Turkey Part 2: Istanbul

And so onto Istanbul. I've been wanting to visit the Turkish capital for ages and had high hopes for this colourful city rich with history and culture. I'm happy to report that despite a hair-raising taxi ride into the city, holding on for dear life that left me thinking, oh god what have we done, it exceeded my expectations.

Istanbul is by far the most interesting city I've ever visited, and that includes Prague, Paris, Rome, Madrid, London and more. We stayed in a beautifully-designed Airbnb flat on Bogazkesen in Beyoglu, a ten minute walk from the Galata Tower and five minutes from the main street Istiklal Avenue, which if you've been to Istanbul and walked down this large pedestrian avenue, you'll know exactly what the sight is like watching a sea of inhabitants and tourists promenading up and down in the evening. But back to our street, Bogazkesen. I'll go as far as saying it was the best street to stay on as there was so much on offer - cafes, restaurants, bars, shops and galleries.

So here's a little guide:

+ Best dinner places: Latife Hanim Meyhanesi - we had an amazing meal here. We booked it after reading a review in the Istanbul Time Out. It's a newish restaurant that's been designed to look like a traditional meyhane - make sure you try the Levrek Marin (sea bass), the stuffed vine leaves mezzes and the Kofte for main. We didn't eat here, but we had it on good authority (according to the book Istanbul Eats: Exploring the Culinary Backstreets - a great little local food guide) that Zubeyir Ocakbasi dished up perfect kebabs (it also happens to be on the same street as Latife).

+ Best for views - top of the Galata Tower, Topkapi Palace's panoramic terraces and at night try 360, just don't eat there if you're on a budget. The view is spectacular, but my glass of wine which consisted of two large mouthfuls cost 27TL (€15).

+ Cute cafe: Cheers Midtown Cafe on Bogazkesen. The owner makes a mean non-alcoholic spicy/ fruity cocktail and is really helpful. She also cooks up a good breakfast.

+ Dancing: Indigo - somehow we managed to join a bar crawl on our first night - we just followed some loud music into a backstreet and found a street full of bars - each competing to see who could play the loudest music. We were then given wristbands and followed a group from one bar to another and then Indigo Club. Needless to say I was a tad hungover on our first day of sightseeing!

+ Best wine bar: Solera Winery - ask the friendly waiters to recommend you a glass of turkish wine. I had a lovely cold glass of Narince (I think) and we ate some of the tapas that they have on offer. They bring the whole tray of around 10 right to your table, and then you just choose what you want.

+ Must sees: Topkapi Palace - and make sure you pay the extra 15TL to go in the Harem, this is by far the best bit in the palace; Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque (this is a working mosque, so may sure you wear appropriate clothing - they do provide head scarves for women, so no need to worry about buying one) and don't miss the Basilica Cistern - this is one of only two underground basilicas in the world (the other is in Israel). It's an unexpected amazing sight and a great escape from the heat.

+ Shop 'til you drop: in the Grand Bazaar. I purchased x3 pillow cases, x2 Turkish towels and numerous ceramics. A good place to eat lunch (if like me you're in there for a few hours) is the Peace Cafe in Cebeci Han. Buy spices, teas and dried fruit in the Spice Bazaar, or just wander around and take in the colours, sights and smells. I actually preferred the Spice Bazaar to the Grand Bazaar in terms of the colours and photo opportunities.

+ Orange & Pomegranate juice: there are tonnes of stalls selling fresh orange (usually 1TL) and pomegranate juice (3TL) and the cheaper ones are further away from the tourist spots. We bought cups of fresh orange juice from a cafe across the street from our flat and took it back to have with our breakfast every morning. I haven't consumed so much orange juice since I visited Morocco a couple of years ago.

My top Tips:

+ Pay the 75TL for the museum pass, it may sound like a lot, but we ended up spending that amount on all the places we visited anyway, and with the pass you avoid the queues for tickets and it's valid for three days.

+ Don't bother bringing heels - the roads are steep and a lot of them haven't been paved properly. I wore wedges on Saturday night and spent the whole time looking at the ground to make sure I didn't trip over something or fall down a hole.

+ Get to the sights early - try for 9am if you can to avoid the hoards of tourists. There are far more tourists visiting the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace than you'll see at the Louvre.

[photography by Marissa Cox]

Turkey Part 1: Mediterranean Coast

I've just come back from an amazing 12 days in Turkey - easily one of the best countries in the world. We spent the first week exploring the Mediterranean coast, staying in Gulluk just north of Bodrum and then driving down to Kalkan on the way to Antalya, and then flew up to Istanbul for four nights. But first I'll talk about the coast. 

In Gulluk we stayed in the Med-Inn boutique hotel, a cute modern place that's very reasonable and perched right on the beach, with a lovely view of the bay and a wooden pier that stretches into the sea where you can sunbathe. Here's a mini guide of what to do in the area: 

+ Historical sites: don't miss Ephesus - the most beautifully-preserved classical city on the eastern Mediterranean coast. I suggest to get there early before it gets too busy. And May is actually a good time of year to go as it's not too hot.

+ Eat fresh fish and seafood. Pretty much every restaurant on the coast offers fresh grilled fish, prawns and calamaris, yum.

+ Drink Turkish coffee of tea. I opted for tea, as their coffee is thick as mud, but I'm told also rather tasty. I think I would have been climbing the walls after one sip. 

+ Grab lunch at: Gumus Cafe in Gumusluk (good name). This was a great little find. It's set away from the touristy cafes further down the incredibly calm bay and is small with only a few tables which are on   a little pier, meaning you literally dine over the sea. We ate the giant king prawns - see photo above, calamaris and a tasty salad - all brilliant.

+ In Bodrum dine at: Berk Balik, a no fuss fish restaurant that was the least touristy on the beach front.

Next we drove down to Kalkan where we booked into quite possibly the best hotel I've ever stayed in, the Fidanka Hotel. It was perfect in every way and looks like a giant tree house with flowers and greenery growing up the walls - I felt like Robinson Crusoe climbing the steps and then walking the little walkway to our room. All the rooms are constructed from wood - wooden floor, wooden bed, wooden bathroom, you get the picture - and we had the most amazing terrace with a stunning view over the bay (and a giant bath in the room - a must on holiday). There's also a lovely pool with a view. 

It also had a brilliant restaurant dishing up the best fried calamaris we ate all holiday - we would have quite happily eaten there every night had it not been a little pricey, and if we hadn't wanted to explore a little more. 

+ Best Beaches: Patara that's just north of Kalkan - one of the longest beaches in the Mediterranean -you'll pass some ruins on the road to the beach and then make sure you go to Kaputas (or blue) Beach - the most brilliant turquoise blue I ever seen - see photo above. 

+ Best historical sites: Pinara was by far the best site this end of the coast and we were probably 2 of only 6 tourists there, probably because it's off the beaten track. You have to drive off a very stoney road (if you could call it a road) to get there. It's then quite a trek up to the base of the mini mountain where all the old dwellings are, along a tiny path that involves quite a bit of climbing, but it's totally worth it. And there's an incredible view. (Perhaps not a good place to take sprogs if you have them). Also Letoon is pretty good - bit like a mini Ephesus. Of course once we'd seen Ephesus, there's nothing comparable.  

+ Don't miss: Kas - a pretty fishing town with a cute marina further south down the coast. We visited in the evening and had dinner at Naturel, after reading brilliant reviews on Trip Advisor, and we'll admit the food was excellent - try their homemade pasta and Kofte - a turkish favourite. 

(Photos by Marissa Cox)