Travels in Istanbul: Neighborhoods and Fast Friends

A city of 16 million people stretched over two continents is going to have a lot of different neighborhoods; touristy ones and working class ones, ones that come to life at night and others filled with middle and upper class professionals. Istanbul has them all, and we were lucky enough to be able to see a lot in our two week visit. We were also lucky enough to get to visit some of them with a couple from London, Rob and Amanda, that we met on a tour of Pamukkale when we visited Antalya. They said they were going to visit Istanbul next, so we made plans to meet up.

We met up for dinner and after sharing a bunch of Turkish foods, took a taxi to the Galeta neighborhood, which surrounds the famous Galeta Tower. We arrived in the late evening, and the streets were loud and filled with happy revelers.

We tried to go up the tower, but it was closed, so we found a pub around the corner, and wound up playing darts and talking with a friendly Turk named Memet, who was a journalist and historian. We talked and drank beers for a few hours, before wandering the streets, a bit tipsy, and then finding a taxi to take us back to our hotel.

The next day was raining, although as Rob and Amanda only had a few days, they wanted to do a Bospourous boat tour, so we went along. We were lucky that the rain stopped before the boat ride; we found four seats on the middle deck at the very back of this four level boat, so we could see everything. We boarded near the Suleymaniye Mosque and Spice Bazaar, at the very busy Eminönü station.

Set Sail!

The sun came out, we were able to see the whole city under the bright sunlight, appreciate the turquoise blue water, and even saw a bunch of dolphins! It was a great boat trip (much better, and cheaper, than the one Jesse and I took, by ourselves, at sunset a couple days later).

We decided to exit the boat on the Anatolian Side (or Asian side) of Istanbul, in the Üsküdar neighborhood. We walked along the waterfront for a while, then found the subway (our first Istanbul experience with public transport, and it is great) and took the subway to the Kadıköy neighborhood. We walked around a while, before finding a beer and burger place to eat some dinner, passing by Fenerbahçe stadium, one of three Turkish league soccer teams (Galatasaray and Beşiktaş are the others).

Fenerbahçe stadium

Kadıköy is a huge neighborhood, so after a long walk, the day turned to night and we finally reached the happening part of Kadıköy. We saw a bunch of guys and gals with died black hair in all black (or mostly black) clothes, and Rob and Amanda, who are metalheads, were right at home, as there was a metal festival going on! We found a bar, sat outside and had some drinks, as the lively night became livelier.

We also became hungry, so found a Turkish restaurant, ate some more good Turkish food (Turkish food is great, even after eating it for 90% of our month stay in Turkey), then found a cab to take us back to the European side of Istanbul, using the tunnel that runs underneath the Bosporus.

After a much needed sleep-in morning, we met Rob and Amanda for their last day in Istanbul. They wanted to see Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sofia, which are next to each other, and since we had seen neither yet, we came along for the ride. I talk about Topkapi Palace in detail in this post, and after we finished there we had just enough time to make it to the Hagia Sofia. It was packed as it was early in the afternoon on a Monday (almost every museum is closed on Tuesday, so Mondays are busy days), but we made it inside with just enough time to spare before they had to leave for their flight.

Hagia Sofia with sunlight shining through

We walked around quickly, but I did hear a guide tell someone that nighttime was the best time to visit the Hagia Sofia, a tidbit I remember for later (when Jesse and I returned to the Hagia Sofia late night). After a bit we left and said goodbye to Rob and Amanda, hopefully not for too long!

Jesse and I also planned a walking tour of Istanbul, but since we pushed that back a few days (since it was raining) we changed it to a Turkish breakfast experience instead. We ate (and ate and drank a lot of tea) with Utku, a former programmer with Airbnb in San Fransisco, who told us all about Istanbul, and took us to a great breakfast place in the Beşiktaş neighborhood.

Afterwards we walked a bit around this happening and busy neighborhood. We saw the Beşiktaş, Stadium, and in the center of the middle picture you can see the team’s raven statue. We even found a comic book shop, where we purchased a couple graphic novels, written in Turkish, about two of our favorite musicians, Leonard Cohen and Woody Guthrie!

Another day, after a visit to the Rumeli Fortress, we walked through the posh seaside neighborhoods of Bebek and Arnavutköy. Arnavutköy is famous for its pastel colored buildings, that face the sea. Jesse and I stopped for iced coffees at a cafe that was right next to a famous American coffee chain, and they were much better at the hip Turkish cafe than we ever had at the American one.

Arnavutköy Pastel Homes

Another evening after our trip to the Princes’ Islands we found ourselves, after leaving the Kabataş station (which was our most visited public transit station, as it connected the tram, buses, funicular and boat), we found ourselves looking for a dinner spot. The place I found was only a seven minute walk, however it was uphill (and we should’ve taken the funicular).

After our best Turkish food meal while in Turkey we walked to nearby Taksim Square, which is where all the cool kids (and tourists) hang out, and there is a large statue dedicated to Turkish workers, the performing arts center and a huge mosque, along with fancy hotels and lots of shopping.

We had been wanting to see a music concert for a long time, as that is one of our favorite things to do, but covid put a damper on that. We saw a poster for a singer named Chet Faker, who had a familiar sounding name (why? well, its a play on Chet Baker, and I had heard his music before on KCRW, our local radio station back in LA). He was performing at the Zorlu Performing Arts Center, so we bought tickets, took the tram to the train and after a confusing walk, we were at the venue.

A band was performing outside as we arrived; we made our way inside, down a couple escalators, and onto the concert floor. It was awesome to be amongst so many other people standing, awaiting the performer to come onstage. There was an energy I had missed about being amongst people ready to dance at a concert. Chet Faker put on a lively and energetic show, with a changing screen behind him providing visual accompaniment to his singing and playing of keyboards and guitar.

The venue is part of a new mall, with multiple levels, fancy eateries and high end stores; in this new business and living district we were amongst many high rises and the streets were not easily walk-able; this could have been in Los Angeles and not have noticed a difference (except the language). We had a great time but instead of trying to traverse the difficult walk back to the train we took a taxi back; there was a waiting line and we were lucky to find an honest taxi driver who charged us the correct fare.

There are so many other areas we did not even get to visit, and neighborhoods all with their own unique charm in this wonderful city. It left us wanting more, and hopefully on our next visit we can be joined by more friends, as we had a great time with Rob and Amanda. It is such fun getting to travel and meet new people and share experiences, and it made our trip to Turkey even more unforgettable!

Published by Phil Barrington

Currently living in Spain, Accountant by Day, Writer by Night. Lover of baseball, travel ,and spreadsheets. Check out my blog:

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