Merhaba Istanbul!

Istanbul, one of the world’s great cities, was going to be our home for the next 91 days. Minarets, mosques, harems, hamams, kebab, coffee, Turkish delights, towers, castles, islands, whirling dervishes, Greeks and Ottomans, hills, ferries, markets and music… it’s enough to make the experience-hungry traveler delirious. We knew we’d have to hit the ground running, because there was going to be a lot to do.

Merhaba Instanbul Travel Blog

It was a Tuesday evening when we arrived at our apartment in Cihangir, a hip neighborhood in the Beyoğlu district which is popular with artists and foreigners. After the long day of travel, we should have been content with an evening on the couch and an early bedtime but, eager to explore, we bundled up and went out into the streets. In Cihangir Square, we settled down at a cafe to do some people watching.

Trendy scenesters with tasseled scarves had occupied the table to our left, while a group of effusive American students were to our right. A couple guys were plastering posters for a rock concert onto a nearby wall, and the decidedly non-Turkish sounds of Depeche Mode were wafting out of the bar behind us. Everyone was smoking, and the liquor store across the street was doing steady business. Were we in the right country? All the preconceptions I had carefully constructed about Istanbul were lying in shards at my feet. (One of these broken shards, for example, was reflecting a man with a bushy mustache and a fez; embarrassed, I kicked it underneath the table before anyone could see it).

But as the sun set, the calls to prayer sounded from the minarets which, I suddenly realized, were surrounding us. Along the sidewalk, a group of women in headscarves pushed impatiently by another, older group of women in headscarves. We were sipping on strong Turkish coffee, and eating rich pastries of honey and pistachio. The kebab-seller on the corner had whittled his döner stick down to the last nibbles. Alright, were were definitely in Turkey… just not quite the Turkey I had been expecting.

Chairs outside Istanbul

Istanbul has always held a special allure to me. The fascinating history, unique culture and world-class food are irresistible draws, and it was just a matter of time before Jürgen and I ended up here. We spent the weeks leading up to our trip dutifully reading about Istanbul and learning stock Turkish phrases (teşekkür ederim!), and I felt prepared. Confident, even! But once we arrived… once we had seen Istanbul’s size and density first-hand, and could feel the enormous weight of its past… only then could we begin to understand how completely overmatched we were. Istanbul in 91 days? Please. We wouldn’t even scratch the surface.

But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t try. By the end of our three months, our fingernails were chipped, and our fingertips bruised and bleeding from all the frantic scratching at Istanbul’s surface. We would meet some Turks, visit both the big sights and less well-known neighborhoods, eat a lot of incredible food, and learn about the city’s complex history and vibrant present. It was going to be a busy 91 days.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Cem

    Istanbul is so big and diverse that even 91 days isn’t enough to explore every part of the city, and I’m saying this as someone who’s been living here for the pas 7 years. Cihangir is definitely the hip neighborhood of the city next to Galata.First of all you must visit the essential historical neighborhoods. Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, The Grand Bazaar, The Basilica Cistern, The Egyptian Bazaar, Topkapi Palace etc. pretty much everything in the old city. After feeling like a tourist, you will have to feel like a native. You’ll notice that in 60% of the people you see in historic neighborhoods… are tourists, you can’t really feel like a native. To feel like one you’ll have to go to where the Turks spend most of their time. Go to Beyoglu and Asmalimescit (nightlife center of the city), go to Ortakoy, Besiktas, Sisli, Nistantasi, Bebek, Levent on the European side, hop on a boat to the Asian side of Istanbul (never neglect this part, it’s as big as the european side), take a ferry to Kadikoy, Uskudar, explore the peaceful neighborhood of Moda, go to Bostanci from there. Go to the Pricess Islands by boat! Motor vehicules are prohibited on the Islands so it’s a perfect place to rent a bike and explore the island. Go to the Belgrade forest in the north of the city for some peace and quiet.I know you probably know none of these neighborhoods, these are just a small part of what there is to see. I suggest you to google and research the neighborhoods I wrote, find a good travel book or travel plans online and get ready for a big adventure, the city is much bigger than you think.Here is the metro map for Istanbul, you will have to use it alot for the next 3 months. Istanbul! 🙂 And if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask

    1. Mike Powell

      Thanks so much for these tips! We hope to strike a good balance between the very touristy things and some of the more local sights. You’re right that 91 days isn’t nearly enough time… we’re already nervous about what we’ll have to leave out, and it’s just day #3!

  2. budget jan

    I am so happy that you have chosen Istanbul for the next 91 days.  We are expecting to visit Turkey in September, so I am waiting for you guys to do all the legwork for us.  Have Fun.

  3. Istanbul was a wonderful experience for me! One of my favorite memories from ym trip last April was dropping into a non-descript kebab place for a sandwich and being invited to their publishing house for tea and meeting authors. I found the people in Turkey to be warm and helpful, so I’m sure your 91 days will fly by! Enjoy!

  4. Kate

    Very exciting. Your apartment looks lovely! – not what I expected an Istanbul apartment to look like. Have fun being that the cross-roads of Europe and Asia! I will look forward to reading your posts.

  5. elpariente

    Mucha suerte !!!Good luck !!!

  6. Jimena

    Good luck boys! really looking forward to read your new entries of this wonderful and also don’t known place for me 😀

    1. Juergen Horn

      Thank you Jimena! Love that you are still reading our blog!!! You should be warned reading though…! If you continue you might book a flight here very soon 🙂

  7. Owen Lipsett

    I love this first post – you can’t beat checking out a city from its highest point as a place to start… unless of course you do it at sunset 🙂  I visited a friend in Istanbul a few years ago and still remember the food very very fondly.  One dish that tourists don’t seem to know about, but that I think you would really like is “pide.”  I know from your Palermo and Buenos Aires blogs how much you love pizza! 🙂 Pide is a canoe-shaped Turkish pizzas full of cheese, meat, and sometimes egg, as well as many other toppings.  They are smaller than pizzas – perfectly sized for one person.Here’s a video of how they are made:   (  ShockinglyYou can also get them Black Sea (karadeniz) style which is like a calzone.  Make sure you’re being clear you’re looking for this kind of pide, since “pide” also can mean a kind of flatbread.They are lighter and meatier than pizzas.  I think you might also like lahmacun (

  8. Stoeps

    I love your blog! Thanks for all the insights and memories! I visited Istanbul two years ago for the first time and i fell in love immediatly with this beautiful city (I revisited the city twice in the same year)! And i loved the food! You should also try modern turkish cuisine such as served at the day pera. A small and cosy restaurant at cihangir with a lovely chef called arzu. She speaks a perfect english and her dishes are delicious. She creates new recipies based on classic oriental and turkish cuisine. I especially loved her day pera honey steak! You should give a try! And if you went by greet her from stoeps, tom and simi. You will have a new friend then in istanbul! 😉

  9. Istanbulll

    For sure, Istanbul is a great city with old cultural traditions, but also very modern in it’s own new way! Have a great time and enjoy all the moments there! Time flies when you’re having fun! 😉

  10. mary donegan

    Am on my way to Istanbul in two weeks….great that we can fly directly there from Washington DC.  Been there once before…..loved it so much am bringing my husband back.  Hope the people are as friendly as they were three years ago. This time we are doing the ‘touristy’ things on our own….not with a tour group. Hope there is a pass we can buy for the ‘must see’ sights  Staying in the old city this time….not near Taksim Square where were stayed last visit.

  11. denisa1999

    We have been twice in Istanbul, on October this year, and on December 2009, exactly on New Year Eve. For me it was amazing! I love this city! It was the first time in a special world, oriental one. We had visited all Europe, as tourists. I love its culture, music, everything and the people are kind. Now we can tell that we have visited most important historical places. I’m sure there are other places, as Rumeli Fortress or Subway under Bosphor for next holiday!

  12. Tatjana

    hey guys,I am currently in Istanbul because my significant other is here but there is one thing you missed in your blog: Women should be very careful and that is not just a phrase, especially those travelling alone should pay attention to the following:-Don’t make eye contact with common Turkish men. Direct eye contact can be interpreted as an invitation for more sorts of different contacts.- Before going to Kapali Carsi, master “the walk”: walk with moderate pace, slowly enough to check everything that might be interesting for you, fast enough for the sellers not to have a lot of opportunity to drag you into a conversation. Haggling is a nice sport but may turn nasty.- If and/or followed, yell loudly at the guy following you and march off as fast as you can.- Avoid going to unsafe districts by yourself, stick to the people-filled tourist-friendly areas such as Sultanahmet or Beyoglu.- Don’t get into a taxi  – that was something I had to specifically promised my boyfriend before my first 9-hour walk by myself. You may end up raped (check the statistics before making Istanbul a promised land) or robbed or both.- Dress appropriately and enjoy your stay!

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