The particularly problematic part of the pick and pan process is that I often can’t recollect my pans unless they’re so completely hideous that they’ve scarred me into recollecting them. Picks are much easier, as my brain tends to easily recall the names of restaurants and venues that I enjoy.
Piet and I have collaborated so that if any of you readers happen to find yourselves in Istanbul, you’ll have some destinations to put on your “must see/do list” as well as some things to avoid.
First, since I want to end on a positive note, we’ll start with pans.
- public toilets…occasionally requiring squatting, rarely very sanitary looking, and your shoes will most likely get wet
- taxis. They’re good if you’re into that adrenaline rush you get when watching Final Destination, where you’re on the edge of your seat, teeth clenched, anticipating death, but not quite knowing when it’ll actually happen. Otherwise, avoid at all cost. Public transport is very easy and gets you to many of the places that are interesting to see throughout the city.
- guided tour of Dohlmabace Palace. The palace itself is all “opulence, I has it” and normally I’d’ve been more than happy to see it, but you have to go on the guided tour of it and that made it, in my opinion, not worth doing. The tour guides aren’t easy to hear and the groups they take through are so large that staying in your own group can become confusing. Also, as with any guided tour, you’re sort of herded along at the guide’s pace (or the pace of the shrill British chick behind you who seems more interested in being at the front of the group than actually looking at the palace) so you can’t stop to really look at things you might actually be interested in. Also, they only have a squatting toilet. I much preferred being able to wander at our own leisure through Topkapi Palace.
- Kahve Dühnyasi. Or as I affectionately began calling it “Turkish Starbucks,” was a pit stop we took on our first evening in Istanbul when it first began to dawn on me how uncomfortable it is to be 25 weeks pregnant and reliant on foreign public transport. It’s a very pretty chain of coffee/ice cream shops but tastewise it falls flat on its face. I’m not a huge fan of Starbucks (in comparison to say, Seattle’s Best), but Starbucks is far superior to Kahve Dühnyasi and despite being a foreign chain, the prices are comparable, with Starbucks being of a higher quality.
There were some other things I wasn’t keen on and a lot of the local lokansi (cafeteria style eateries) food inevitably gave me raging heartburn, but that’s more a personal thing as Piet had no complaints about the food. Neither one of us loves the sales guys in the bizaars and pushy restaurant guys that try to coerce you into their restaurants, but when it comes to Istanbul, that’s just the nature of the beast, so I can hardly pan it.
Our picks (see, here I can give restaurant names… living in a burgundian region of Europe has turned me into a half assed foodie):
- Istanbul by water. Piet really liked seeing the city from the water when we took a ferry from the European to the Asian side of Turkey. He mentioned that we should’ve done the all day tour of the Bosphorous. I occasionally get seasick on slow moving boats, but I can agree, doing a day on the sea would’ve been nice.
- bizaars. These can be fun, and I guess everyone goes to the Grand Bizaar and the Spice Bizaar, but I’d actually recommend checking out the smaller bizaar area streets surrounding the Blue Mosque. I didn’t even realize there were shops on the other side of the mosque until we went in search of a restaurant in the area. The shops are less chincy and I, at least, felt much less hassled than I did in the other two bizaars.
- Asitane Restaurant. Not the easiest place to get to (see aforementioned cab ride of certain doom), but fabulous, fantastic food. For a shared appetizer, two main dishes, two desserts and tea, the bill came to less than 130 lira, which is about 60€ total and you can’t find a restaurant in Belgium with the quality of food we ate for that price. The dishes are all taken from Ottoman recipes from the different sources throughout Turkey and are recreated using ingredients from the areas of the original recipes. Culturally and culinarily, this restaurant was hands down the best, most authentic meal of our trip.
And there you have it. Again, there were some other restaurants we liked a lot, but I picked one that I really think anyone who has the means and is in Istanbul should go out of their way to try. There are also some sights that I think everyone sees while in Istanbul (Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, Taksim Square) so while yes, they’re good to see, I wouldn’t place any of them above the other things available to do here.
The only other advice I can give is that if you decide to come to Istanbul when you’re in the last third of your pregnancy, try to make sure your living accomodations are not on a steep hillside. Great for your glutes, but it’s not a pleasant hike to get to the tram line every morning. Also, try to book a place that offers some things to do in the place itself. Cause sometimes you really just need a day of staying in with your feet up and that’s hard to do when all you’ve got to watch is several hundred channels all in a foreign language (aside from English), most of which are teaching some form of Islam or Christianity, with the exception of news channels and porn.
And with that said, I’m going to go pry Piet away from watching Libya’s official national channel (not joking, he managed to find it) so that we can get a good night sleep before out flight home tomorrow.