What to See and Savor in Istanbul

Food & Wine, Turkey — By on February 10, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Straddling Asia and Europe, Istanbul is an exotic fusion of East and West. From the colossal Hagia Sofia, to the small minarets that dot the hills on the horizon, to the sweet baklava, this ancient city is chock full of history, picturesque views, and divine food. In addition to visiting Istanbul’s most famous sights, such as the Blue Mosque, there are several other places to see and things to do. Whether you’re just looking into Turkey holidays or already have a plane ticket to Istanbul, here are some “must-dos” for  your upcoming adventure.

1). Go to the Spice Bazaar.

Throngs of people, the smell of exotic foods, the shouts of vendors, bags of colorful spices, and the endless varieties of Turkish Delight available for testing; the Spice Bazaar overloads the senses. Offering a true taste of Turkey, it should not be missed. The Spice Bazaar, originally known as the Egyptian Bazaar, opens at 9 a.m. and shuts down at 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and can be found in Fatih, a district in the neighborhood of Eminonu. In addition to being a food lover’s paradise and selling everything from fresh teas to dried fruits, the building with its high domed ceilings and 86 shops is also a photographer’s dream. It’s the perfect place to snap a great photo and buy some edible souvenirs to take back home.

2). Visit the Harem at Topkapi Palace.

Imagine competing with 400 other women for the same man. Now, imagine living with them. And now, imagine living with them and this man’s mother. That is a very basic overview of the history of the Harem at Topkapi Palace, the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans. To see how these women lived here, you must pay 20 TL (Turkish Lira) to enter the palace itself and then a separate 15 TL fee to gain access to the Harem. It may seem like a hefty price, but the palace grounds are beautiful and peaceful, and the views of the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn, and the Bosphorus are stunning. Intricately covered in blue and green tiles, the rooms and hallways that housed the lucky (or depending upon your point of view, the not so lucky) ladies are a spectacular sight and definitely worth exploring. I was lucky enough to have my own private tour guide, who explained all the details as we moved slowly through the Harem. This plus certainly made my experience all the more interesting.

3). Drink at the bars in the alleys of Taksim Square.

As I wandered through the labyrinth of hilly, cobblestone alleyways in Taksim Square, I couldn’t help but smile at the warm, cozy feeling that came over me as I listened to the Turkish bands play in the tiny open-air cafes and bars that were perched along the streets and up on the rooftops. Crowded with young Turks, vendors selling midye (stuffed mussels) and people from all over the world, Taksim is the perfect place for a night out with friends. From small relaxing cafes with mellow music, twinkly lights, and pillows, to rowdier pubs with DJs and disco balls, there is a bar for everyone. What’s best is that you can sample them all without spending a fortune, as most venues don’t require a cover charge.

4). Get your coffee grounds read.

Turkish coffee isn’t quite the same beverage as that grande House Blend you get at your local Starbucks. Made by boiling water and powdery grounds together, Turkish coffee is a strong, slightly thick shot of deliciously dark liquid and some sludge that settles to the bottom of the cup. It’s the pictures left behind by the sludge that are said to reveal your destiny. Personally, when it comes to the future, I prefer to be surprised. However, after a Turkish friend peered into my expresso-sized cup and described a few details of my life with chilling accuracy, I was tempted to see what a professional would have to say. So for just 10 TL, I sat outside a rickety little bar in Taksim with a cup of Turkish coffee in hand, waiting to hear my fate. Of course, I took everything she said with a grain of salt but it was fun, and some of her insights were surprisingly right on. If you do decide to get your fortune read, see if you can find a local who can translate for you as some of the fortune tellers don’t speak English.

Enjoy these four options for seeing and savoring Istanbul.

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