And so much more…
Fun Istanbul and so much more. Almost a full day traveling, from one city to another, to reach the Bergamo airport. I land in Sabiha Gökçen at about six in the afternoon. I wait in line for over an hour to make the passport control, I run like hell to catch the Havataş bus and undergo the most infernal traffic jams I’ve ever seen in my life. After falling, after having bruised both my legs badly, after being pushed and pushed again like cattle, I get to Taksim at about ten pm. A couple of cups of local tea, just the time to recover, get a taxi and check in at a hotel in Sultanahmet. Finally… it feels like heaven. It took me over 12 hours to reach the desired Istanbul.
East Mediterranean International Tourism and Travel Exhibition.
Finally in the city I had so long dreamed about seeing; this time to attend the EMITT (East Mediterranean International Tourism and Travel Exhibition).
The fair is huge and mostly focused on the local touristic market. As usual, the best outcome of travel fairs are new friends. Very knowledgeable travel guides later will prove most helpful for my visit of the city in such a short spam of time.
Another good result the fair brings are business relations for the continuous growth of our Corporate Services, mostly with Greek touristic bodies (Greece… our endless love!).
After a first day in the fair and another day in the quest of a spiritual city, I see the mosques, the traditional bazaars and markets. I cross the Galata bridge and do all the dish tasting any regular body can possibly bear (… and more!). Now it’s finally time for Fun Istanbul. Time is short, I have to make the most of it!
Short of time? I need help!
Yes, I know you know. This is not the first time I talk about how I love open buses to see a new city. I normally use them when it’s cold, when the city is too big and too rich, and -of course- when time is a limit. This time, the company is Big Bus Istanbul and they are awesome! The service is impeccable, the tour super convenient and it makes me enjoy sights of every day life that I would have otherwise missed. I go for the red line, the best for getting the big picture.
They also propose another route, the blue one. Both leave and finish in Sultanahment. I chose to hop off in Takism, I want to walk in that popular part of the city during the afternoon. Apart from having a second day free (to take the same or a different ride), they offer so many extras, I really feel it was the way to go. What else do I get with my tickets? All buses have WiFi available, you can get a free drink at the Hard Rock Cafe and their free phone app proved very useful. The tickets can be sent directly to your Smartphone, and the maps are very detailed. From the open-top bus I am even able to take pictures while crossing the Bosphorus, pictures otherwise difficult to get. Remember, though… traffic jams in Istanbul are an issue, be ready.
Once in Taksim, off to İstiklâl Caddesi
and from there, anywhere!
I get off the Big Bus in Taksim Square (Taksim Meydanı or Estambeyoğlu), a busy district, heart of the modern city with bars, hotels and restaurants, central metro station of Istanbul. The cosmopolitan atmosphere is clear, it’s there. I have a restoring sahlep to fight against the freezing yet sunny weather. İstiklal Avenue is a melting pot. People come and go between Taksim Square and Tünel, and it’s a Sunday so moving is nearly impossible. Consulates and former embassies populate the avenue, there are restaurants, pubs, patisseries, winehouses, clubs, cinemas, and huge malls. The traditional architecture mixes with lights and modern forms. Not even an hour passes by and I am ready for manti. Istanbul is so inviting in terms of food.
My lunch and some animated conversation with a local guide about the history of the city ignite my need for more. I continue my march down this unique road in wonder. The romantic tram running along the street just adds more atmosphere to the atmosphere. Exquisite Art Nouveau galleries, like the Flower Passage (Çiçek Pasajı) meet Neoclassical buildings. The Flower Passage is sometimes described as a miniature of the Vittorio Emanuele gallery in Milan. In the 1940s, this building was occupied by flower shops, hence its name; now it is a pleasant gallery where to enjoy a drink.
Old time bookstores and souvenir stands are on both sides of the road. İstiklâl Caddesi, an amazing concentration of life. A pedestrian street, less than two kilometers long, which takes me hours to see: that’s how much I loved it; the thousands of shops in the district have attractive windows I simply can’t avoid stopping at. I enter in bookstores… go through books and diaries and – of course – can’t help buying. Crafted diaries, vintage postcards and so many beautiful little mementoes of this unforgettable afternoon.
Once in Tünel, I reach the area of Galata, and from there take a bus to see another face of the city, the night goes on a bit more in Beşiktaş.
Still on the European side of the Bosphorous, Beşiktaş might not be the most famous, nor the place to be in Istanbul yet it was a different face of the city I was thankful to see. Its historic center is Çarşı, a very animated area that looks like a maze of very small streets.
Right before getting into its chaotic night activity, I stop for a street taste of mussels: the best I ever have. Spicy and fresh, I could have a ton.
I cross the busy area of buses that introduce me into the center. There’s a power failure this evening. Huge power units are working on the streets. There is noise and water all over the place. Market vendors of fruit and fish are cleaning their stands. The local football team is engaged in an apparently decisive match. Finding a place for tea and nargile turns into an adventure. Pubs and fish restaurants are crowded tonight. Çarşı reveals to be a magic place to ramble, up and down the narrow streets, among vegetables, fruit and fresh fish.
While faltering about those tiny streets, I recall the departure is just around the corner. And I am having so much fun I don’t really want to think of going back home. But yes, this is when fun starts mixing with melancholy, even if you are still here. It happens every time. There is always a moment in travel when you understand you must go. And you are not fully there any more.
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A hot cup of elma tea, probably the last authentic one (the airport one does not count!) and some nargile: it’s time so sum up, to recall and to draw conclusions. As a mom and as a family travel blogger, there are not many occasions to travel alone, but solo trips are the way I connect with myself. Are the opportunity to travel with my rhythm, and even decide the next moves for family travel.
Bars in a random city, a notebook and me: time to think about future projects. This is what Beşiktaş gave me and what makes it special after all. Every city I visit alone has one of those places full of my solo traveller memories.
In Istanbul, mine was an old, horrible bar in a corner of Beşiktaş. With the best tea, the best tobacco and the most incredible memories.
If you are short of time or if you visit Istanbul as a weekend getaway, getting in touch with a local tourist guide could be the way to go. Tourism is a fast-developing business in the country and thousand of young people get a diploma as tourist guides, eager to get a freelance job. I met two of them and I am happy to suggest you to contact them if you want to see the city through the eyes of a local. Just send me an e-mail and I will give you all the details to get in touch.