CONTRIBUTED BY JESSICA MARIE
During my four day stay in Istanbul, plenty of time was spent in the old city area of Sultanahmet. It is probably the most popular spot for tourists, but once there, it is rather clear why it has gained this status. With plenty of aesthetically pleasing scenery, there is something beautiful to look at in almost any direction.
Most of the shops and restaurants around here have raised prices, so I would steer clear of buying much from here (if you want to buy things, check out the grand and spice bazaars – not the actual bazaars, but the market spots that surround them. These places have decent prices, and if you’re feeling up to it, you can haggle to get an even better deal!). Even the money exchange shops in Sultanahmet seem to have worse rates. I did most of my exchanging in Taksim Square – I found their deals to be the best.
One thing that you must try is the roasted chestnuts that are sold by street vendors. They’re affordable, and a seemingly popular snack in the area. Also, simit! A circular bread (think of a bagel that’s lost some weight) that is covered with sesame seeds. I got one that was filled with a funny smelling cheese, and it was very tasty. You can also get them filled with nutella. I’d recommend getting one with a filling. I’d imagine they’d be a little dry if they were plain. A flavourful drink to try would be salep. We didn’t get one from Sultanahmet, but you could. This dairy drink is supposedly made from orchid root and hot milk. In my opinion, it tastes a lot like a fancy chai tea – cinnamonny and sweet. Yum!
While strolling the streets, you will surely be approached and asked to buy things. The most popular item offered for us was a Bosphorous boat ride tour. If we had more time, I’m sure that we would have looked into doing this, as it has great reviews and seems like a worthy activity; alas, our schedule was cram-packed, so we couldn’t fit it in.
When walking around, there are plenty of photo opportunities! I must have posed in front of the haga sophia at least ten times. It’s simply gorgeous. Make sure to take a happy snap with the fountain in view. Topkapi palace and the basilica cistern are two of the other major attractions in Sultanahmet. These three landmarks are definitely worth a visit if you plan on exploring Istanbul.
Having lived in Sydney, Australia, for basically the entirety of my life, I am always surprised by the amount of stray cats that I encounter during some of my holidays. So far, Istanbul has topped the ranking for kitty cats – and dogs. The felines here are very friendly, and will often come over for a pat and a good sniff. A particularly cheeky one sat on the lap of my boyfriend while he was eating a sujuk sandwich. I don’t blame him – I’d want a piece, too! Most locals are super friendly towards the animals. I saw many shop keepers put out plates of food for their furry friends.
Being in the middle east, the religion of Islam is more popular than you’d see in western cultures. Keeping this in mind, my boyfriend and I chose to tone down the personal displays of affection to respect those around us. I also wore clothing that was fairly modest. Although, it was pretty darn cold, so I wouldn’t have wanted this any other way!
Several times a day, you will hear a sheikh reading from the quran, the call to prayer – for those who don’t know any better, it will just sound like someone singing. It is beamed through megaphones that are attached to the tops of mosques – and there are many, many mosques. If you don’t know Arabic, you will have no idea what is being said. Regardless, I rather enjoyed it, anyway. It feels like a real cultural experience. On our first day, I was awoken at 6AM by this religious ritual, but somehow managed to sleep through it on our second and third mornings. This might be something to keep in mind when booking accommodation.
The old town streets of Istanbul offer something that I have not received while visiting other destinations. Istanbul is part European and part Asian, so there is a great mix of cultural differences. It also has a population of over 14 million. This is something I should have educated myself on before arriving. I was stunned to see how big it is, and how many people there are! It was a welcomed change after living in a reasonably more quiet location in Germany. I would very much have loved to spend more than four days there.