Since we had such an amazing free tour of Istanbul during our brief stop on the way to London, when we spent a couple days on the way back to Kenya we’d already seen most of the sights! This was perfect because it meant we got to focus on wandering around and eating. I am so glad this worked out! We lived taking in the atmosphere and were absolutely blown away by how friendly and hospitable the people were. One night we went to dinner at a restaurant and ordered a bottle of water with our food. When we finished and gathered our stuff to walk out we grabbed the bottle since there was just a bit left in the bottom. The waiter stopped us on the way out, saying “No, please, you must take a full bottle!” and gave us a brand new 1.5L bottle for free. We had just come from London where people are not so… Well, like I said – we were blown away!
We had a great time just wandering the winding streets and enjoying the markets. The atmosphere was so lively, but in a really un-intimidating way. We even rode the underground system around(second oldest in the world, after London!) and found it easy and relaxed to navigate.
The Grand Bazaar was exciting to see – it’s the largest open air covered market in the world, and really old – but since they don’t sell camels and such anymore we really loved the slightly smaller but amazing smelling Spice Bazaar. We spent a long time chatting with the spice sellers, and since we got back to Kenya our new favorite meal has become a chicken dish with Ottoman spices that we picked up here.
This might sound kind of obvious, but Turkish Delight in Turkey is AMAZING. There are so many different kinds, and we had fun trying out and choosing different flavors to buy. And then we ate all of it really quickly and also a bunch of free samples in the airport on the way out and a week later went into serious Turkish Delight withdrawal. It feels like such a guilty pleasure… especially since I associate Turkish Delight with Edmund’s betrayal in the Chronicles of Narnia!
We took a boat on the Bosphorous, the strip of waterway that divides Europe and Asia – the city of Istanbul exists on both sides and in fact most of the country is “in Asia.” Of course according to my Global Human Geography class in college this all depends on how you define Asia, but we’ll roll with it. It was freezing on the boat, but we had a nice time trying to communicate with a Greek couple on their honeymoon. They didn’t speak much English, but they found the words to tell us how much better Greece is, and showed us the pictures on their smartphone to prove it.
We also got this amazing meatballs sandwich for $1 right before we got on the boat, and it was amazing. Google Turkish meatballs – they are famously good, and taste even better after you’ve been wandering around a foreign city all day.
We also picked the right hotel, for sure. They had the most amazing tea service in the afternoon, with so much food that we could have skipped dinner (but we didn’t). There was MORE Turkish delight, Turkish tea, and all sorts of odd and unnamed and delicious treats. We planned our days around the time tea was served.
Overall, there are a lot of great things to do in Istanbul but we recommend you visit even if you just want to hang around and eat. Because that’s mostly what we did! And it was one of the best and most relaxing vacations I’ve ever had.