By Waheeda Harris
This ancient city bridges both European and Asian continents, offering up a distinct culture that loves its coffee, carpets, antiquities and revels in taking time to enjoy time for conversation and dominoes.
Where to Stay
Located in a renovated four storey mansion near Taksim Square and the contemporary shopping area, is the recently opened House Hotel Galatsaray. Originally built in the 1890s, this stylish accommodation features a lively rooftop bar open each evening. For those wanting a simple accommodation in the heart of the old district, the Hotel Constantine is located a stone’s throw from the major sites, easy access to the local transit and offers complimentary breakfast buffet for guests each morning.
What to Do
Spend time in the old city touring the sites – start at the Hagia Sophia, a former cathedral and mosque, and now a museum celebrating the Byzantine and Ottoman influences, architecture and artifacts. Across the way is the Sultanahmet Camii also known as the Blue Mosque, a fixture of the city skyline; down the street is the luxurious Topkapi Palace, the original home of the Ottoman rulers. Shoppers should be prepared for the extensive Grand Bazaar, filled with a myriad of options: clothing, shoes, leather goods, jewellery, books and souvenirs, while the Egyptian Spice Bazaar offers up tasty savoury treats, fresh squeezed juices, pungent Turkish coffee and an endless array of lokum. For those looking for modern boutiques, head to the Istiklal Caddesi, aka Independence Avenue near Taksim Square for stylish Euro fashions and accessories.
What to Eat
Street food is king in Istanbul – whether its simit, a local bread, pide, stuffed with meat or cheese or lokum, sweet temptations such as sugar coated Turkish delight or honey-soaked baklava. For meat lovers, there are several types of kebab made from beef or lamb and accompanied by garlic-laden hummus, grilled hot peppers, and pita bread. Definitely make time for a fresh-grilled fish sandwich off the boats along the Bosphorus harbour or be treated like a sultan, dining at a low table surrounded by piles of floor pillows and a ready supply of strong Turkish coffee or tea as soon as you’re seated.
Images: courtesy of the Turkish Culture and Tourism Office