Istanbul: I Only Have
Two Days To See Everything!

Where would you go if you had only two days to explore a city? Shopping in London? Museum hopping in Paris? People watching in Rome?

Perhaps even to a Helsinki sauna...

Having recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Turkey, covering five towns in ten days, I have made my choice: Istanbul in autumn, where the feel of summer still lingers in the air. Here, then, is the I Only Have Two Days To See Everything! itinerary for Istanbul...

Tea and pogaça...

Whichever Istanbul neighbourhood you happen to wake up in, there is bound to be a bakery close by, and there's nothing quite like tea and pogaça for breakfast.

The tea is served, not in a mug, but in the ubiquitous lidless hourglass, and the pogaça is the larger, early-morning version of the cheese-filled pastry generally offered at afternoon teatime. You can always add some of the other components of a traditional Turkish breakfast -sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, olives, and kasar cheese- to give yourself energy for the long day ahead.

Your journey starts in the neighbourhood of Eminönü, on the southern side of the Galata Bridge.

A number of booths offer "Turkish Viagra", a reportedly potent mix of figs and walnuts...

From here, the streetcar takes you directly to the courtyard across from Istanbul University. On your left is the Beyazid Mosque, built by Sultan Beyazid II in the years 1500-1505; the Sultan himself is buried on the grounds. Directly before you is the Sahaflar Çarsisi, the second-hand book bazaar attached to the Grand Bazaar, and one of the oldest markets in Istanbul. None other than Roch Carrier, internationally-renowned Quebec author of La guerre, yes sir! and Le chandail de hockey (The Hockey Sweater), recently published a small chapbook in honour of the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Antiquarian Book Fair, detailing his adventures finding, and endlessly bargaining for, a literary treasure in the Sahaflar Çarsisi.

One of the more original shops to visit in the Grand Bazaar is Deli Kizin Yeri (, the Crazy Lady's Place, founded by an American ex-patriot who has permanently relocated to Turkey. This shop specializes in Anatolian-inspired gifts, including toys and kitchenware, that are easily packable in already - crowded suitcases. Many of the items feature traditional oya, intricate lace work made in villages across Turkey.


Deli Kizin Yeri

A short walk away you come upon the Misir Çarsisi, or Egyptian Bazaar, also known as the Spice Bazaar. This bazaar is about two hundred years younger than the oldest parts of the Grand Bazaar. Back in the 15th Century, Egyptians used to sell their spices here, and the bazaar still features an amazing variety of spices, dried fruits and nuts, teas, sweets, honeycombs and aphrodisiacs from Turkey, Egypt, Iran and many other countries. A number of booths offer "Turkish Viagra", a reportedly potent mix of figs and walnuts, and each booth offers samples of its wares, so that in walking through the twists and turns of the bazaar, you can almost eat a complete meal.

Following the bazaars, the I Only Have Two Days To See Everything! itinerary offers you two options:

In the neighbourhood of the bazaars are the Aya Sofya Museum, the Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque, among other historical buildings and monuments. Your first option is to take the time to visit any or all of these, and your afternoon ends with a late lunch/early supper at Otantik Restaurant on Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Street) in Taksim. Afterward, you can spend your evening exploring this broad pedestrian walkway and perhaps having a nightcap or two. The latest popular area for drinks is Küçük Beyoglu avenue, which was originally a line of old, collapsing Greek buildings but has since been renovated into a quartet of trendy bars and coffee shops.

Galata Tower.

Alternatively, you can take your time approaching Istiklal Caddesi by strolling across the Galata Bridge and then up through the Galata neighbourhood to the Galata Tower. This tower, originally built as the Christea Turris (Tower of Christ) in 1348 during an expansion of the Genoese colony in Constantinople, was later, during the Ottoman period of the city's history, used as an observation tower for spotting fires. According to the Seyahatname (Travelogue) of Ottoman historian and traveller Evliya Çelebi, around 1630, Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi used artificial wings to glide from this tower over the Bosphorus Strait to the slopes of Üsküdar on the Anatolian side. Indeed, on a clear day, the view from the top of the tower (now a restaurant), or even from the hill, makes such a flight seem almost possible...

As you begin your walk along Istiklal Caddesi, there are a number of landmarks to note on either side, including the Galatasaray High School, Saint Anthony's Church and the Pera Museum (, just one block away on Mesrutiyet Caddesi. The museum's current exhibit, The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting in the 19th Century, runs until January 2009. Their permanent, and best, feature is Osman Hamdi Bey's Kaplumbaga Terbiyecisi, or Tortoise Tamer. This stunning 19th Century work, with its rich reds and intricate details, portrays an Ottoman tortoise tamer; some have suggested that the painting symbolizes the difficulty, or slowness, of achieving social change.

Careful of the tramcar as you head back to Istiklal Caddesi! If you find your legs beginning to ache from all the walking, you can always hop on the tram as it makes its way up to Taksim Square. If you prefer, you can end your day with dinner at any one of the restaurants, bars, coffee shops, fast food outlets or kokoreç (seasoned and spiced lamb intestines served with vegetables in a half loaf of bread or pita - very tasty!) stalls along Istiklal Caddesi.

An affordable and flavourful option for traditional Turkish dishes is the aforementioned Otantik Restaurant (, easy to distinguish by its oversized front windows where a smiling woman is always rolling out dough. And what meal would be complete without Turkish coffee and a selection from the dessert tray?

Osman Hamdi Bey's Kaplumbaga Terbiyecisi, or Tortoise Tamer.

Day two begins in the Ortaköy neighbourhood. A number of artists and artisans display their wares along the avenues beside the Ortaköy Mosque, directly on the Bosphorus. Two of the more original creators are Ebru Tanis (, who designs lovely glass jewellery, and Fethi Develioglu (, who paints delightful miniatures of Istanbul skylines, often including cats. Breakfast or brunch may be enjoyed at any of the waterfront cafes, whose servers will all try to entice you into their establishment rather than their competitor's.

Afterwards, you can continue walking along the sea, or hop on a city bus, toward Arnavutköy. From the quay here, the Bosphorus ferry leaves at scheduled times and stops at both Kandilli (famous for its yogurt) and Anadolu Hisari on the Anatolian side - the counterpart to the Rumeli Hisari, both fortresses built prior to Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror's siege of Constantinople in 1452 - before heading toward Emirgan.

The Emirgan district features the Sakip Sabanci Museum (, currently hosting the Salvador Dali: A Surrealist in Istanbul exhibition. If, while you are in Istanbul, you hear of another equally interesting exhibit (such as through, feel free to change this part of the itinerary. If your visit falls on a weekend, you could even schedule a full boat cruise of the Bosphorus (, either in the morning, the afternoon, or throughout the day, meals included.

If you are not joining a boat tour, then an ideal place for a late lunch is Köfteci Ramiz, in the Levent Carsi neighbourhood. Levent - a once entirely residential district, now featuring bakeries and boutiques circling a public park - is accessible by metro or, if you still have the energy, is about an hour's walk uphill from Arnavutköy. The view from the top, overlooking the Bosphorus and across to the Turreted Military High School on the Anatolian side, is well worth the climb.

View from above Arnavutköy.

The ubiquitous cats and dogs of Istanbul are especially plentiful in this neighbourhood, and gather in groups round the doorways of the houses - and sometimes even appear on the windowsills!

Cat in Arnavutköy

The Akmerkez Shopping Centre is halfway along your walk, and currently features a giant shoe on each of its four levels as part of the Istanbul Shoe Art exhibition; artists and designers have collaborated on these sculptures, which will be auctioned at the close of the exhibition, with the money donated to charitable foundations.

Köfteci Ramiz in Levent is a restaurant devoted entirely to the Turkish köfte, or seasoned meatball, and next door is the ideal place for dessert: Özsüt, featuring rice puddings, chocolate puddings and various Turkish specialities such as asure, or Noah's Pudding. This pudding is one of the oldest desserts of Turkish cuisine. As legend has it, when Noah's Ark landed on Mount Ararat, Noah and his family wished to hold a celebration to express their gratitude toward God. All their food stores had dwindled, however, so they made a dessert with all the remaining ingredients, including chick peas, apricots, figs, raisins, and other fruits and legumes. Another speciality dessert is tavuk gögsü, kazandibi, a type of burnt milk pudding whose main ingredient is chicken breast - much tastier than it sounds!

After all this walking and eating and sightseeing, it is high time for a rest. From Levent, the metro takes you to Taksim in less than ten minutes. Head back down Istiklal Caddesi to the Perla Kallavi Nargile House ( - up four flights of stairs and out on to the gallery. Here you can smoke a nargile (shisha), sip a coffee or two, or have a beer as you gaze out over the rooftops of Istanbul, toward the Golden Horn, remembering all those who have previously looked out over this panorama, and looking down on the crowds that nowadays move through the city's streets. Perhaps you too might take wing, like Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi, and glide over the water...

November / December 2008

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