The two northernmost towns on the European Bosphorus are Sariyer and Rumeli Kavağı. Sariyer is more developed and wealthy, trapped between a dense forest and the water, while Rumeli Kavağı is a quiet seaside village with a convivial atmosphere.
One of the most popular excursions in Istanbul is a ferry ride to Anadolu Kavağı, near the entrance to the Black Sea. The Bosphorus Cruise offered by the city-run Şehir Hatları company costs just 15 Turkish Lira, making for a cheap and easy day out on the water.
With a name that literally translates to "Big Island", Büyükada is the largest of Istanbul's nine Princes' Islands. We spent a day biking from one end to the other, enjoying fabulous views of the sea, swimming with jellyfish, climbing hills and finding ways to escape the crowds.
During our first Turkish breakfast, I surveyed the table with fear and doubt. Every conceivable inch was occupied by a plate, bowl or cup. It was a ridiculous amount of food! Had the waitress misheard our order? When I said "breakfast for two", had she understood "A merry feast for my hungry horde of Vikings"? Because this... this couldn't possibly be right.
The Yeni Camii translates to "New Mosque", and really demonstrates the problem inherent in naming things "New". Sure... back in 1665, the Yeni Camii was Istanbul's great new mosque, and everybody in the Ottoman Empire was freaking out about how brand new it was. But 350 years later? Not so much.
The Imperial Harem, the private pleasure palace of the Sultans, is the most well-known aspect of Ottoman royal life. But why has the Harem proven so persistent in the mind of popular culture? What is the secret behind its fame? Is it the fabulous tile-work which decorates its walls? Or is it the concept of hundreds of beautiful concubines with the sole mission of providing pleasure to a single man? Hmm... it's a toss-up.
The seat of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years, Topkapı Palace is today one of Istanbul's most popular sights. The massive complex consists of four courtyards and hundreds of rooms, and the treasures on display are among the world's most valuable. A visit to Topkapı Palace is almost compulsory during a trip to Istanbul... just expect to be exhausted afterward.
Istanbul is most famous for ancient mosques and a starring role in world history, but there's another side to it. One that most tourists never bother to see. It wasn't until our last couple weeks in the city that we ventured into modern Istanbul. On the outskirts of the city center, new skyscrapers are springing up like weeds, and the focus is squarely on business.
Rocketing 780 feet into the air, the Sapphire building in the modern neighborhood of Levent is Turkey's tallest building. A cafe on the top floor and an open air viewing platform on the roof offer one of Istanbul's most breathtaking views.
Despite their pleading, we weren't about to join the group of kids in jumping into the Bosphorus. I don't care how strong the sun is shining! One by one, these brave young souls ran up to the coast of Emirgan and took flying leaps into the jellyfish-infested water below. They tried to tell us that it was warm, but judging by their incessant shivering after climbing out, I suspect they were lying. Still, it did look like fun...