There is so much to say about Istanbul and I feel as if I could write 10 more posts just from our 3 day trip. So I apologize in advance for the pace and length of this post. I decided to put our final day – all of it – into one big, picture filled post! Enjoy . .
For our last day in Istanbul Scott and I thought it would be perfect to explore the Anatolian, or Asian, side of the city. Istanbul is the only city in the world to span two continents – Europe on one side and Asia on the other with the Bosphorus Strait in between.
Scott’s sister Heidi has a friend named Serkan who is from Turkey! So before we left he was so kind and sent us a list of things to do and places to go. One of them included us eating under the Galata Bridge (as mentioned in my last post) and it was definitely a highlight. Many of the things we did that final day in Istanbul were from his list – and our experience would not have been as rich if it weren’t for his recommendations! But that is only what is to come later in this post – before we started that adventure we began our morning early at the Turkish bath, or Hamami. We chose to go to the Cemberlitas Hamami because it was within walking distance from our hotel and was in the mid-range in terms of price.
That’s me leaving the Hamami all refreshed and relaxed (too bad the guy behind me kind of ruined the picture – oh well!). I have to admit that both Scott and I did not know what to expect from a Turkish bath but we knew it was something we wanted to experience. Basically its a public bath house (and they range from really cheap and run down to elaborate and lavish – ours was in the middle). The rooms are separated for men and women. When you enter you pay and are given a key to a locker. You change – for women at this place they provide you with a towel, underwear, and a washcloth – for men only a towel. I have heard that the towels are small but for me and Scott we were able to cover up just fine.
Once changed and inside a woman lead me to an open, domed room with a marble slab in the middle. Everything is steamy and heated and the woman told me to just relax and lay on the heated marble for 15 minutes and she’d come back. Everything is open and everyone is around. Thankfully when we went in the morning it was not crowded. There were only 5 other women in the bath house with me. It was really relaxing being on the heated marble doing nothing but relaxing and listening to the echos of this place. The Cemberlias Hamami was built in 1584 and you can just feel the history surround you – or maybe the steam was just getting to me : ) I just kept thinking – wow, I’m in Istanbul right now.
After relaxing the woman came back and began to wash me. There is a scrub that literally takes away a layer of skin and then she washes it away with sudsy soap and finishes with oils and a massage. My skin has never felt so soft – like a baby. I had that silky skin for a couple days as well! If I lived in Turkey I would make this a regular thing. The woman then proceeded to wash my hair. I felt so pampered and I found it really enjoyable. There is a small heated pool only on the women’s side that I decided to relax in before leaving – I just had to soak in the experience and that place.
As a side note: We of course decided to tip and the woman I had was excellent. For the men, however, Scott said that they were really pushy with the tips – something I didn’t have to deal with on the female side.
Of course I could not take pictures of this experience, so you have to check out the pictures form their website gallery. You might have to click on menu and then gallery to access. My favorite picture of the inside is this one. Needless to say our day was off to quite a relaxing start . . .
After relaxing that morning we decided to head to the Blue Mosque (pictured above) before catching a boat to Anatolia. Unlike the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque is a functioning mosque meaning that as a non-Muslim we can visit in between prayer times. So if you are planning of visiting be sure to check the prayer times before to know when you can visit. This mosque really is incredible. The architecture is just breathtaking . . .
This mosque got the name Blue Mosque because of all the blue tiles inside. It’s really something. The entire inside is made up of small tiles and mosaics. Here, take a look . . .
At this point our morning had turned into the afternoon and we were ready to head to the Anatolian side of Istanbul for some lunch. Serkan recommended that we try a Turkish dish called Manti and the best place to get Manti was a small restaurant called Sayla. So, we took a ferry boat across the Bosphorus Strait and with a map I had drawn we successfully – and surprisingly – found Sayla! We took the public ferry and it only cost $1.50!! It was so nice being out on the water, taking in the views of both sides of Istanbul. The weather was cool and the breeze from the boat kept us awake and excited.
We really enjoyed the Anatolian side. It seems to be more local people just going about their business. We loved that it wasn’t touristy and you could blend right in with the city life.
By this time Scott and I were pretty hungry so we were glad to find Sayla without any problems.
This small restaurant only had, at the most, ten tables and it was so relaxing. I love finding local places where no one speaks English and Sayla was one of those places. The people who ran it were incredibly nice and even though there was a language barrier they welcomed us and made sure we were enjoying our time. We first ordered a pastry-type pocket filled with seasoned ground beef – it doesn’t look like much but it was full of flavor. The pastry was crispy but not oily and the beef was moist and seasoned just right.
After this delicious dish (which I sadly don’t remember the name of), we ordered the Manti! Manti is like a beef dumpling/ravioli and it comes covered in a yogurt and butter sauce. At first we thought it sounded kinda of strange (because of the yogurt sauce) but the flavors blended perfectly – if only we hadn’t found this meal on our last day! It was very filling as well. We only ordered one Manti plate to share but they divided it into two bowls for us and even gave us a little extra – like I said the guys who work there were extremely welcoming.
Now doesn’t that just look delectable!! Mmm wish I had some right now! Well we finished this meal off with some Turkish tea and decided it was time to get us some Turkish coffee . . .
Serkan said that a coffee shop called Fazil Bey, also on the Anatolian side, was the best place in Istanbul to get a cup of Turkish coffee – and once again he was right!! We strolled around some of the back streets until we found it. The area that Fazil Bey is in is full of life and spirit. The coffee shop was packed and if people weren’t already sitting down to enjoy a cup while talking with friends, than they were ordering some to go while quickly jutting down the street. We found a table on the second floor right by the window looking down over the alley and had a great time people watching.
Scott enjoyed his Turkish coffee while I sipped my Turkish tea . . .
We got to experience more Turkish hospitality on our way out: While leaving Scott noticed that they had quite a few Turkish coffee pots hanging around and asked if he could buy one. The man who worked there did not know a lot of English but a college student sitting nearby stood right up and offered to translate for us. He said that he was studying English while in University. Both men were so kind. The man who worked at the shop sold us one of the coffee pots but then proceeded to show us how to make the perfect cup of Turkish coffee walking us through it step by step with the kind college student translating. We bought a bag of Turkish coffee and walked away from Fazil Bey with smiles on our face. If we lived in Istanbul I’m sure we’d be regulars there!
It was time to head back to the European side of Istanbul. From here we watched the sky fade from shades of blue to grey while waiting for our ferry boat.
While cruising back to the European side we got a good glimpse at the Bosphorus Bridge all lit up:
But of course our night didn’t end here. We then took a Tram to a newer part of the city where there is a lot of shopping. Again we took a recommendation from Serkan and visited Mado – a place known for its ice cream and desserts. And if you know me you know I love my desserts; so this was a must! The ice cream is served in slices and is eaten with a fork. It’s a thicker, creamier ice cream. I ordered a sample of three – vanilla, chocolate, and pistachio – and it came with a cute little piece of buttery baklava. Scott ordered a crisp dessert which came with a slice of vanilla. The place was really nicely decorated and being there with our sliced ice cream made us feel (but not quite look) posh.
Sadly that brings us to the end of our adventures in Istanbul. The city seems almost endless and we only scratched the surface of all it has to offer. Each area has its own character and charm making it easy to wander and happily get lost. The people we met were more than friendly and each place full of hospitality. I don’t know if we will ever make it back to Istanbul, but I secretly hope we find ourselves strolling its ancient streets again.