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Four days in Istanbul

Four days in Istanbul

Istanbul is, I think, what people think of when they think of Turkey. But as our time in Cappadocia proved, Turkey is much more than its biggest city (which is home to more than 14 million people, by the way). 

The contrast between the remote expanses of Cappadocia and the stuffed, bustling Istanbul was stark but many things were also the same: the friendliness of the people, the reverence for history and the abundance of eye-catching somethings. I loved the way the city of Istanbul has preserved its past — centuries-old buildings and old city walls are remarkably well-kept — while updating for modern times with excellent public transit and other amenities. 

We stayed in the Sultanahmet neighborhood, the historic peninsula on Istanbul's European side that is home to treasures such as the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Basilica Cistern and other sites and experiences. The area was Disney-level touristy, but the aforementioned trams and ferries made it easy to explore more of the city's European and Asian sprawl. 

Several people have asked me whether Turkey or Istanbul reminded me of Pakistan, or other Asian cities. It doesn't. It's more like Rome or even Florence, with small cobbled streets meeting large thoroughfares, all set against the backdrop of impossibly old and beautiful architectural relics. 

Here are some of my favorite moments from our four days in Istanbul. I'll be following up later with a food diary of our trip. Stay tuned!


We started by walking north from the Old City across Galata Bridge

Istanbul's New Mosque, viewed from the Galata Bridge. | www.paperplatesblog.com
Juice shop in Istanbul | www.paperplatesblog.com
Entrance to Galata Tower, originally built in 528 A.D. | www.paperplatesblog.com

Even the non-famous mosques are breathtakingly detailed.

Inside an Istanbul mosque | www.paperplatesblog.com
Istanbul's Kilic Ali Pasa mosque | www.paperplatesblog.com

Flower sellers lit up a gloomy evening near Taksim Square, a popular site for political rallies and protests.

Flower sellers near Taksim Square in Istanbul | www.paperplatesblog.com
Taksim Square by night | www.paperplatesblog.com

An early start at the Hagia Sofia, which went from church to mosque to museum. 

Hagia Sofia | www.paperplatesblog.com
Inside the Hagia Sofia | www.paperplatesblog.com
Inside the Hagia Sofia | www.paperplatesblog.com

I got on my tiptoes to peek through a random window at Hagia Sofia and was rewarded with this view of the Blue Mosque.

A view of the Blue Mosque from a Hagia Sofia window | www.paperplatesblog.com

Sulemaniye Mosque, imposing and utterly beautiful.

Sulimaniye Mosque | www.paperplatesblog.com

Behold, the Spice Bazaar. We went to the similar but much larger Grand Bazaar the next day.

Venturing into Istanbul's Spice Bazaar | www.paperplatesblog.com
Dried fruit at Istanbul's Spice Bazaar | www.paperplatesblog.com
Inside the Istanbul Spice Bazaar | www.paperplatesblog.com

Basilica Cistern. Amazing history. Don't look in the water if you don't like large, grey fish.

Basilica Cistern | www.paperplatesblog.com

The Blue Mosque at dusk.

Photo Apr 26, 9 54 47 PM.jpg
A minaret viewed from the Blue Mosque's courtyard | www.paperplatesblog.com

Don't forget to look up.

Inside the dome of the Blue Mosque | www.paperplatesblog.com

We stumbled upon the Karakoy fish market, and scored a seat at a popular seafood restaurant right behind it. Hooray for letting ourselves get lost!

Karakoy fish market | www.paperplatesblog.com

Gulhane Park is a tulip-lover's dream in April. Then again, so is all of Istanbul.

Tulips at Gulhane Park | www.paperplatesblog.com
Gulhane Park | www.paperplatesblog.com
Tulips at Gulhane Park | www.paperplatesblog.com

Set aside an entire morning for Topkapi Palace and don't skip the Harem. You won't regret it.

Topkapi Palace | www.paperplatesblog.com
Topkapi Palace grounds | www.paperplatesblog.com
A view of the Bosphorus from Topkapi Palace | www.paperplatesblog.com
Painted tile details around Topkapi Palace | www.paperplatesblog.com
Detailed tilework at Topkapi Palace | www.paperplatesblog.com

Pro tip: Skip the overpriced Bosphorus cruise and hop a ferry to Kadikoy (Asian side) for 2-ish lira instead! 

Looking back at the old city from aboard a Bosphorus ferry | www.paperplatesblog.com
Birds following the Bosphorus ferry | www.paperplatesblog.com

Kadikoy has streets packed with restaurants, usually small spaces with ample sidewalk eating. Each spot is more tempting than the last.

Walking the Kadikoy neighborhood on Istanbul's Asian side | www.paperplatesblog.com
Istanbullus browsing books in Kadikoy | www.paperplatesblog.com

Looking back at the Old City at dusk.

The Old City in the distance at dusk | www.paperplatesblog.com

Timing our ferry back for sunset allowed us an unforgettable ride.

The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia against the sunset | www.paperplatesblog.com
Istanbul's European side at sunset | www.paperplatesblog.com

Galata Tower, erected in 528 A.D., offers great 360 views of Istanbul.

Photo Apr 26, 10 04 02 PM.jpg

On Friday night, we took the tram to Taksim Square, then walked down Istiklal Ave., which reminded me of SoHo-meets-Disney, complete with a trolley car carting a live band up and down the stretch.

A rock cover band performs a live concert on a trolley rolling up and down Istiklal Ave. | www.paperplatesblog.com
Istkiklal Ave. on a Friday night | www.paperplatesblog.com

Tulips and a last view of the Blue Mosque before heading home. Bittersweet.

Istanbul tulips | www.paperplatesblog.com
The Blue Mosque | www.paperplatesblog.com

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"The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" by Haruki Murakami & rainbow quinoa salad

"The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" by Haruki Murakami & rainbow quinoa salad

The TBR List: Slack

The TBR List: Slack