“Why did I take so long to come back?!” This is what I exclaimed to myself after my refamiliarisation wander through the streets of Istanbul. The last time I was here was in 2013, and I think I said the same thing after returning from my first visit in 2011.
My original plan was to start using Istanbul as a hub for future travels. Life gets in the way though, and the next thing you know it’s been over eight years since hatching that plan.
I was on my way back to Asia from Europe, so this time I added a stop along the way. As I have been before I didn’t feel the need to visit the must-see tourist sights, so this blog post is my usual notes and observations during my wanders.
I was here for a week so I opted for the convenience of staying in the historic Sultanahmet area (where most hotels are) and explored from there. I thought that if I were to spend a month or more in Istanbul at some point I should look around at different neighbourhoods that I haven’t been to. The first place I went to was Balat.
Balat is an area on the western bank of the Golden Horn.
There are so many cafes around here that I would easily be able to spend an extended stay here.
This area backs onto a steep hill, and there is a street here that has become Instafamous.
The hills are steep here, so how far back from the waterfront would be a consideration when choosing a place to stay.
I haven’t spent much time in the Asia side of Istanbul, so I started off by visiting Kadıköy-Moda. This area has become a new hotspot since my last visit.
This area has a small tramway that connects it to the ferry to the European side.
My standard method of exploration is to mark off some cafes on Google Maps and weave my way around the map. The streets here are filled with cool cafes, international eateries, and some interesting old buildings.
My target cafe was the Fat Cat Cafe, and there was a cat (though not particularly fat) waiting for me there.
It had been a while since I had been here so I couldn’t remember prices, but things seemed cheaper than last time. I checked on the exchange rates and it turned out that I was visiting just as the Turkish Lira started a massive depreciation against the USD.
I went back through the historical rates to see what it was when I was last here. The rate was 9.60 TRY to 1 USD on this trip, and checking when I was last here (24 May 2013) shows that the rate was 1.85 TRY to 1 USD. The rate has since gone up to 13.57 in the time from my visit to this blog post.
This also happened around the same time as a big bull run in the cryptocurrency market in the latter half of 2021. As soon as I arrived I saw crypto advertising everywhere. The airport bus was covered in advertising for a crypto exchange.
On the main tram line, there was an advertising war going on between crypto exchanges in Turkey. There were at least four companies advertising on trams that I saw.
I have previously seen currency exchange shops offering crypto exchange, but now there are dedicated exchange shops dealing only in crypto.
And in a shot across the bow to the original store of value, there are now dedicated crypto exchange shops in the Istanbul Gold Souk.
I’m surprised that crypto hasn’t been banned in Turkey, because if everyone starts putting their salary in bitcoin or a stablecoin on an exchange instead of in the bank, then this is going to cause more problems for the Lira.
The depreciating Lira is bad news for Turks, but good news for tourists. If you have been thinking of a trip to Turkey, then now is a good time to go in terms of value for money.
Cats and dogs of Istanbul
Istanbul is somewhat famous for having cats wandering around everywhere.
And you can be sure to find a cat hanging around cafes.
Istanbul is also one of the most dog-friendly places you will ever see. There has even been a movie made about the dogs of Istanbul.
Just before I arrived there was a news story doing the rounds of a celebrity dog that rides around on public transport. He even has his own Instagram account.
I was looking out for him, but really, every dog is a good boy or good girl, so it didn’t matter if I saw Bojo or not.
In Moda, there is a statue dedicated to the street dogs of Istanbul.
Many of the dogs find refuge in cafes, where I met a few during my stay.
Most of the dogs are tagged, so they are known by the city council. Food is left out by shopkeepers, and there are even dog food vending machines.
Someone asked why they aren’t adopted and taken into homes. If you were a dog of Istanbul why would you want to be locked up in a home when you have a free pass of the city, hanging out with your other dog mates, with more access to food than you will ever need. There were a lot of fat dogs here, as a lack of a daily meal is not their dilemma.
On my last trip to Istanbul, I arrived by train from Bulgaria. Or I should say, I arrived by the dreaded replacement bus because the Bulgaria-Turkey line was being rehabilitated. It still is, and there is currently no service between Istanbul and Sofia.
After travelling through the Balkans I started writing a report on the state of the railways in Southeast Europe, including the railway connection to Istanbul. If you subscribe to my Europe Rail Newsletter you will find out when that gets published (and I will also mention it on the Nomadic Notes Newsletter).
Sirkeci is the main station on the European side of Istanbul that used to receive European railway services (including the Orient Express). Every time I walked by the station I would go inside just to get a feel for it, and perhaps hopeful that I see an announcement of future services.
Where I stayed
I first stayed in a budget hotel in the Sultanahmet area. Many of the budget hotels in this area offer breakfast on the rooftop, and that alone is worth booking for. It wasn’t the right weather for sitting outside, but this was the view from my hotel.
I also stayed in the Karakoy area, on the other side of the Galata Bridge. The little streets around here are thriving with bars and restaurants.
This is an old port area that is well underway to being gentrified, especially the Galataport project. The roads were still a mess and the old port buildings were being renovated.
This was a great area to stay is it’s close to the tourist sites and it’s in a flat area (no hills to climb like in Balat). It’s also where one of the most famous baklava cafes is located.
I don’t know if this was a good thing as I ended up here more than I should have, but what the heck, if I don’t end up in Istanbul again for another eight years then I am going to eat all of the baklavas while I have the chance.
Hot tip: if you love Turkish ice cream but don’t want to go through the rigmarole of buying Turkish ice cream from a street vendor, then here is where to go without getting the additional show.
See you sooner, Istanbul
I have my sights set on travels through the Caucasus (and more travel in Turkey) so I’m sure another stopover in Istanbul will be arranged.