I went to İstanbul with equal interest in the old and the new, wanting to see how a city that so gracefully shows its ancient bones also has garnered its current reputation for cutting-edge art and design. I was gloriously overwhelmed from the moment I arrived (I have never encountered another place in which guide-book maps are so completely useless to me) and spent a wonderful week drinking fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice and chasing street cats. A shout-out too to my friends JD and Logan who joined me for the latter part of my stay and were most excellent exploration companions. For my full set of pictures click here (and video here), but otherwise please enjoy a few things I loved in Istanbul.
The art scene more than lived up to the hype, from the crash course in the last hundred years of Turkish art that is the Istanbul Modern (pictured above) to the stately Pera Museum to the thriving gallery scene where I was staying in Beyoğlu. Add in the first-ever Istanbul Design Biennial that was going on while we were there, and I was in my own personal version of heaven.
2) Bazaar District
I did not buy anything in the Grand Bazaar (I am frankly terrified of bargaining), but I spent a stimulus-laden hour or so just wandering around its labyrinth of alleyways admiring the floor-to-ceiling stacks of fabric at Sivasli Yazmaci and the modern kilim rugs at Dhoku, watching the shop assistants run from door to door with tea on ornamented trays, finding my way into hidden courtyards.
3) Süleymaniye Mosque
The largest mosque in the city and one of many many buildings the great architect Sinan put up in İstanbul, I went to Süleymaniye early on my first full day and was suitably bowled over by the beauty of its simple lines inside and out. All of the mosques I visited on this trip were working places of worship, so I always made sure to take my shoes off and to put my headscarf on.
4) Ferry trips
İstanbul is surrounded on all sides by water, and its fleet of hard-working ferries are incredibly easy to use once you find the dock you need. Just tap your Istanbulkart to take a trip up the Golden Horn, across the Bosphorus to the Asian side, to one of the islands in the Sea of Marmara. Don't forget to look for moon jellies in the water.
5) Rooftop views
İstanbullus are well aware they live in one of the most gorgeous cities on the planet, and every restaurant and bar worth its salt has a vertiginous terrace from which to enjoy the sweeping views. This particular picture was taken at a bar where the drinks were only mediocre, but really I was just using my pomegranate mojito as an excuse to linger on their patio near sunset.
6) Aya Sofya
Justinian had this church built during his tenure as emperor before it was tranformed into a mosque by Mehmet the Conqueror and tranformed again into a museum by Atatürk. History aside this is simply one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever been privileged to set foot inside, filled with light and air and mosaics and breathtakingly intricate tilework.
7) Topkapi Palace
Topkapi is one of the must-stops in İstanbul, and it would be easy to spend an entire day exploring its ornate courtyards and lush gardens and its four hundred years of Ottoman history (Selim the Sot! İbrahim the Mad!). I was most interested in the Harem, imagining the lives of the women who were effectively locked inside a most beautiful prison.
8) Turkish food
The eating was nothing short of fantastic the entire trip, with plentiful vegetarian options and experiences that ranged from the simple bean restaurants outside Süleymaniye Mosque to sky-high Turkish fusion at Mikla. Also worth mentioning: the salads at the İstanbul Modern Cafe (pictured), divine cuisine at the İstanbul Culinary Institute, puddings on İstiklâl Caddesi, sultans' recipes at Asitane.
9) İstiklâl Caddesi
Our hotel (the very cool Lush) was just off this main shopping-and-strolling drag that stretches from Taksim Square down to Galata Tower. The Misir Apartment building with its stack of galleries and art space SALT are here as well, along with street vendors selling sesame-encrusted bread rings by day and roasted chestnuts by night. A mad decent place to stay, in other words.
My last night in the city we found this tiny smoke-filled restaurant/bar high atop a building in the "French district." Moments after we took our seats a woman stepped on stage two feet from us and proceeded to regale the room (accompanied by a man on a synthesizer) with Turkish pop songs that prompted everyone to erupt into spontaneous singing and dancing. An epic end to an epic vacation.