Istanbul was quite memorable for us.
There seems to be a first time for everything: from celebrating a birthday in an airport, to going on a holiday without buying a holiday package, to even traveling abroad for the first time after a year of living on a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea.
Along with memorabilia, this trip also brought with it total craziness.
It wasn’t until we were purchasing our plane ticket that we discovered that, due to politics, our Greek side of the island didn’t offer direct flight connections to Turkey. So, in order to not fly illegally from the Turkish side of the island, we had to pay at least 3 times more money to get a transfer flight through Athens, which wouldn’t be too big of a deal if we were going to be visiting for a few days (to make it worth the money), but we were only flying for two and a half days.
As early as 6 months before my birthday, we bought our tickets and booked our accommodation; and, evidently, nothing is too much of an obstacle for someone who decides to celebrate their birthday in Istanbul-the noteworthy city where the Magnificent Century (Muhteşem Yüzyıl) series was filmed.
- A flight from Larnaca to Istanbul (through Athens)
- 3 nights in Istanbul
- A flight from Istanbul to Larnaca (through Athens)
*The total budget for two people was 443 EUR (excluding the payments for airport parking, food costs, as well as public transport and taxi fares):
- 278 EUR – Airplane tickets
- 165 EUR – Hotel stay
When choosing a hotel for our stay in Istanbul, we looked for two main things: a jacuzzi in the room, and walking distance to main attractions.
Considering the amount of money we were willing to pay for accommodation (after all, it was my birthday), our best option was the Emine Sultan Hotel. There, we booked a suite with a terrace on the top floor of a building that was separate from the main hotel (but only 5 minutes walking to the main building). We were most certainly happy with our choice!
Just imagine. . .
You walk into a room decorated with rose petals (artificial, but still), and then completely relax in a jacuzzi with a view of the darling street and distant sea while enjoying the sound of barge sirens pleasantly mixed with seagull calls and muezzin’s song. Then, in the morning, you wake up for a really rich, tasty breakfast served on a rooftop terrace with a beautiful view of the city, as well as several seagulls.
Quite spectacular, right?
You guessed it- 10 out of 10.
When we were planning our trip to Istanbul, we failed to take into account two things:
- Day temperatures of 7-10 degrees Celsius in Istanbul means that you will need a warm jacket to actually enjoy walking around. Where did we go wrong? We didn’t bring a warm jacket- we were so used to Cyprus spoiling us with warmer weather and having a car for traveling that we didn’t even think about it.
- Two full days in a new (and large) city is definitely not enough time to enjoy any excursions; for this, we weren’t able to do as much as we had initially planned.
Disregarding our downfalls, we were still able to explore three wonderful components of life in Istanbul: local attractions, malls, and Istiklal (the most famous avenue in the city).
Our 1st day:
As our hotel was located in the heart of the Old Town, we decided to walk around a bit and check out some of the sights from the outside before going shopping.
We then went to the Levent district, where there are several malls and the Balibey Döner restaurant where, if you are lucky enough, you can see Burak Özçivit (one of the top Turkish actors)!
Kanyon Mall: this mall was beautiful and unbelievably huge (especially compared to Cyprus and Kyiv malls); it was so big that you could get lost in its multiple levels of shops, boutiques, and cafes for days! The metal detectors at the main entrance were a bit confusing, but other than that, Kanyon Mall is absolutely wonderful- only positive impressions.
Traveler’s tip: Visit in January! They have good discounts; we were lucky enough to buy a leather coat and several pairs of shoes at half price.
Balibey Döner: This restaurant seemed like a nice place to have lunch (if you work at an office nearby) or to enjoy specialty dishes while freelancing. The dishes we ordered weren’t overly memorable, but we had a great time anyways. Also, we didn’t end up getting to see Burak Özçivit, but we did see his father who, as far as I know, is the manager of the restaurant.
Our 2nd day:
We devoted this day particularly to visiting Taksim Square and Istiklal Avenue.
Istiklal Avenue is a beautiful, yet extraordinarily busy, pedestrian area with many cafes, patisseries, shops, restaurants, and much more. With the beautiful rays of the sunset, the avenue filled up with an ephemeral ambiance that seemed to be disrupted every minute by the siren of the famous red tram.
Escaping the madness, our walk across Istiklal was a true highlight of our trip.
There, we visited several jewelry and lokum shops and walked around in two different panoramic restaurants: 360 Istanbul, and Leb-i Derya. Both of them had nice panoramic views of the city, but Leb-i Derya seemed to have a more relaxed atmosphere, so we decided to dine there.
The luck we lacked with seeing Burak Özçivit at the last restaurant, was presented to us here: while we were drinking coffee, a customer canceled their table reservation, so we were able to get a table with a view for my belated birthday dinner! Hooray!
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see as much as we were hoping; since Istanbul is so packed with beautiful “must-visit” attractions, we will need at least 4 days to enjoy a good amount of its historical beauty. We will make sure that next time we visit for much longer so that we can see several different mosques, (especially Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque), visit Topkapi Palace, and cruise across the Bosphorus.
Top 3 things I loved about Istanbul? Lokum, Istiklal, and the atmosphere.
Istanbul is a wonderful city with a perfect amount of oriental spirit and many, many historical sights to discover. I’m still unsure if I would enjoy living there for a long time, but I have no doubt that I will revisit sometime soon!