Honeymoon Part Six: Istanbul

by Stephanie Gilmartin in

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. 

It was the last stop of our honeymoon, and we were quite looking forward to getting home after three weeks of constant travel. The last time we'd been in Istanbul it was March. This year it was a hot July and just before Ramadan, so the square around Hagia Sofia was teeming with pilgrims and the atmosphere was very much more festive. We were pretty skint after eating out for every meal every day, and looking forward to a little familiarity.

We returned to our favourite restaurant on the first night, Babylonia Garden Terrace , and we the amazing balloon bread again. There was more of a sense of hurry this time, maybe because it was the height of tourist season, and I got food poisoning from the slightly lukewarm chicken.

The next day, we were having breakfast in our hotel (the only one we stayed in for the whole trip). It was the only one we'd stayed in, since all our other accommodation was in swish AirBNBs, and James noticed that his cereal was moving. We googled later and it seems to have been some sort of moth larvae - horrific. The hotel's reaction? Meh. They took the cereal away and that was that. The same evening, just after I washed my hair, we went out. They do say bad luck comes in threes, and thankfully that was the end of it.

The hotel was just a one-night stop-gap before we got to go to our much nicer AirBNB down the hill, near the rather more glamorous Pera Palace hotel. We'd love to have stayed there but it just wasn't feasible on our budget after such a long time away. We contented ourselves with looking in the window at the beautiful pink patisserie inside instead.

I later read Midnight at the Pera Palace, a fascinating window on Istanbul at the turn of the century. It was so interesting to imagine the places we'd walked around at the time that the Sultanate was dissolving and a new, more secular Turkish state was emerging. The author, Charles King, did an amazing job conjuring up scenes in which aristocratic Russian immigrants were becoming street hawkers and spies cluttered the lobby of the Pera Palace. It's a fascinating book and well worth reading alongside Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, particularly if you like escaping into opulent, long-vanished worlds that time will never bring back.

The melee in town prompted us to get out and explore the slightly further reaches of the city. We went to the old Ottoman Bank museum underneath Salt Galata, marvelling at all the handwritten bills and deposit slips, and the Museum of Modern Art, which led us to discover a little bit more of Karakoy. 

Karakoy is incredibly hip behind the scenes - little pavement cafes, great street art, the best antiques shop I've ever been in. Being a predominantly Muslim area, there didn't seem to be anywhere to drink unless you went up near Istikal Caddesi, which was a bit of a shame. We just had to content ourselves with coffee and cake.

We stumbled across these famous rainbow steps which was a pleasant surprise.

Being a big fan of Rosemary's Baby, I was also a big fan of Untitled by Murat Pulat, especially when I got to see the texture of it up close. The MOMA was one of the best modern art galleries I've been to.

And now, a few pictures of possibly the best shop I've ever been in. I wanted to buy everything in it to decorate my house. Owned by a stylist/set designer called Asli, Karakoy Junk is an Alladin's cave of robots, cacti, neon and radness. Asli is a talented artist who makes a lot of the costumes and props on display herself, and designs the neon signs. I knew we were kindred spirits when I saw her Aladdin Sane lightbox. I had spent my apportioned shopping money on a bison skull in The Works: Objects of Desire, another junk shop just up the hill. Just going to have to go back...

If you're ever looking for this most diverting little area, search for Kilic Ali Pasa Mescidi. The whole area is well worth exploring, and if you head for the mosque, you'll find several shisha places where you can drink tea and play draughts to your heart's content.

We also headed up to Emirgan, a recommendation by our AirBNB host for nice photograhy. We found it be a sort of run-down tribute to Notting Hill - perched above the city, but somehow remote, like a hill town, with people who wanted to keep themselves to themselves. I've since seen other pictures of Emirgan online and it looks beautiful - perhaps, both lacking Google Maps and our phones, we missed the turn-off.

We got to go back to Hafiz Mustafa, our favourite Turkish dessert shop (several times, in fact).

We also discovered the tombs of the sultans near to the Hagia Sofia, and a really saddening incident of art theft. The tiles on the left are purportedly fakes, made to emulate the real ones which are apparently on display at the Louvre in Paris. It's a bold claim to stake on a museum plaque, and the most passive-aggressive thing I've ever read on a museum description. It makes me dread to think what all the former colonies and countries we invaded might write about the British Museum (cough cough, Elgin Marbles. And having seen the state of the Acropolis, it's clear that we should give them back - London has enough to recommend it without stealing other countries' culture).

On our last night, down to our last £8 or thereabouts, I took us on a street food safari up Istikal Caddesi. This consisted of Ali Bey's icli kofte, a delicious snack similar to italian arancini but filled with minced meat and bulgur wheat and served with chilli and lemon. 

Then we tried wet burgers, and had to have two each because they were so delicious. Sound weird? Put a hamburger in a bun, dip it fully in a tomato sauce, keep it in a steamy hot-box til you serve it. It was a soggily delicious, garlicky yielding treat. 

 Aye, that's how white my legs still were after three weeks in southern Europe.

Aye, that's how white my legs still were after three weeks in southern Europe.

And so concluded our honeymoon, and it was back to the grim realities of work a day later. I'm glad we did something for ourselves because your wedding is actually a lot about other people, and it was great to be away for such a long time. There are things I would change in hindsight about the organisation of the trip (like, I really would not have bothered buying interrail tickets, because they were a complete waste of money) and I think I'll blog more about that later. It has totally inspired me to try to fit in at least two destinations when we do get away, because really, it's only one more flight. Where to next? We've done Copenhagen this year, which I will blog about soon, and Kenya seems like it will be on the cards too, so watch this space!