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A Different Side of Istanbul

We spent some time exploring what Istanbul had to offer beyond the tiny ancient peninsula, Sultanahmet

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View Semester Break, pt. 1 on kmclean's travel map.

We spent a lot of time in and around Sultanahmet seeing the historical sites and buildings in Istanbul, but we managed to get out of it once in a while. We spent a half a day on the other side of the Golden Horn in the “modern” part of Istanbul, in Taksim and Beyoglu, and a day on the other side of the Bosphorus seeing the Asian side of the city. We also did a Bosphorus cruise and spent a few hours in a district at the very top of Istanbul on the edge of the Black Sea. It’s such a massive city. All of these districts were really interesting; it always felt like being in a new city. I guess in a city the size of Istanbul the separate districts really each have their own character.

Taksim and the surrounding area was really interesting, people call it the “European” part of Istanbul for a reason. Walking down the main street, Istiklal (Independence) Avenue, looked just like being in Vienna or Prague. They even have a “nostalgic” old-fashioned, restored tram running up and down the street. There are tons of chain stores but also a lot of boutiques selling local, or at least made-in-Turkey stuff. This part of Istanbul had a totally different feeling. The people on the streets don’t yell at you or try to get you to come in and buy their stuff, and when you do buy something it’s just in a shop or boutique, there’s no crazy mark-up and no haggling. Not even the restaurants have a guy standing our front trying to rope people in. It was kind of nice after shopping in the Grand Bazaar and spending quite a bit of time in the old city, although talking to the shop owners and getting them to give you a decent price can be a lot of fun.

We also saw Kadɪköy, a district on the Asian side of the city. It was completely different, again. It was really not made for tourists and felt a lot more “real” than the other parts of Istanbul. There were still a ton of little shops, great restaurants and a great market, but it didn’t feel like it was all only built for the tourists. Almost nobody there spoke English and the prices for just about everything were about half what they were in the old city. I guess that’s to be expected, but it would be worth seeing this part of the city early during your stay in Istanbul so you get an idea of what things should cost. At the Grand Bazaar we usually paid about half of what they originally told us, but if you don’t feel like haggling, once we told them we had seen the exact same thing somewhere else for a certain price, they’d just say “give me the money” and give it to us for that price without any questions or bartering.

We also took a Bosphorus cruise and got to see most of the palaces and mosques that are right on the water. At the end of the Bosphorus there was a break for a few hours and we got to wander around a tiny district near the Black Sea, I couldn’t believe it was still “Istanbul”. It took an hour and half on the boat to get there, but the city busses were still running all the way up there. It felt more like a rural fishing village that a subdivision of a massive city. The restaurants served mostly fish and there were only a couple small shops. If it weren’t for the Istanbul city busses driving around I would have thought we were somewhere in Nova Scotia.

Anyway, I’m really glad we had the time to see a few other parts of the city. There’s still so much we didn’t get to see – I think you would need a year to see every district and subdivision of this massive city, but it was great to get out of the Old City from time to time to see what the city was really like. The Old City is definitely the best place to start if you want to see the typical Istanbul sights, but to get a different idea of the city and maybe see what it’s really like for the people who live there, it’s great to be able to see a few other districts.

Posted by kmclean 13:06 Archived in Turkey Tagged cities turkey istanbul

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