benkyra

 

Introducing Ben and Kyra, the curators of Same Clothes, Different Place – a blog about their round the world vision quest. While visiting Istanbul, they stayed with us and offered to write a guest post for Istanbul Inspired.

Calendar
November 7-15, 2015

Ben and Kyra
On November 18 we left the States to travel through Europe and Southeast Asia. We are both from Minneapolis, MN (on our trip, when other foreigners, unfamiliar with the U.S. ask, we just tell them, “near Canada, a six hour drive North from Chicago.”).

Why Did We Pick Istanbul?
Kyra: I spent two weeks in Turkey my sophomore year of college as part of a longer one month study abroad program. At that time, I fell in love with Turkey – or least the small part I saw – and have long wanted to go back. When I heard that Emily had moved there, visiting became a real possibility given that our trip would allow for the flexibility and proximity we might not otherwise have the luxury of. Emily and I met on Birthright where we bonded over a number of quirks. In discussing visiting, Emily was so wonderful at following up and laying out plans that it sort of became a no brainer to visit.

 

7 DAY ITINERARY

Saturday, November 7 (technically Sunday) 1:00 am
Our flight to Istanbul departed from Barcelona and we arrived in SAW airport (from one capital of tourism to the next). Of the two airports in Istanbul, this one is closer to Emily and Umut’s place. We took a Havataş bus from the airport to Kadıköy with instructions to meet Emily at a Starbucks (this time we were sure to pay, we already got in trouble for mistaking a bus for free once in the Czech Republic). Spotting Emily and Umut across the sidewalk was quite surreal. They anticipated our arrival and began walking to the bus stop so we weren’t yet on the look out for them. Ben and I were discussing the trip and exactly where the Starbucks was, when I causally scanned the other side and happened to see Emily. Umut grabbed a cab for the quick trip home, aware that we might be tired after traveling, while Emily pointed out reference points and told us about our sightseeing and culinary options. One thing we’ve learned traveling is about how to be better hosts when we’re back home. Especially when arriving late, a warm meal is particularly appreciated, and Emily’s soup was truly outstanding (maybe even better than Umut’s).

 

Sunday, November 8 – Kadıköy and Moda
• Woke up to a shared breakfast of fried egg, sucuk, simit (like a Turkish bagel), cucumber, tomato, cheeses, and tea
• Slept until Emily got back from Turkish class
• Got lahmacun (minced meat on dough) and discussed what was going on in each of our lives at the moment.
• Tour of Kadıköy with Emily. We walked through Moda Park by the Sea of Marmara and past rainbow stairs, through a neighborhood with murals, and stopped back home to put warmer clothes on.
Iskender for dinner which was döner meat with pita under and melted butter + tomato sauce on top. Emily refused to tell us what made Iskender so good beforehand and because the menu was in Turkish, we had no idea they were going to pour melted butter on top. It was really amazing. The dish comes with yogurt on the side so when Emily also ordered aryan, a yogurt drink, in Turkish, the waiter kept asking her if she really wanted more yogurt. She was right to order aryan.
• Ben has a sweet tooth so we stopped and got tea and cookies for dessert

 

Monday, November 9 – Princes’ Island
• Emily prepared us well so we were able to navigate public transit well. We took the ferry to Princes’ Island and hiked up to the monastery there after wandering around the town for a bit.
• At the top, we sat and watched the sea for a bit while eating the sunflowers seeds we bought below. Highly recommended.
• Once we knew it would get dark soon, we hiked down and got pide (football pizza) from a restaurant that claimed to be written up by the New York Times (a fact that Emily researched and validated).
• After taking the ferry home, we met up with Emily and took our first trip to my favorite soup place on the trip, Dürümcü Emmi.

 

Tuesday, November 10 – Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar
• After a slow start to our day, we took the ferry to the European side and ate at a köfte place near the Blue Mosque that Emily and Umut recommended. Simple and delicious.
• From there we walked to the Grand Bazaar. It was much quieter than I remembered but Emily told us that’s because we were there in low season. While in the bazaar, we asked a vendor for directions to the Spice Market. He said he’d tell us on one condition, “you have to trust me and don’t ask anybody else along the way.” He gave perfect directions!
• At home, Emily made chicken with köfte spice and salad with typical Turkish dressing (lemon, olive oil, and salt). I loved the chicken so much that I purchased a pack of köfte spice as my first souvenir since we left.
• After dinner we watched clips from SNL and John Mulaney’s special on Netflix. Sometimes, sharing comforts from home with people from home are really rewarding when traveling.

 

Wednesday, November 11 – Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia
• Ben has been on this crazy pancake obsession for a number of months. Apparently he really loves and misses them and we haven’t been able to make them yet. When I saw Emily’s post on pancakes I knew Ben would be over-the-moon excited and they certainly didn’t disappoint.
• After brunch we again took a ferry to the European side. A sidebar, the ferry rides were so wonderful. What really stood out to me about them was that no one was looking at their phones. They were either talking, sleeping, or watching the scenery.
• We downloaded a self guided tour of Hagia Sophia that was really excellent.
• Visited the Blue Mosque.
• Back to the Spice market to buy köfte spice.
• From the Kadıköy port, we walked to meet up with Umut and later Emily and walked to Woodstock bar near their apartment. Our plan was just to grab a few beers, eat kokoreç, and head home. Instead, we ended up meeting up with Umut’s coworkers who all magically had the same night off and ended up at my favorite soup place. One of the best parts of Turkey, is Turkish hospitality. Umut’s coworker Mehmet Ali is from the part of Turkey known for this particular type of soup. He insisted on treating us and assured us that the restaurant is open 24 hours so it didn’t matter when we got there. In disbelief I asked him, “who gets soup at four in the morning?” Turns out we get soup at four in the morning.

 

Thursday, November 12 – Taksim and Karaköy
• We took it easy Thursday after our night out. A ferry to Karaköy, and walked up to Taksim and Gezi Park, then met Emily, her friend Emily, and Umut for dinner back in Kadıköy at Çiya.

 

Friday, November 13 – Arnavutköy, Ortaköy, Beşiktaş
• Umut made us breakfast in the morning. I have completely fallen in love with Turkish breakfasts after staying with Emily and Umut.
• After we took the ferry to Beşiktaş and a bus to meet up with Emily by her work for lunch in the Arnavutköy neighborhood.
• We got manti with her coworkers then walked back along the Bosphorus to meet at the Beşiktaş port with Umut and Emily some hours later.
• The four of us were sad to part after our week together so we had decided to do a dinner out at a rakı place.
• While outside a fish market we stopped to talk and Umut suggested we eat behind it
• He literally meant behind it. We walked into a restaurant around the corner that backed up to the exact stall we had been standing in front of moments before.
• As is tradition, we got a bottle of rakı, pickle juice (şalgam) as a chaser, and small dishes off the meze tray
• Our night ended near Taksim with wet burgers and a dolmuş ride home

 

Impressions
• I was surprised by how different my second time in Istanbul was than my first. Staying with Emily and Umut ensured that we saw more than just the touristy things, but another part of it is that Istanbul is just so massive that you could visit a million times and still have a different experience each time.
• The food was absolutely phenomenal. Cheap, not processed, spicy, and readily available.
• When we first told some friends and family about our stop in Istanbul, they had just heard about the Ankara bombings and some were concerned. When we told Emily that, she sort of scoffed and said, “if it was dangerous, I would have told you not to come.” She’s right. Anywhere you go there is always the possibility of danger, but not at any point in Istanbul did I feel remotely unsafe.

 

Be sure to read their post on Istanbul on their blog, Same Clothes, Different Place.

 

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Pictured L to R: Umut, Kyra, Me, Ben