My Travel Journal - Istanbul, Turkey
This week, I stepped foot in Asia for the first time. I’m lucky enough to have been to four continents at this point and cannot wait to see them all. I’m gonna be honest and say I did not enjoy Turkish coffee as much as I was hoping but will definitely try it again one day. I was also informed by a local that you don't have to drink the muck (or coffee grounds) at the bottom of the cup but I really thought that was part of the experience. I did happen to discover Turkish delight with a friend of mine and was not disappointed in the dairy free options they had, raspberry being my favorite. I walked around the streets of Karakoy during the day and Taksim at night which gave me a beautiful taste of the local lifestyle. There was cheap food, vintage shops, handmade rugs, live music and history down every street. I sat on a rooftop, called Zebra Lounge, smoking hookah where I saw the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and so many other landmarks I couldn’t name if I wanted to. I had the best lunch of my adventures thus far at Arada Cafe, spending $7 on falafel, hummus galore and all the fresh pita one can stomach. The night brought us to a place called Ritim Bar where I had my first whiskey/ginger with actual ginger and we finished it off with outdoor seating on a street lined with a live three piece band at every bar. Overall, I cannot wait to go back.
If you're planning a trip to Istanbul, every one will recommend taking trips to the famous landmarks such as the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. Like they say about Rome, you can't really do it all in one day. Working on a cruise ship though, you often have to figure out how to do major cities like this in one day. If this is your plan or if you are just looking for some local vibes, busy hot spots and bustling nightlife, here's what I recommend.
Karakoy which translates to "Black Village" in Turkish is a super important harbor side area with arguably some of the best local restaurants and street food in the city. There is a reason it is included in so many street food tours. Though Karakoy is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, it is also an up and coming melting pot of hipster bars, cafes, galleries and boutiques. If you want authentic Turkish delight, vintage rugs and clothing or a fun night out with friends, this neighborhood is one I recommend. You may even find yourself standing under a street lined with umbrellas for some quality social media content, if you look hard enough.
Taksim Square is not only known for its many historical sights but it is also highly recommended by the locals for its nightlife. Amongst the many to offer, Ritim Bar came at the top of the list after asking friends and locals where the best place to grab a drink is. With an outdoor terrace and four floors, all decorated differently with each having something special to offer, it is a place for everyone. After spending a good chunk of the night here, the bartender even poured us all a free round of shots for our patronage. As you walk around, you will see almost every bar featuring live music with a three piece band (guitar, violin and drums) and people dancing in the streets. Beware of pick-pocketing and people asking for money. A lot of women use their children as distractions but don't fall victim to losing your wallet, purse or other valuables while these children latch on for a hug.
Istiklal Street is the busiest street in the city, lined with restaurants, bars, live music, street performers, cinemas and of course shopping. Comparable to 5th Avenue in NYC, it is the place to shop for products of all kinds. The street is also home to Istanbul's famous vintage ruby red tram cars. Keep your eyes peeled for "free" products or services that are never free - a lot of street gimmicks will get you locked in to taking something and then being forced to pay for it in cash at a very high price.
Arada Cafe was definitely a highlight of my visit. Serving authentic Lebanese food at a ridiculously affordable price and offering an eclectic vibe of plants, vintage furniture and a rooftop terrace, this, in my opinion, is a must go. You can order for one or for the table but whatever the size of your party, I recommend the falafel plate and the hummus sampling. Take a peek outside the restaurant and you'll find a swing decorated in pink roses for another great social media post.
Zebra Lounge is a rooftop lounge in the port area of Istanbul. Located at the top of a hotel, this is an affordable place to smoke hookah and take in the views of the harbor and the city beyond. The staff was friendly, offering to take pictures of our group and help us decide which hookah was the best for us. Smoking hookah in Istanbul has been added to my list of "Some of the coolest things I've ever done". Hopefully something in Istanbul can be added to yours!