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Travel Well: Istanbul

 Istanbul is an absolutely beautiful city with an awful lot to offer. The food is fabulous and there is a ton to see and do. It’s a huge city that serves as a bridge between Europe and Asia that has a really interesting and unique culture and history. My trip to Istanbul was really special to me because it was a trip my best friend and I had been planning to go on together since the 1st grade. My friend, who is half Turkish, was studying abroad in Istanbul during the time that I visited so it was a dream come true to get to experience it with her like we had always planned.

Stay: I stayed at a beautiful apartment with breathtaking views of the Bosporus. Although I can’t necessarily recommend a specific hotel since I didn’t stay in one, I would totally recommend staying in or near the Galata/Beyoğlu neighborhood. It was a really cool area with lots of shops and restaurants within walking distance. Plus, we were only a 10-minute walk from Istikal Street, which is one of the busiest streets in the city (think the Times Square of Istanbul).

View from our apartment in Istanbul (photo courtesy of The Hideaways Club)

Dine: I think it’s impossible to have a bad meal in Istanbul, or, from my experience, in Turkey period. Lamb. Seafood. Turkish Kebabs. You name it….It’s all pretty delicious. Strangely enough, after being in Italy for a few months prior to my trip, I was also super excited to see how many “American” restaurants they had.  I was sure to get in some Popeyes, Krispy Kreme, and Starbucks before my return to Cantu and it almost tasted like home. My favorite restaurants in Istanbul are as follows:

  1. Zuma – absolutely amazing sushi!

  2. Ulus 29 – some of the best lamb chops I have ever had.

  3. 360 Istanbul – I’m not going to lie…I don’t remember what I ate here..but the views are amazing and they have really great drinks. They also have a DJ and the restaurant turns into a club on certain evenings.

Also be sure to have some authentic local cuisine. There are a million places and I promise you won’t be disappointed. My go to in Turkey is lamb so if all else fails, have that.

My mom and me enjoying a drink before dinner at Zuma

Shop: Istanbul is a huge city so there are a lot of malls and places for shopping. We planned to visit all of the major luxury shopping areas, but after we visited IstinyePark, we were all shopped out. I would recommend stopping here first as they have a wide array of luxury and mid-priced boutiques and a really great department store called Batik. Also be sure to visit the Grand Bazar, which is like a huge flea market, but much nicer and really cool. Here, you can find a lot of authentic Turkish goods.

Play: In Turkey, we had a private tour in which we spent a day visiting the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, the Hiddrodome of Constantinople, and the Grand Bazar. There is so much history in Istanbul that it can get a little confusing and overwhelming to see all the sights on your own. If at all possible, I would recommend doing a tour. Our tour guide took us to an awesome authentic Turkish restaurants and I’m sure yours could too. Most companies offer group and private tours. My absolute favorite  experience in Istanbul was getting an authentic Turkish bath. I had no idea what to expect and was a little taken aback at first by being completely naked in front of a room full of other women, but once I let my guard down and committed to the experience, it was amazing. I have never felt so clean in my entire life and it was so cool to experience that part of their culture and be completely pampered as I allowed someone else to bathe me. We had our Tukish baths done at Kilic Ali Pasa Hamani.

Visiting a mosque on our Istanbul City Tour

My Rating: C+

(F meaning I would never, ever, under any circumstances want to go back and A meaning I love this place and would go yearly if I could)

Explanation: Istanbul is a really neat city with a lot to see and do and, for the most part, I really enjoyed my visit. The reason I’m not necessarily rushing to get back is honestly because of the traffic. It was literally the worst traffic I have ever been in and there was traffic no matter what time or day we were on the roads. For example, it took an hour and 45 minutes to get to dinner at a restaurant that was normally supposed to be 15 minutes from our apartment. Also, people drive really crazy so I could never imagine driving myself. The traffic really put a damper on my experience because we wasted so much time in the car!

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