- Old City,
- Western Districts
I'll be meeting my 25 yr old daughter in Istanbul, where we will stay a few days with friends of the family. Our travel will take us to Kalkan and exploration of historical sites and rooftop restaurants. We hope to take a day trip to a Greek island off the coast during this leg of the trip. Then, back to Istanbul to buy rugs,hand painted tiles and spices before flying home and leaving my daughter to continue her summer travels. Can't wait!
Egyptian Bazaar (Misir Çarşisi), Turkey
Tel: 90 212 513 6597
The "Grand Bazaar Lite," this is the place to come if size and commotion of the Kapalı Çarşı has given you a headache. Smaller, more manageable, but equally striking, this market in Eminönü down by the Galata bridge has much of what its larger cousin has to offer, barring mainly carpets and leatherwear. So called because of its latter-day involvement with imported goods from Egypt, the market is also known as the Spice Bazaar—there's a profusion of seasonings piled colorfully high underneath garlands of dried eggplants and zucchini and next to boxes of saffron and bottles of essential oils. The Arifoğlu Spice Center is a no-hassle spice and herb trader with a pharmaceutical edge and, in keeping with many other merchants in this bazaar, fixed prices. More discerning shoppers should head to silk, textile, and cashmere specialist Özer at stall 82, whose gorgeous fabrics are a cut above the usual fare (www.ozer.org). And if you're there around lunchtime and fancy something more substantial than a kebab, make your way to Pandeli Lokantasi, an old-school restaurant up a flight of stairs by the north entrance of the bazaar. The food here is not spectacular, but the traditional tiles and domed ceilings certainly are (1 Mısır Çarşısı, Eminönü; 90-212-527-3909; lunch only).
See + Do
Dolmabahçe Palace, Turkey
Tel: 90 212 236 9000
Often overlooked by visitors, this is one of Istanbul's most lavish and extravagant attractions, the last home of the late and declining Ottoman Sultanate, which required lodgings more suited to 19th-century developments in electricity, central heating, and other home comforts than its vintage residence at Topkapı Palace. It's almost ironic that Sultan Abdülmecid's opulent baroque opus looks for all the world like a splendid French château: Construction started 50 years after the fall of the French monarchy, and Abdülmecid pulled no punches in jazzing up his new abode. More than 14 tons of gold were employed to gild the ceilings of the palace, which also lays claim to the largest collection of Bohemian and Baccarat crystal in the world: Chandeliers drip down into almost every room, while even the main staircase is supported by crystal balustrades. There are three sections: the Selamlik (the "official" wing), the harem (where the sultan and his family lived), and the clock museum. A complicated pricing system offers tickets in segments or for the whole palace, with an extra charge for cameras and video equipment. Entry is only permitted in groups, which are guided by somewhat insipid attendants in what is more a whirlwind herding than an edifying tour. If you only have time for one section, head for the Selamlik, as its rooms and Ceremonial Hall are easily the most impressive.
Open Tues, Wed, and FriSun 9:304; closed Mondays and Thursdays.
See + Do
There's no better remedy for the jet-lagged traveler—or for the morning after a long night of Raki consumption—than a good long soak at the hammam. Most high-end hotels in Istanbul tend to have their own little marbled rooms inside their spa and health center, but nothing can beat the experience of visiting an authentic historical bathhouse, as hammams are traditionally important social venues as well as a place for scrubbing down. There are two excellent ones close to Sultanahmet: Çemberlitaş and Cağaloğlu, which date back to the 16th and 18th centuries respectively, and whose locations deem them mostly tourist destinations. The flip side of this, however, is that they are unfailingly clean (a pervading damp odor is par for the course). The dressing rooms and washrooms are segregated; a minuscule towel called a pestemal is provided for modesty, although women usually drop it on entering the hot room. There, bathers lay around on the warm marble slab, staring at the star-shaped perforations in the domed ceiling, waiting to be slapped, scrubbed, and generally manhandled by one of the same-sex masseurs. Don't expect a high-quality massage here: The experience is brief and its emphasis is much more on cleaning and scrubbing dead skin, which comes off in abundance. Women are also generally offered the option of a bikini wax, which, unless otherwise instructed, will invariably leave you as bare as the day you were born.
See + Do
Kariye Müzesi (Chora Church), Turkey
Tel: 90 212 631 9241
Tucked away in a far corner of the Old City, just by the Edirnekapı gate, is the tiny Kariye Museum, also known as the Chora Church. This small building (more akin to a chapel) went up sometime during the 11th century, while its spectacular Byzantine mosaics and paintings date to around 1312. As Islam swept across Istanbul following the Ottoman conquest in 1453, the little church was converted into a mosque and the artwork plastered over, only to be re-revealed in 1948 when it became a deconsecrated museum. The restorers have done a great job: The walls and six domes of the church are adorned with images and stories from the life of Christ and various saints and apostles; one of the most impressive scenes is the enormous Khalke Jesus and the praying virgin, a partially salvaged gilded mosaic on the first wall of the inner narthex (entrance hall). The best time to go is after 3 pm, as the tour buses tend to come earlier in the day. A stroll through the surrounding residential neighborhood of painted wooden houses and winding streets is worth the time, as is the traditional Ottoman lunch menu at the fantastic Asithane restaurant in the Kariye Hotel next door (6 Kariye Camii Sokak; 90-212-534-8414; www.kariyeotel.com).
Tel: 90 212 526 30 71
Owner Metin Tosun describes his operation at Abdulla as "giving new soul to old patterns," and indeed this Old City store's fantastic collection of homespun fabrics, cloths, towels, and throws all hail from private workshops from around the country. Check out their traditional hammam pestemals, which come in silk or cotton, and knitted hammam washcloths made from kese fabric indigenous to the Black Sea region. They also have a great line in chunky cubes of soap made from pure olive oil bases, and a collection of animal skin rugs (including sealskin) that will either thrill or repel, depending on your stance on the matter. There's also a branch in the Grand Bazaar (58/60 Halıcılar Caddesi; 90-212-522-90-78).
The streets behind the New Mosque at Eminönü and the Egyptian Bazaar that stretch all the way up to the back entrance of the Grand Bazaar are a maze of authentic alleysa modern-day vestige of the old Oriental souk society. Mostly free of tourists, these streets are where you'll find the actual Istanbullusveiled, capped, often laden with shoppinggoing about their business, buying and selling everything from fruits and vegetables, spices, coffee, clothes, household utensils, mobile phones, hardware, and made-to-measure carpentry items. Look out for the 16th-century Rüstem Paşa mosque as you wander around; located on Hasıcılar Caddesi, it boasts a beautiful interior of İznik tiles and is one of the city's best-kept secrets.