Istanbul was a last minute thing for us, a Change of plans caused by our month long stay in an AirBnb in Bulgaria that went sour. (Story is posted on the forum) I take these kinds of occurrences as signs if you will. A sign that maybe something better is possible. So this is how we ended up on the Night Train To Istanbul from Sofia.
While I knew that the Sultahnamet District was touristy it also has the distinction of being the one place in Instanbul that puts you in walking distance to most of the major sights and that is why we chose it to stay there. I like to walk a city and in the case of Istanbul I was most interested in the historical center.
Sirkeci is fine if you like to walk uphill to everything (but at least it’s downhill to home) and it is extremely busy, chaotic and traffic choked much more so than Sultahnamet.
If you are on your way to Turkey or just Istanbul then please give serious consideration to reading almost anything by Orhan Pamuk before you go. If I was to read only one book by him about Istanbul it would be My Name Is Red Perhaps the best novel I have ever read and one so interesting in it’s construction and development that it pulls you in right away to an ancient murder mystery narrated turn by turn by a series of different narrators, it is a jewel for sure. The first chapter is narrated by a corpse at the bottom of a well...he was the victim. And it goes from there.
Istanbul is familiar to me from having lived in Egypt for two years in 1988 and ‘89. Turkish incorporates more than a few Arabic words, and shares Islam, some of the Food and the feel. So I felt at home really although the places and people are very different.
Be sure to visit the Blue Mosque and take time to read the panels in the courtyard that explain Islam. I have read the Q’uran (twice) and lived in Egypt, traveled throughout what we call “the Middle East and I still learned some things from this experience. Note: the interior of the Mosque is being renovated and is partially blocked from view but is still worth it. Please dress appropriately. If not you will be loaned things to cover up with at the entrance,
I found the Archeology Museum wonderful ( and it too is under renovation) especially the Museum of the Ancient Orient which is part of the larger Archeology Museum. Be prepared to be astounded if you are a lover of history and civilizations of the past.
My least favorite sight was Topkapi Palace. I made the mistake of going on a Sunday and it was mobbed. But the Kitchens of the Palace were to me the best and most informative. Culture is often accessed through food and manners and this is the place to see how those things changed over time. It is also the one place that can explain the downfall of this great ottoman culture most clearly. Any palace that had to have 1,300 workers in the kitchens just to feed the occupants of the palace and it’s visitors was a system that was doomed by it’s sheer weight. It is also evident that acquiring food alone was reason enough for the Ottoman Empire to expand into the fertile farmland of what is now the Ukraine and Crimea.
Hagia Sophia was a wonder and worth every minute spent in its vast breathtaking interior. Watch the movie that is played at the end of the entrance hall...to the left as you enter. And Be sure to go to the Gallery (a fairly easy climb)
Eating: Istanbul is a city for food. It is everywhere on every street and while Sultahnamet is touristy there are very good restaurants, kebab stalls and all other kinds of street food available here. We had a couple of favorites; we ate dinner twice at *Deraliye Ottoman Cuisine” and lunch 3 times at The Pudding Shop...not because it was famous as a hippie hangout in the 60’s but because the food was very good, it had the coldest beer in town and the friendliest staff. It was also a great bargain and close by.