As aforementioned, Istanbul is one of the easiest places to get to from Astana. You can get a direct flight (Air Astana or Turkish Airlines), that is not too long (5 hours), and relatively inexpensive ($400-600). And it is an absolutely wonderful city, so that’s all the reason you need to go!
When my BSGF (best straight guy friend) told me he was going to Istanbul for a wedding the same week as my birthday, I put it in my calendar right away. I did my library practicum in Istanbul in 2009 and while I could quickly tell it was a city I wouldn’t like to live and work in, as a librarian (a post for another time), I very much liked it as a place to visit.
Addition to my tiny bowl lifestyle
Some lasting impressions from the first time around:
- The food!
- Beautiful views
- Ferry rides
- Figs and almonds
- Being constantly stared at (not always in a lustful way, but in a – you are so tall and so blonde – way)
- Friendly folks
- Turkish delight! And being offered a sampling in a strange man’s apartment (too friendly)
- Being stalked from KFC in a mall all the way to Taksim Square (way too friendly)
- Bambi Doner
- An intense May 1 demonstration
- Smoking because I felt awkward about having so much alone time and having a waiter tell me, “Please, don’t smoke. I think you only started a week or two ago, because I look at you, and I can see that smoking is not your life. So don’t smoke.”
- Being informed by my flatmate a week after arriving that I wasn’t actually supposed to put toilet paper in the toilet
All good impressions held up and all of the weird things were just as specific, though different, from the first time around.
And now here is some informative content derived from both visits:
There are two airports, Ataturk on the European side and Sabiha on the Asian side. The sides are split by the mighty Bosphorus Strait. Prior to moving to Astana, I’d only been to Asia by technicality of crossing the Bos’.
Where to Stay
I’ve only ever stayed in Cihangir and I really like that area. It’s close to major centres/sites without being too touristy. AirBnB places are so cheap! The two places we stayed at were great (especially the second one).
Where to Eat
Basically, anywhere. But some specific places that are good in Cihangir include: Hayat (for fish), Kasabim (for steak), Miss Pizza (for, you know), Kahve 6 (for breakfast), and Smyrna (for drinks).
What to Eat
- All things street-side meat
- Bread with kaymak (clotted cream) and honey
- Pide (pizza-type flatbread thing)
- Kumpir (stuffed potatoes)
- Turkish breakfast (bread, cheeses, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, honey, jam, etc.)
- Menemen (scrambled egg dish)
- Kofte (meatball-esque)
- Turkish delight (lokum)
- Turkish tea and Turkish coffee
- Ayran (like kefir but better)
- Iskender kebap (I haven’t tried this but definitely will next time: kebap with tomato sauce and hot foamy butter)
And get that fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice with your doners
What to Do
- Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar
- Basilica Cistern (for all the James Bond fans)
- Hagia Sophia
- Sultan Ahmed Mosque
- Walk along the Galata Bridge
Blue gingham not mandatory
- Eat a lot
- Sit outside and chill
- Take a ferry ride to the Asian side and order some tea
This would’ve gotten so many likes had Instagram existed in 2009
Where to Go Outside of Istanbul
Overnight Trip (Izmir/Ephesos)
This was my first time venturing outside the big city and we took a round trip flight to Izmir to go to the ancient city of Ephesos (Ephesos like Efes like the beer).
The prettiest graveyard
We booked directly through Pegasus and our flights were just shy of $100 each. You can get them for as low as $50 if you book well in advance. It’s only an hour long flight – just keep in mind that most of the flights to Izmir go out of the Istanbul airport that is on the Asian side (ie. further away). You can filter flights that only arrive at the major, generally closer airport, Ataturk. AtlasJet and OnurAir are two others to check out.
Once in Izmir you can take a train, bus, or rent a car, which we did through this site that searches all car rental sites at once (like Summon searches on a library website!). We stayed at a small hotel in Selcuk (totally loved it), close to the site and went early the next morning after arriving.
Dusty, the stoic hotel dog
If I had more time, I would’ve extended my Izmir trip further south to hit up the Turquoise Coast. Beaches and mountains forever. And the Lycian Way.
You may recognize Capadoccia as the land of hot air balloons and phallic-esque land formations. Totally sold now, right? I’ll be going there this July. Between the expense of going up in a hot air balloon, believing the best view to be of the balloons from the ground, and having a moderate fear of flying, I’ll be sitting that excursion out. If you’re keen, apparently Royal Hot Air Balloon is the place to use. And I will most definitely be staying in this cave, despite my claustrophobia. If this region had some association with needles, it would be a perfect triumvirate of all my fears.
And that summarizes the very small portion of Turkey that I know. Happy travels!
“For woman, that is not baggage. Impressive.”
– Kazakh flight attendant