ll tell you more in another post.
Even if you aren’t a regular customer, you’re bound to get offered çay as soon as you walk into a shop. From the Spice Bazaar to the Grand Bazaar to my shoe repair guy to my Turkish towel shop, I was offered copious amounts of çay. Even if my Turkish was a little rusty, I enjoyed having conversations here. I miss the welcoming Turkish hospitality.
I think one of the things that’s always fascinated me about Istanbul is its long, rich and colorful history. The city is ancient compared to America where I’m from. I still love seeing the city’s historic Byzantine walls, the minarets of the Blue Mosque, the Galata Tower and cobblestone streets. These are things that make Istanbul unique and why tourists come to visit.
Most importantly, I miss all my friends in Istanbul. I have cried, laughed, lamented over Turkish, traveled, confided in and celebrated with these friends. It’s been difficult moving to a new city and starting the process of making friends all over again. I have a feeling though many of my Istanbul friends will be friends for life. Even if you are a tourist in Istanbul, don’t be surprised if make a Turkish friend or two.

I could go on and on about why I love Istanbul, but you should really see this beautiful city for yourself. The city and its shopkeepers need your support!

(For additional reading, please see this July 20 article in The Guardian: The ongoing Turkish protests have left us enlightened and emboldened.)

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Mavi göz said...

4Levent... my boyfriend is living there with his family.. unfortunately, now he is in Istanbul and I am in Poland. I want to come back to Istanbul asap, I love this city! And nobody can understand this before going there I think :)

Joy said...

@Vixen, I'm sure it must be tough to not be close to your boyfriend! And I agree, until you go and perhaps even live in Istanbul, you can't understand it. I love discovering new reasons to love Istanbul! :-)

I will say living in Poland is nice - fresh, green and less expensive. But very different from Turkey.

Mavi göz said...

We have been in distance relationship for 3-4 months so it is not new for us. But it gets harder I think.. My dream is to live in Istanbul with him, but I am worried about finding a job there :( I am Polish and after so many years here.. I dont want to live here, but maybe it is because I am young and I want to see more than my country. Also I have problem with people, how they behave and how they are.

Alan said...

. . you share one of the most persistent addictions known to man (or woman) - I'm afraid there is no known cure :-)

Joy said...

@Vixen, I won't lie to you, but finding a job as a foreigner in Istanbul is difficult, but not impossible. Most of my friends are either freelancers or teachers.

Yes, there's so much to see and do in this world! :-)

@Alan, you make me smile! Thanks for your comment!

Sedef said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am far away from my beloved Istanbul and your lovely post mentioning all the things I too love about Istanbul put a smile on my face.

Istanbul is one of those cities where one leaves their hear. It's nice to see that I wasn't totally biased in my opinion.

MJ said...

This is a lovely written blog, you are a word artist.

jaz@octoberfarm said...

hi joy! glad you had a good trip to istanbul. i too feel so sorry for the people suffering there because of the stubborn government. i look forward to your next posts! joyce

Joy said...

@Sedef, I know other friends that have left their hearts in Istanbul too! :-) Thanks for your kind comments!

@MJ, thanks dear! I only write how I feel.

@Joyce, so do I! It was a lovely visit though.

Moe said...

Welcome back! Its been so dead all over because of Ramazan! Take advantage of it as the traffic is light, everyone is at home or on vacation. Bagdat on Sunday was a ghost town!

Joy said...

@Moe, thank you! Even with Ramazan, the city still seemed more quiet than usual! Having less traffic was definitely an advantage though!

Ozlem's Turkish Table said...

Merhaba Joy, lovely, lovely post; so many reasons to love and go back to Istanbul, and your post sums it up beautifully :) I so agree with you, all these small shop owners do need everyone's support, I can't wait go back home, hope soon! Eline saglik : )

Erica (Irene) said...

This is a great post......beautifully written. I too love Istanbul, there is so much to see and do.
The people are so friendly..and yes they do remember me when I return.

I love when you wrote about the Kebab man who said to you patlıcan soslu and aclılı ezme....made me hungry.

take care....and I know how you feel. My husband is Turkish and is from Turkey but I think I long for it more then he. :-(

Unknown said...

Always a pleasure to read your blog. I hope you will pay frequent visits to here so that we can read more of your experiences about this city. :)

Wish you the best in Poland.

Joy said...

@Ozlem, thanks for your kind comments dear! Enjoy your trip to the US! Perhaps we'll meet up again someday in Turkey! :-)

@Erica, Funny enough, we just had dinner last night with our Turkish friend here in Warsaw, and he is surprised and impressed with everything I know and love about Turkey! I hope you'll be back to visit your husband's home country soon!

@Kerem, thank you so much! We've had a visitor for the last week, but I hope to get more posts about Istanbul up on the blog soon! Thanks for continuing to read my blog!

Amy Baker said...

You are living the life, Joyous. So stinking happy for you. (Never stop blogging. You ROCK at it!) Question (I'll limit it to one even though I could ask them for hours!): What is cay and what does it taste like? Love and miss you, Miss Worldly!

Joy said...

@Amy, Thanks dear! I'll admit it's not always easy as Jason works really long hours, I get lonely sometimes, I miss working in the restaurant biz and then there's a language barrier. But there are enough moments when I am completely happy and that's what keeps us going abroad. :-)

Turkish cay is black tea. You fill a glass with about 1/3 strong tea and then dilute with hot water. I add 1 sugar cube to mine. I could drink it all afternoon.

Most of the Turkish tea is raised in huge fields along the Black Sea (NE Turkey) - one region we missed!

Anonymous said...

What a lovely piece! I had a lovely trip there recently and loved the food!

Joy said...

@Anonymous, thanks for sharing your link! I certainly love Turkish food too!

Anonymous said...

I was in Istanbul for 4 days and it was amazing, if anyone is interested here is a video I threw together from some of my footage when I was there!

Bizim gizli mabedimiz.. said...
every thing about Istanbul for tourists

Sonia said...

Loved the blog...especially the food section!
I wish I could revisit the city soon!

Unknown said...

Hey Joy!
Great Post, Istanbul for sure is an amazing city. We recently went there and shot some videos about it's food culture:
They might be interesting for you, I would appreciate any feedback!
Best, Simon

Unknown said...

Great blog! I love Istanbul as well and spent a considerable amount of time there -- You can check out my adventures there at

Ring Central said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

Hi Joy,
I want to share an experience that I had on my recent holiday to Istanbul.
Istanbul is truly a wonderful tourism destination. The city of differences, wonderful attractions, a mix of Eastern and Western cuisine, and serious shopping malls should absolutely be visited. I was in Istanbul with my family in February, 2014. It continues to be the most exciting and interesting city I have ever stayed in. People ask me where I want to live after I retire. I always say that I love Istanbul and Turkish hospitality.
I can say that Istanbul has a luxuriant heritage and tradition that integrates the previous and the current to form a unique combination of architecture. The Blue Mosque, the Galata Tower, Hagia Sofia Museum, and the old city are absolutely a must. These are things that make the city rich in history. I had a lovely trip to some inspiring natural landscapes in Istanbul such as Bosphorus Strait. Yes, it is an amazing moment to enjoy a tour in this channel which cuts the city of Istanbul into two sides (Asian side and European side). During my stay, I tasted lots of Turkish food that can be styled as a mixture of Middle Eastern, Asian and European tastes. Dishes are usually full of meat and fresh vegetables. Some of the greatest food I have ever recognized served in the cafeterias near the Eminonu train station. I love KEBABS.
This is why I want to share my memories.

Ticking the Bucketlist said...

Istanbul is my favourite city in the whole wide world...and you have accounted for many of the reasons!

Anonymous said...


Thank you very much for your posts as an local expert.

We will come to the Istanbul in February 2015 for the city break and already booked the flight tickets. We are also looking for the airport transfer service from Sabiha Gokcen to Old city.
I found on the web and they offered very good price for a private transfer service. Do you have any idea about this company?

Can we trust this company for our transfer service?

All the best.

Joy said...

@Fournier, Greetings! I don't know of that one specifically, but I'm sure it's a fine service. I used to use the local Havatas Shuttle Service, like a public bus. Here's that info if you need it:
Visitors, Transportation with Havatas Shuttle Bus

barismanco said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Hi all,
Most of you know Istabul as in European side. But There is also another Istanbul in Asian part. And Kadikoy is a district you shoul visit.

Tim said...

I would like to visit Istanbul some day- hopefully sooner rather than later.

Unknown said...

Istanbul is one of the most beautiful cities in the World. It is a great city for history, food and architecture lovers. The colours, the flavours, the beauty of the historical buildings, like the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Top Kapi and the Dolmabahce enchant the visitor. Istanbul is easy to walk around, people are friendly and helpful, weather is at its best in spring and autumn, and however, Istanbul is always magnificent! Recently I returned from Istanbul and Ephesus with my family. We visited the ancient city safely with the help of "About Ephesus". I have made sure to include all the great historical attractions in one tour. said...

It seems to me that you had a great time in Istanbul. I like the way you see Istanbul through your camera. Istanbul is a great city. It is very big though. I talk to many people who come for several days and say “if only we had two weeks here”. Many people miss some highlights like Suleymaniye Mosque. There is a great post about the mosque over here:

Steve @ What Way Today said...

Yup, the food. Amazing, Midye Dolma maybe a little bit illegal but they are amazing, delicious rice and mussels. We also had a great time at Turkish Flavours learning to cook with Selin, a really fund and informative host.

Lora Simmons said...

Hey Joy,

It is too old but still very interesting for us to know your personal experience as mentioned in your post. Me and my boyfriend are planning to visit Istanbul next month. We would like to know more about Istanbul that you would have explored and didn't yet explained.

meissoun said...

I travel to Istanbul twice a year - for all the reasons you have mentioned and more. Recently I have started to organize small guided shopping tours but it's still tough motivating people to come along because many are afraid (as if other big cities in the world were safer....) and the media usually only tells you about the bad things that happen in Turkey. But those who do come along always have the greatest time and are totally in love with the city too!
When I am by myself I do a lot of very off the beaten track things and go to less visited places - there is so much to see!
What I have observed is that Western tourists have been replaced by more from Arabic countries and Iran. There's also a great trend of medical tourism - you see men with shaved head and bandages (after hair transplants) everywhere.