Rule number one, it is impossible to do Istanbul in two days.
Rule number two, do not go in February if you are a snow hater.
I never used to have anything against snow since I was raised in an all year round sunny southern California. But throughout my years of traveling and witnessing the power of snow and what it can do to really test your limits by eradicating your travel plans, I've decided otherwise. When my brothers and I initially arrived in Istanbul the afternoon of the 16th, it was clear out. And as soon as we set our bags down, we walked out to venture into the lovely neighborhood of Cihangir in Beyoğlu where we were staying.
First on the agenda of course, was food since we Hans love to eat. We climbed our way up to this cozy little spot called Van Kahvalti Evi where we devoured breakfast for dinner. We each selected our choice of menemen, which is this amazing turkish breakfast dish of scrambled eggs with tomatoes, and some gözleme, also known as turkish pancakes (not pictured), all accompanied by some lovely çay, turkish tea. This simple meal may have actually been one of the best meals we had during our stay in Istanbul. It was that satisfying.
So then fast forward all the walking and pretty things we see along the way, we reached the port at Karaköy, the southern tip of Beyoğlu, north of the Golden Horn.
In Karaköy, we grabbed a unique ice cream dessert at Helva-i Hünkar along the port and walked the Galata Bridge to Eminönü and back. I'm still not quite sure what it is we ate but it definitely had ice cream in it and it was good.
On our way back home, we walked past the Galata Tower in Galata, once the tallest most striking buildings built of its time. Apparently from the top of this building you can get one of the best panoramic views of the great city, not to mention, a restaurant, a bar, and a nightclub all reside on the upper floors. We continued walking up steep hills to get back to our place. It started to rain at this point and it was now dark out so we made our way indoors and called it a night.
The next morning we woke up to a beautiful view of Istanbul's east side overlooking the Sea of Marmara.
With sunshine beaming through our window, the impending snow storm was the last thing on my mind.
We began the day with some easy breakfast at The House Cafe, a cozy little spot located in north Beyoğlu.
And what is a trip to Istanbul without baklava? After breakfast, we made our way over to the baklava kingdom, that is, Karaköy Güllüoglu, a family owned baklava business who've been around since the 1800's. We indulged in these yummy treats and packed some more for later.
By now, it had started snowing. Couple blocks down from Karaköy Güllüoglu was BEY, the trendy menswear shop which housed a plethora of fresh Scandinavian designer brands, some British, as well as locally produced merchandise including leather goods and accessories. The store itself is very inviting, with garments organized by color story and shelves neatly arranged with bow ties, sunglasses, and leather goods throughout. While my brothers picked out some nice basics, I rummaged through the stacks of pretty notebooks to add to my notebook collection all the while expressing our feelings on the weather, Scandinavian design, and game culture with Ozan, one of the three charming leads of BEY.
Upon finishing up in Karaköy, we crossed the bridge to Eminönü to get a closer look at the Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern. It was inspiring to look at the monuments from the outside but once we got inside, there wasn't a whole lot to see.
The Hagia Sophia was also undergoing construction so we didn't get to view the full interior. What we did find interesting was Medusa's head used as column bases in the cistern with one head positioned upside down and another tilted to the side. They say it still remains a mystery as far as its origin and placement.
Upon completion of our monument viewing, we were starving. We fought our way through the snow to claim our prize, that is, some juicy kebap at Kasap Osman, one of Istanbul's highly rated kebap spots for a late lunch located just a little west of Eminönü. I was a fan of the chicken kebap. My brothers were sold on the lamb. We devoured it all.
And because that wasn't enough, we then had dinner. Walking back to Beyoğlu we faced yet another gruesome battle with the snow pouring down all the more. I figured the battle must have burned another meals worth of calories. So at Lades 2: A Beyoğlu Greasy Spoon, we filled up on some chicken soup and menemen in addition to this amazing honey and creme side dish that we had with bread. This humble little plate is an absolute must if you happen to visit Istanbul.
The honey and creme is not the same; it was ridiculously good.
The next morning, we were supposed to fly out to spend some time in Paris. After a hike up to breakfast at the delicious Cook Point 2011 in Taksim, we picked up our bags and got to the airport only to find that all flights had been cancelled for the day due to the severe weather. It meant we had been granted an extra day to spend in snowy Istanbul. It was the last thing I wanted to hear. After long hours of waiting around at the airport, we struggled back to Beyoğlu disappointed but quickly found our momentum again when we made the corporate decision to make the most out of the situation regardless.
So in the evening, we visited the luxurious Nişantaşi district and walked along Abdi İpekçi Caddesi, perhaps equal to the Rodeo Drive of Beverly Hills or the Avenue Montaigne of Paris. We sat down for dinner at Kırıntı, a diner style cafe that had a thick book full of american comfort foods for their menu. We later found out that this is one of the few places you will find pork in this city. The food itself reminded me of TGI Fridays or Outback Steakhouse back at home given its tall greasy burgers and large cut steak portions. It's definitely a spot that caters more towards the westerners if you're missing your burgers and fries at home. After dinner we took a walk along Cumhuriyet Caddesi to Taxim Square and visited some shops along the way. We grabbed some treats including pistachio ice cream and baklava as well as some turkish delight at Mado on our way back to Cihangir. Minus our frozen hands and drenched feet, it turned out to be a nice soothing walk to close the evening. We got back home with plans to visit Bebek the next morning before our rescheduled flight out.
In Bebek, we started the day off right with the perfect cup of coffee at the ever so darling Cup of Joy, a coffee joint located just inside a small arcade. Given my older brother is a coffee connoisseur, he and Suzan, one half of Cup of Joy's duo had a nice long chat about the industry. It sounded a lot like Cup of Joy was one of the few coffee hubs in Istanbul with the good stuff. I happily slurped my cappuccino and munched on a gluten free treat made of oats, dates and chocolate. Yum.
Couple blocks down from coffee, our new friend Suzan led us to Mangerie Bebek, a beautiful restaurant located on the terrace of a three story building overlooking the Bosphorus. Despite the cold, we insisted on sitting outdoors to dine by the lovely view. We had an ultimate feast for our last meal here in Istanbul and made sure to enjoy every bite of it.
Bebek is quite the trendy part of town, with nice corner shops and restaurants scattered throughout with artsy crowds here and there. Parts of it reminded me of the west village of Manhattan or areas in London's sloane square. I look forward to coming back here in the future...when it's not snowing of course.
When we got to the airport the second time, our flight was cancelled again. We were stuck in Istanbul for another twelve hours or so before the next flight out which meant our plans for Paris were no longer happening. As frustrating as the situation was, all I could do at that moment was laugh.
Snow. It's pretty to look at. But it sure can mess things up.
After long hours of lounging at Istanbul's Atatürk Airport, we transited Paris and finally made it back to New York.
It was a quick trip; the days went by fast.
On this trip, my brothers and I got to walk one of the oldest lands of the world and bond as siblings for the first time as adults. We got to experience a snowy Istanbul, something rare and special for the people of this city. And in doing so, experienced what it felt like to have frozen feet for two whole days from constantly walking in slush and snow. We got to have amazing turkish cuisine and lots of it. We got to see and imagine new things that we would otherwise have not been able to see and imagine. But best of all, we got to encounter more of the beautiful people in this world we live in.
And in doing so, gained yet another perspective, another purpose, another way to see the world.