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We have big dreams for Pedestrian Travel. The idea of stepping off a plane in any country in the world to be guided by Pedestrian-trusted friends and local pop culture personalities on what to see and do, where to stay, drink, party and eat feels like a good focus for the business. Am I right? 

Six weeks ago, I was ‘planning a trip overseas in the next 12 months’ like an astonishing percentage of you (81% is the number gleaned from our recent Pedestrian Readership Survey). In an attempt to rewind the clock, ease my holiday blues and contribute to our soon-to-drop Pedestrian travel apps, I will be showcasing my recommendations on how to spend your valuable time away. 

Our European itinerary was lovingly prepared by Caitlin, or “Hawky” (my better half). To get up to speed on the trip thus far check out our 24 hour stopover in Singapore. 

A few things to note before getting off the plane to Istanbul:

If you’re planning on remaining European beach-ready, stay on the plane. Baklava, Turkish delight, meze platters, Nutella bagels, cheesy pastries and juicy kebabs are going to be your downfall. Don’t stress about the recent riots, the international media blew it a little out of proportion. Don’t let any Turk near your head-hair or nipples with his loofah. You need to spend at least one night in the old city and one night in the new city. Taken was just a movie. If you’re anything like me, you may need to repeat that last one a few times.

What follows, through an intense three days of cultural activities (mum would be proud) are our recommendations on exploring the incredible Istanbul. Let’s start with the old town where we spent two nights.

OLD CITY


STAY

Ayasofya Hotel – Mid

Ayasofya Hotel is simple, charming and quaint. It’s located a few cobblestone streets from all of the below recommended places to see and do. You’re going to want to surround yourself with tradition when experiencing the old city to its fullest. 

On arrival, seek out the lovely Melbourne-born hotel owner, Gaye Reeves (pictured below). She will be your adopted mum in Istanbul and ensure your experience is as incredible as ours. Most of the sights in the old town are close enough to be explored by foot. They are located in and around Sultanahmet Square. 


EAT – Street food


Turkish kebab stalls are everywhere! A great option for lunch on the go.

Fresh orange and pomegranate juices are a must when walking around in the heat all day. These puppies are the only healthy option in Istanbul. Stock up. One Turkish Lira is the cheapest we found (the equivalent of AUS $0.55).

Turkish bakery stalls are also everywhere. Good for a quick snack in between mosque-hopping. The bagels filled with Nutella were our favourite.

Turkish sweets – Prior to Istanbul I had never even heard of Baklava. Hawk was obsessed and attempted to try more than ten different varieties of the stuff. 

Turkish delight – Mmmm, rose-flavoured sugary goodness. It’s about now you start to regret everything you’ve consumed in Istanbul. I just looked up the obesity rate in Turkey… Only 12% compared to 22% in Australia. How is that possible?

EAT (OLD TOWN) – Dining

Akbiyik Cd & Canturkaran Mt – Only a few minutes walk from the Blue Mosque these two intersecting streets are lively and filled with fantastic dining options. Be prepared to be hassled by persistent spruikers doing and saying anything to convince you their restuarant is the best. Find a restaurant that doesn’t look too touristy and that has a rooftop – some have views over to the other side of the Bosphorus.

Order one of these mouth watering Istanbul appetisers… meze.

Pandeli was an Anatolian Greek who came to the city and opened his restaurant in 1901. It’s famous for its quality food and clientele. Pandeli restaurant was recommended to us by a few people. It’s found right at the end of the Egyptian Spice Bazaar.

The entire restaurant is covered in incredible blue tiles. The stairway up pictured below.

Service was amazing. Try and get a window seat looking out over the Bosphorus. 

Food was super tasty. We ordered the slow cooked lamb shoulder…

And fresh grilled white fish. We literally couldn’t move after this meal. I highly recommend before jumping on a cruise down the Bosphorus (it’s about 50 metres from the ferry port).

SEE AND DO – OLD CITY

Turkish Hamam  Gaye (Istanbul mum) told us that Kadirga wasn’t the fanciest Hamam in Istanbul, but rather the most popular local Hamam. It has been a Turkish bath since 1505. Heading into a place like this you’re are going to want to feel reassured they know what they’re doing.

We were greeted by the guy below on the left. He then introduced me to the guy on the right who would be “giving me my bath”. I politely smiled… At this point you’re probably going to think you could do without a Hamami today. The below picture doesn’t put this hairy beast of a man in proportion. I’ll try to describe the events which followed in detail so you know what you’re getting yourself into. 

I was given a towel and some plastic slippers and directed into one of the open doors (pictured above). Here’s where it gets awkward. These guys don’t speak a word of English (this place was the real deal) and through extravagent hand gestures you’ll assume you need to get naked and reappear with just your towel and flip flops. Correct.

I sheepishly presented myself to find that Hawky had been “taken”… upstairs to the female area. You’re then led into the Hamami. A huge, white, pristine marble room with doorways to other hot rooms and told to wait here for your scrub. I was the only one in there and while it was incredibly beautiful, I was on edge. Awaiting an enormous strange man to scrub me head to toe wasn’t my idea of relaxing. 

About half an hour passes. The rooftop beers you’ve consumed prior to deciding a Hamami was on the immediate agenda are suddenly not feeling like such a wise choice. The room is hot. You’re gasping for air. It’s far hotter than the seaside Icebergs sauna you’re acquainted to. You start to feel dizzy and picture the many Hamami murder scenes which have occurred in the history of cinema and conclude your time is up. Did I mention I’m claustrophobic? 

The loud sounds of dripping water are interrupted by a slamming door. A dark shadow enters the Hamami. You’re waved over to the first of many shower cubicles and asked to sit down. I think to thank this giant for a fantastic steam and end it now. I persevere. He straps on a loofah tight around his abnormally sized hand and begins to scrub your naked body. It was painful, and incredibly pleasant when he stopped. You’re then signalled over to a hard marble bench where your massage will begin. You laugh to yourself at the positions you find yourself in likening them to being wrapped up and man-handled by a wild, hairy grizzly bear. It’s certainly unique. The massage goes on for what seems like an eternity. He’s strong. He smiles and communicates that it’s finished and to meet him back in the shower cubicle. He rinses you off gently. It’s over. Thank Christ. 

I was all smiles when it finished (a little balder with bleeding nipples) and strangely enjoyed the experience. 

I was reunited with my Hawk and a cup of Turkish tea. Her experience was completely different. Her scrub was conducted by a naked bohemith of a woman with boobs down to her knees. She described the nifty use of said breasts to fasten her head while her scalp was massaged. She had an audience of two other naked Swedish tourists. I was in the wrong room.

Below: Me bruised and battered. 

10 points in the comments section below to tell us which famous actor this guy looks like… We can picture him but can’t find him on Google… It’s uncanny.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque – Known as the Blue Mosque – It’s the kind that will make you feel closer to the man upstairs and consider blue tiles on your next home rennovation. It’s architecture is amazing. Why don’t people build with the incredible detail they used to?

If you can’t be bothered (it is free entry) with the line either a.) pretend you’re part of the tour group at the front of the line or b.) add the below snap to your camera roll and move on.

There are some strictly enforced dress codes. See below – in short, girls require a head scarf and guys require over-knee pants.

Hagia Sophia A short stroll from the Blue Mosque and you’ll find Hagia Sophia. Once a church, later a mosque, and now a museum. Construction dates back to 537. Definitely worth the AUS $10 entry.

Basilica Cistern lies beneath Istanbul and was built to store a shitload of water during the reign of byzantine Emperor Justinian. I guess water is that important. 

Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. It attracts up to 400,000 visitors daily. I wasn’t really in the market for fake LV or shiny gold bits and bobs. Next.  

Egyptian Spice Bazaar has great cashew nuts. Check it out on the way to Pandeli.

Buy a Turkish rug – I felt bad that all of the rugs that suddenly appeared would need to be rolled back up and returned. The Turkish rugs are beautiful so definitely worth checking out.

Take a cruise down the Bosphorus  We took a two hour cruise down the Bosphorus. It didn’t cost much and is a highly recommended thing to do. I’d go as far to say it was my favourite of all of the things we saw or did. This put the size of Istanbul in perspective and introduced us for the first time to the newer side of the city. We passed multiple castles, palaces, day clubs and historical monuments.

I also made some new friends 😉

Kings Landing?

NEW CITY

You’re over mosque-hopping. It’s now time to get back to civilisation and experience the best of Istanbul art, bars and clubs. 

STAY

Tomtom Suites

Member of Small Luxury Boutique Hotels of the world, Tomtom Suites is the perfectly located hotel (just off istiklal main shopping street in a quiet lane) to enjoy the lively atmosphere that surrounds. 20 tasteful suites, a rooftop terrace with spectacular panoramic views, pillow menu, turndown and exceptional service… Welcome back to the 21st century!

The rooms are enormous and incredibly comfortable. The bathrooms equiped with jacuzzi jets are completely white marble which felt decadent. The local art that’s showcased throughout the hotel was also a nice touch.

As you’d expect from a luxury hotel, the breakfast was redic. I’m not a coffee drinker myself, but Hawky just yelled out to note that Turkish coffee is an acquired taste, so here you’ll receive your first barista-made coffee in days!

EAT

Dai Pera – Right around the corner from Tomtom Suites is one of the best new “local food” restaurants in Beyoglu called Dai Pera. Think Turkish home-cooking and traditional cuisine made from the freshest, best-quality ingredients from the various regions of Turkey. 

We sipped on local rose and ate cheese platters, delicious Turkish ravioli and orgasmic zucchini with crumbed almonds. We had a moment here. A perfect date in Istanbul.

PARTY

360 Istanbul – Literally five minutes walk from Tomtom Suites. An amazing rooftop bar and club with 360 degree views. Must visit on Friday/Saturday night.

It’s worth arriving to watch the sunset over Istanbul. The below pics were taken by Sashah Anton Khan.

Below are a few places on the Bosphorus that were recommended, which we didn’t have time to visit.

Suada Club – A “social facility” located on an island in the middle of the Bosphorus (165m from shore). Access via boat, Suada has a pool, nightclub and six restaurants for the pretty people. Apparently very exy.

Anjelique – Three story mansion on the Bosphorus. Nightclub located on top floor. 

Reina – If it’s good enough for Bon Jovi, Kylie Minogue, U2, Uma Thurman and Daniel Craig, it’s probably worth a look.

SEE AND DO (New City)

Pera Museum

Istanbul Modern – Modern art. Suss out what’s on before going. If you have to, choose Istanbul Modern over Pera Museum.

Would you believe me if I told you the below meal was on offer, buffet style at Istanbul airport? Definitely the best airport food I’ve ever come across. Look out for TurCuisine if your belly isn’t on show at your next destination.

I feel sick.

Next stop Paris!