Before arriving to Istanbul, I’d seen a few blogs that named it the Greatest City in the WORLD! So of course I had to see what all the fuss was about. Instead of simply arriving though, I walked 2000 km from Roma, Italy. That’s just… how I roll.
The mention of paradox is not simply aimed at Istanbul but Turkey and Turkish alike caught between worlds. So most Turkish in my experience, should you ask, will likely say -though originally Turkic from the far east- they are not really European, nor Oriental, or Arabic, or African . Yet, right in the middle of all of it! Talk about identity crisis.
In any event, through all of these influences you get a very interesting melting pot from their major metropolis, Istanbul.
Istanbul has been fought over for centuries. The whole city is seaside, with the Bosphorous Strait seperating it’s European side, to the Asiatic. The Black Sea to one side and Marmara on the other. It is the great divide between Europe and Asia. With waterways supporting any kind of shipping in any sort of direction. Hence, in the past, that it was so sought after. I don’t know if I can say it’s the greatest city, but it is certainly unique. Constantine, Emperor of Rome saw this first and crowned it Constantinople, the eastern capital of his Roman Empire.
My journey started at the edges of the city, coming from Greece and then straight into the heart of tourism to Hagia Sophia. I walked down 15 lanes of intense motorway, between thousands of girdlocked cars, day and night, with head-lights in the evening, glowing like diamonds. At the large fortress walls of the old city, I celebrated my arrival -after 3 months- with an Iranian man, in my tattered clothes, who would buy me a little dinner and a room in a dodgy, overpriced little hotel.
The old city is most known for it’s Blue Mosque, and Hagia Sophia, once a great orthodox church; transformed into a mosque (naturally) once the Ottoman got their hands on it. As well, the great Ottoman palace, and in the district of Fatih, it’s ancient central markets. The oldest mall in the world so I’ve been told. The more time I spent in Istanbul, the more I was told how great and ancient and legendary everything was. Like it really matters when people are starving all around you or struggling to make bread.
To arrive at the Galatta tower, built in the Byzantine-era, I had to cross the bridge from Eminonu to Karakoy, passing hundreds of men fishing off the sides into the mighty strait. Without really knowing where I was, or what I was doing and 100 euro in my pocket without a place to stay I wandered to the Galatta Tower in search of a hostel that had advertised for volunteers. It was mid-October and after living in this city about 8 months and leaving in mid-June I have to say, like most places, if you want to experience the beauty of Istanbul, visit between April and September.
Trips between all the portions of this monstrous city can be done by boat and when the sky is clear and air, warm, the experience is truely magnificent. This is a time you could encapsulate what was meant by ‘The Greatest City in the World’.
After the second hostel turned me down, I went to the true centre of the city in search of another. From Galatta to Taksim, you can take the very busy Istiklal road, thicker than any strip I have ever seen. It leads to the heart of Taksim, at Gezi park. Where it is not shy of it’s nationalism.
In the early morning, you have but a few early wanderers, homeless, musicians preparing and simit (sesame bagels) vendors, but after the sun has widened itself, thousands will head up and down this maze of alleys and gallows of shisha bars, cay cafes, tacky tourist shops, overpriced second hand clothes, kebab stands, waffle huts, ice cream buckets, flower ladies, sitaar stores and mega shopping centres. The place is absurd, but in the evening very captivating, as it glows through multi-colored, fluro bulbs . And in one little corner of Taksim you can find some great, live jazz and a few very decent little clubs. I’ve listed spots where it is free to enter. After all, this is a backpacker’s piece you are reading.
- Nayah (Raggae)
- Layla Terrace (Jazz)
- Cassette (Minimal)
- Papillon (Erasmus Bar)
I finally found some work, for a bunk, and I helped clean and cook etc.
But, low and behold, one of the owners of this hip, cool, peace loving hostel became very jealous and started hating on me shortly after learning I’d partnered with the receptionist, sharing a bunk. It seemed to me, that the kindness was built on expectations, judgement, and hindering morality. That someone felt they’d been betrayed somehow.
Eventually, it got so uncomfortable I had to leave and fortunately helped by others -though they were persuaded not to. I wouldn’t recommend this hostel to anyone -even enemies. But I do recommend the soup down the street at
At every corner you can find a mosque; every month a park is being torn down to build another mosque. Even next to this little hostel in the grimy, very charasmatic region of Tarlabasi. And not far from the infamous Gezi Park either.
Told to me, by most locals that Tarlabasi was a very dangerous place, might be the most authentic part of the city for its truth. Drugs, guns, garbage, poverty and broken down buldings. The socio-reconstruction of this tourist’s city has not yet hit Tarlabasi, but it surely will. Gentrification is on it’s way! And this little area, known as the Kurdish corner, will not be saved from it.
Kadikoy -Asian Side
The highlight of my time came when I finally crossed the divide and lived in Kadikoy. Kadikoy is the gateway to Asia. And in one little part of Kadikoy you have a squat called Don Quixote, a couple little cafes and even one with buffet meals where you pay what you can, and a nice little community of artists and peacekeepers. I found my feet in this little area.
It was unlike others. Though Kadikoy was still quite busy, the seaside was very green, and on a nice day hundreds of people gathered to sit and chat and drink and mingle in whatever way they wanted. The walking path went a long ass way and left plenty of room to breathe. Something I had lacked after staying in the Taksim area for many months. It was truely the polar opposite.
It was a chance to meet the charismatic over donation meals, enjoy humble company, talk and then wander the streets with musicians and sing in the late night. It was a chance to chill and miss the hassle of thousands of moving feet along Istiklal. And it is also the place I found my favourite eateries aside from Haci Kebap. Especially my go-to kebap shop around the corner for 2.50 T.L (75 cents) And nearby, on the same road a fantastic, little lamacun place where they are tossed and pulled and then chucked into a hug, clay oven and cooked over scalding stones. It’s the busiest place I saw, full stop, as far as the Turkish pizza places went. And only a few minutes from my flat!!
Though it is a very chill area, the hostel selection I didin’t notice as very reasonable. It’s quite costly compared to the other side.
The big one in Kadikoy with two branches, comes highly unrecommended. It’s nice and all, clean and very doctor’s office for the most part. There is no life at that place as far as I saw it. As usual though, terribly overrated.
Kadikoy is not a place for clubs, unfortunately, but there are plenty of sit down bars and cafes. In the daytime they have charisma, but in the evening, it is very hard to find a spot where the music is anything but deafening. This is not the place where you will find great taste. It has potential, for sure, but it misses at every single corner. There is a long way to go.
Around the area of Yenikapi-Aksaray, after a metro, a ferry and the underwater train, you can find THE little Georgian restaurant where they serve up some great, authetic Georgian food. The prices are pretty steep compared to in Caucasus, and it is there where you can find buses headed across the Black Sea to Georgia as well. And it is also there, where you can buy Cha-Cha! Homemade, Georgian vodka. This is definitely something you wanna pick up on the way to Taksim, for a night on the town. It is not so cheap to drink around Istanbul, but with these coke bottles full of homemade vodka, things will get quite a bit cheaper -and vehicular!Savvy Out!