When we arrived in Istanbul from the night train, it was around 8am. There is a good chance that the delay was attributed to my visa debacle, but I can’t be 100% certain. After disembarking, we needed to make our way to the center. I didn’t realize the Halkali trains station was so far from the action. It took us a good while to figure out how to actually use the intercity trains or the Marmary. There were an abundance of ticket machines, but not a ton of useful information. There were lists of the stops that started at Halkali and ended at Gebze, but the list of stops were not overlayed on a map, so there was no context, just a collection of unfamiliar names. Very few of the people at the ticket window spoke English, so I tried to use some hand gestures and a map in a guide book to indicate that we were looking to go to the center or somewhere near the Topaki Palace and Hagia Sophia. The stop that we were looking for was Sirkeci.
The next challenge was trying to figure out how to use the ticket machine. There was a big line at the machine, which took cards, but fewer people at the machine that took cash. I got a bunch of cash for the trip, wrongfully assuming that cards wouldn’t be widely accepted. When it was our turn at the ticket machine, the largest bill it accepted was the 50 lira note, we only had 100 and 200’s, so now we needed to find a way to make change or get back on the credit card line. Luckily, someone traded us 2 – 50’s for a 100 and we were ready to get our tickets, which cost 45 lira (4.85lv) for one ride. The trip to the center was a bit over an hour, but when we exited the Sirkeci station, I started to remember my first trip to Istanbul.
Since we had a few hours before we could check into our hotel, we decided to spend the morning in the Topaki Palace, which was the seat of Ottoman power for nearly three centuries. It truly impressed me back in 2002… the tile work and the architecture left a lasting impression. While Istanbul exists in two continents, Europe and Asia, it had more of an Eastern feeling than European. The contrast is stark, so the feel of the city was something novel for me at the time and upon revisiting over 20 years later, it still feels like it is a passage way to Asia. The vibe, the hustle and the bustle all solidified the idiosyncratic nature of the city.
I spent a lot of time before the trip soliciting restaurant recommendations. We didn’t have much time only about 36 hour, so there was a limit to the amount of meals that we could eat. I decided that Pandeli in the Egyptian bazaar was a good choice, as it received multiple nods from various commenters.
Pandeli, which was only open for lunch. It was a white table experience with a very posh and stuffy atmosphere, but the location and tile work was gorgeous. The restaurant was founded in 1901 and had hosted many famous people throughout its history, including my favorite Audrey Hepburn.
We felt a little looked down upon with our backpacks and casual dress, but such attitudes aren’t a deterrent for us. I was there for the traditional cuisine. We didn’t have a reservations, so we were unable to get a seat in the alcove with windows over looking the square and the Golden Horn. The clientele were primarily foreign, so alcohol was available, but at an outrageous price. A bottle of Turkish wine was on average about 1200 lira (128 lv). I opted for a glass, which was still more than an entrée. Regardless, I found the food delicious. We started with an eggplant pie topped with lamb döner kebap meat.
Angel and I both ordered lamb dishes as our main. I had the lamb sirloin served with roasted eggplant. It was perfectly cooked and seasoned. Despite the tourist prices and arrogant attitudes. I did enjoy my expensive meal quite throughly.
We spent a lot of time on foot, we kept walking and debating about catching a bus, tram or trolley, but at the end we had almost walked to our hotel, which unbeknownst to me was at the highest point in the city… I was definitely over my 10,000 step count and I was feeling the burn. We headed back to our room to unload our backpacks and got ready for the upcoming match. The main reason for our trip to Istanbul was to watch our daughter play volleyball in the CEV Championship League against Eczacibasi.
We decided to take the ferry to the stadium. The sun was setting and it was a beautiful night to take a ride across the Bosphorus.
It was the first time that we travelled to watch her play outside of Bulgaria. It was an exciting opportunity, even if we were part of only a handful of Maritza Plovdiv fans.
The next morning, we stayed in the room till check out and then had to roam around for 10 hours waiting for our night train back to Sofia. We didn’t have any concrete plans, but I did want to get lunch at another restaurant the really spoke to my love of Slow Food. Çiya, which feature two restaurants Çiya Kebapçi and Çiya Sofrasi that focus on regional rural specialties. Chef Musa Dağdeviren, who was also featured on Chef’s Table season five, episode 2 founded his landmark establishment in 1987.
I was overwhelmed by the food. There were so many things to choose from. I am quite inexperienced in Turkish cuisine, something that that this trip inspired me to correct in the future, but nonetheless, the staff encouraged me to walk up to the window and see the offerings and make my choices. It was luckily that some options came in half portions, so we had more opportunities to try as many dishes as possible. Everything was delicious and I look forward to spending time in Turkey exploring areas outside the cities.
Angel, who had not visited Istanbul before was eager to check out the Grand Bazaar, which his parents had been raving about for 40 some odd years… He and I are very similar, and we are both not shoppers. We don’t derive pleasure from wandering through stores or shopping areas. If we want or need something, we are strategic and get in and out. The shopping culture in Istanbul is not something that we enjoyed. We don’t like haggling and the general forceful attitude of the shop sellers. There are many people that love this dynamic and it is part of the charm of visiting and shopping in Istanbul, just not for us. I wanted some jasmine blossoms for tea, so that was what we were looking for and it was overwhelming. It was difficult to decide which stall to approach. In the end, I just picked one, got some jasmine and we left. I was definitely over charged.
We still had lots of time to wait for our train. I think this was one of the worst parts of the night train is that you needed to occupy yourself with your bags till the departure. We wandered around through the streets for a few hours, but in the end, we just wanted a place to sit and wait. We found a spot by the water and watched the sunset over the Bosphorus. It was pretty and the weather was pleasant. We started planning what to do for dinner and figured we would just grab something by the train stations. We took the Marmary back to Halkali, but there was nothing there. No restaurants, cafes or even vending machines. This was hugely disappointing. Most transportation hubs or stations, usually have some options available, but not here. Since we still had time to kill and we walked towards the mosque in the area hoping to find some life, but there was just a convenient store, so our last meal in Istanbul was some snack chips and cookies. I was really disappointed. It was our fault for assuming and not planning better. I really hopped to have a döner kebap or something from our great street food recommendations, alas we need to save those for our next trip.