We headed back to Istanbul after our time in Antalya. We were able to get a pretty decent flight on Pegasus Air.
Booking our flight was easy, but figuring out how to get to the airport in Antalya was not. It was really a shame because we were pretty sure that we should be able to get there via bus or train from Kalieci. But the more we looked, the more we realized it wasn’t as easy as we might have hoped. It was going to be a long walk to a bus stop that we weren’t sure was there, or a trip all the way back to the the main bus station on the train and then a connection. No matter which way we though about it, it was going to be slightly unsure and take an awful long time. We had told our hostel that we wouldn’t need airport transportation, but in the end, semi-embarrassedly rethought our choice and asked for a ride. It was a little pricier than we would have liked, but it was a straight shot exactly where we needed to go.
Where We Stayed
We found a nice Airbnb apartment in the happening Beyoglu neighborhood of Istanbul. It was quite easy to find because our host (who seemed to run apartments for a living) gave us a helpful PDF of information and maps. The neighborhood we stayed in was slightly dirty and slightly sketchy, but we were very near Istiklal street (think long outdoor mall which was always, and we really mean always, morning, noon, or night, filled with people – tourists and locals alike) which was a huge plus. The apartment itself was quite pleasant though a bit small and dark. It was on an underground level so we didn’t have a great windows. On the bright side, it had an excellent shower!
What We Did
Shop Near Istiklal – We knew that we would be heading home for the holidays, so that meant that we finally had the chance to freely buy souvenirs without worrying about how we were going to carry them around the world with us! We also knew that it might be a great time to find some one of a kind Christmas gifts. We had originally thought we would head back to the Spice Market which we had visited during our first time in Istanbul, but after exploring the markets near Istiklal Street, we found everything we had hoped for at the most convenient prices!
Explore the Huge Media Markt in the Fancy Mall – As we mentioned above, we realized that now would be the time to buy some souvenirs for ourselves. One thing that had caught our eye was a cool double decker tea pot that we had seen used everywhere on the Turquoise Coast. We hadn’t seen if for sale in any of the tourist markets so we started exploring the grocery stores. We found one that seemed both too small and too expensive. Luckily, we remembered that we had seen this giant store called Media Markt in the fancy mall on Istiklal Street. The store took up 3 full levels of this place! We decided to check it out and found the teapot we wanted… on sale! Score!
Watch a Movie – We were walking down Istiklal Street one evening trying to decide what to do. Suddenly our eyes alighted on the movie theater in the mall. It was showing Alayci Kus (Mockingjay)! Avid readers might remember that Della had been rereading the Hunger Games trilogy for just this reason. We had assumed we’d attempt to see the movie when we got home, but after a quick check, we saw that they were showing it here in Istanbul in English (with Turkish subtitles). It was an opportunity too fun to miss! We quickly bought tickets realizing that the show was starting about 5 min ago! We were stressed realizing that the tickets had assigned seats, and that the previews had likely already started. Luckily, this wasn’t a problem as there turned out to be an usher to take us to our enormous, comfortable, leather seats. We had never been in a movie theater this comfortable. It was fabulous! We settled down to enjoy the movie… Exactly one hour in, and in the middle of a tense action sequence, the screen suddenly went dark. We were expecting the other patrons to yell or throw things at the screen (we wanted to!) but everyone got up quietly, a patron flicked the lights on, and everyone went out to the Burger King to grab some coffee… After a quick double check with Google Translate, we confirmed our now growing suspicion that we were on intermission. The movie flashed back on (again in the middle of the intense battle sequence) about 10 min later. Overall, we loved the experience and really enjoyed the movie too!
Visit Chora Church – Chora Church is a bit far from the larger sights of Istanbul, but we ended up being able to catch a bus from right outside our airbnb apartment which took us across the Golden Horn and dropped us quite close to this beautiful church. Its real name was Church of the Holy Savior Outside the Walls since its original location was outside of the city walls. The Church is mainly a tourist destination today because of the large number of well-preserved Byzantine mosaics and frescoes from the 14th century. Rick Steves had a walking tour that guided us through the most important of the works. The outer nave contains mosaics depicting events from the life of Jesus, while the inner nave depicts scenes from the life of Mary. The parecclesion, a small chapel on the side that held tombs, contained the frescoes which depict scenes from the afterlife. We were a little bummed that the main chapel was closed for renovation, but it sounded like we did get to see the majority of the interesting pieces of art.
Do Rick Steves’ Walking Tour of Istanbul’s Walls – The Chora Church is located right next to the remains of the Old City walls dating to the reign of the Emperor Theodosius II in the 5th century AD. Rick Steves also had a walk along these walls, so we decided to check it out. The most interesting part was at the very beginning, when we climbed some steep and slippery stairs to the top of the wall. This gave us impressive views in all directions (although they would have been even more impressive if the day wasn’t overcast). We continued the walk along the walls and finished at a Muslim cemetery located just outside one of the gates. The tour would have had us continue on through an interesting neighborhood, but we were wet and cold so instead just caught a bus back to Beyoglu.
Where We Ate
Since we were on Istikal Street on multiple occasions, we took advantage and ate out on the street a couple of times.
The first restaurant, Otantik Anadolu Yemekleri, specialized in authentic Anatolian food. They had a woman who sat in the front window and made fresh gözleme, a “Turkish pancake” made of thin dough filled with something savory. Our favorite dish was a mixed appetizer tray that had two different types of what they called dumplings and a thick wheat porridge.
On our final day we wanted to find something Turkish but also cheap. We found a small cafe on a side street that met these criteria. The most interesting dish was what Della ordered: a “kumpir'” or baked potato. What made this interesting was he toppings they put on it: a huge variety of items including hot dog, peas, olives, onions and different sauces. Dana had actually gotten one of these when she was in town and we thought it was just a fluke, so we were excited to see that we could find one as well!