An Iowan in Istanbul
Finally! Istanbul! A city this Iowan Gal has dreamed of visiting for what seems like an eternity. An incredibly evocative place for me given the varied snippets and perceptions I’ve picked up about the city throughout the years. A place most Europeans don’t think twice about visiting as it’s just something in their backyard, but for those of us from across the pond it remains mysterious and intriguing.
I always swear I’m going to return to about half of the places I’ve visited, and Istanbul is no exception. Since I really want explore the rest of Turkey I hope that I will be back. But, for this inaugural visit we used the city as a gateway into Eastern Europe rather than as a gateway to a Turkish Adventure.
Once we had our flight into Istanbul reserved we had to decide where to stay. In a city of this size that’s a tough decision and we’d been advised that where you stay can really make or break your visit to Istanbul. In the end, we decided to divide our four night stay and start out with two nights at the Grand Hyatt near Taksim Square and two nights in a small guesthouse in the older part of the city, Sultanhamet.
The metro could have been a metro in any other large city in the world. Multiple languages were spoken and all sorts of people were crammed into each car. Taking the metro from the airport straight to Taksim Square only allowed for a few brief glimpses of the city and so my first real impression of this massive city was on the short walk from Taksim Metro Station to the Hyatt. Just like in the metro, I felt as if I could have been in any other modern metropolis; a flurry of activity as a mix of all sorts of people scurried along about their business. Once settled into our room we were quick to appreciate the view from the hotel room provided a wonderful peek at the famed Bosphorus River and the Asian side off in the distance.
Dinnertime near Taksim Square was our first chance to really feel like we were someplace different and unique. As we made our way down the busy pedestrian street many global brands and stores that we recognized lined the street but also many unfamiliar stores and items for sale.
We made our way up and back and then back for another loop as we tried to figure out how and where to have dinner. With pushy salesmen out in front of each restaurant waving menus in your face and trying to lure you in, it can be intimidating. The same thing happens in San Cristobal along our pedestrian streets but when you live in a place and speak the language it’s just something you can ignore. We gave up trying to find the ‘perfect place’ as that hardly ever works out on the first night in a new place anyway and with that pressure released we managed to get ourselves some dinner semi-successfully and enjoy an evening of people watching on a busy Saturday night.
A Day Trip to Asia
Our decision to find lodging on the west side of the Bosphorus gave us ample opportunity to get a feel for the European side of the city. But that didn’t mean we weren’t curious about the Asian part of the city and to make sure we got over there at least once we eagerly made that our first excursion.
So many ferries cross the river departing and arriving at numerous points on both shores. We really had no clue as to where we were should go on the Asian side so we hopped on the first ferry we came across and landed near a long river boardwalk. Walking for a few hours, stopping several times along the way, we were able to observe how the city dwellers enjoy their Sunday afternoon alongside the water.
As we walked further inland we quickly figured out there was a soccer match as the frenzy of fans grew the further we walked. Then we saw the stadium and Luis wanted to see if we could figure out where to get tickets and/or when the game started. After several semi-failed attempts to communicate with various passerbys, we pieced together that you had to first purchase a club membership for a nominal fee in order to then get tickets to the game and that tickets weren’t very expensive. We even found the place where you could purchase the membership however we learned that the game wasn’t until 8pm. It was only noon and we had big plans to explore another part of the city so decided not to wait around until the evening for the game. For Luis, a big rain-check was created, something that will be quite useful for me once it comes time to talking him into a repeat visit to Turkey!
Ferrying Around Like a Boss
Feeling confident that we’d figured out the ferry and token machine on the way over to Asia we made our way down to the ferry docks with ease. After seeing a few signs and matching the letters up to ferry docks on our map on the other side we were able to hop aboard one that left us fairly close to where we wanted to be in order to continue our tour day’s exploration. Since we had no plans to take one of the more tourist-oriented dinner cruises, the ferry system was a perfect and inexpensive way for us to travel the Bosphorus.
More to come on Istanbul!