Turkey: Istanbul, Izmir, Bodrum

While being originally from Turkey, in the last few years I’ve extended the duration between my visits to my homeland to explore different parts of the world from my home base in New York. This year, I decided to pay a long visit to Turkey during the Xmas-NYE break and ended up spending close to 4 weeks in 3 different cities. Seeing friends, family, and especially my 94 year old champion grandmother and introducing my boyfriend to them was a perfect cause to go to Turkey.

ISTANBUL

Istanbul  has always impressed me with its chaotic environment, its people who are always in a rush to get to somewhere, splendid cuisine, and amazing panorama of the Bosphorus bridging the Asia with Europe both physically and culturally. Things were mostly the same as I left the city 15 years ago but what stood out most was the increased number of street beggars that were mostly the refugee families who fled from Syria and Iraq in the last couple of years.

 

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A view of Galata Tower and surroundings

 

The traits of the Gezi movement that started in 2013 to protest the Islamist government’s attack on the freedom of press, of expression, of assembly, and Turkey’s secularism could be felt in every conversation and seen in the graffitis decorating the narrow streets of Beyoglu. When I heard from friends and family about the changes the AKP government had been making on daily lives to sneakily transition Turkey to an Islamic Republic, I felt deeply saddened and panicked. How can they want to take such a young and progressive country back to the dark ages?

I’ve decided to focus on positive things during this trip and here is what caught my eye:

Ships transporting people between the Asian and European sides of Istanbul. Galata Tower and Haydarpasa Port (on the Asian side)
Ships transporting people between the Asian and European sides of Istanbul. Galata Tower and Haydarpasa Port (on the Asian side)
Blue Mosque, one of the many mosques in the city. Sunset in the Marmara Sea (view from the Asian side)
Blue Mosque, one of the many mosques in the city. Sunset in the Marmara Sea (view from both sides)

There are thousands of sites to visit in Istanbul as it’s been a house to many civilizations for thousands of years, but my top historical places are:

Streets to walk around and explore: Galata area, Istiklal Caddesi, Beyoglu, Taksim, Karakoy. It’s fun to discover the side streets where you can find vintage stores, hip bars and cafes in old buildings, bakeries, and infamous hammams (baths)!

Colorful spices, teas, traditional souvenirs and turkish delight displayed @ Spice Bazaar
Colorful spices, teas, traditional souvenirs, soaps, fabrics, and Turkish delight displayed @ Spice Bazaar

Here are my recommendations for sightseeing around Istanbul:

  • Take the boat from the European to Asian side, the view is spectacular and you can drink tea and feed the seagulls.
  • Walk across the Galata Bridge to see the historical sites above. They are all close to each other or take a taxi.
  • Go to the islands! Especially Buyukada (Grand Island) – take a horse carriage tour around the island (~1.5 hrs), walk/climb up to the old church and make a wish!
  • Cafes/Restaurants: Sit and watch the amazing Bosphorus view whenever you can. On the European side there’s a huge coastline with a ton of restaurants, cafes, promenades, etc. The Asian side has this too but I am not very familiar with that side 🙂
  • For people who want modern Istanbul, there are several malls in each hood and ultra chic cafes/restaurants especially in Nisantasi, Istinye, Etiler, Bebek, Ulus.. but the prices will be higher than NY and why waste time with Modern?
Old tramway in Beyoglu/Taksim and Basilica Cistern (Sunken Palace) , the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath Istanbul. It was built in the 6th century.
The nostalgic tramway in Beyoglu/Taksim and Basilica Cistern (Sunken Palace) , the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath Istanbul. It was built in the 6th century and was in several movies, including the James Bond movie: From Russia with Love and The International to name a few.
Graffiti in Taksim and The Morissey concert that gathered thousands of ppl to a gigantic venue in Maslak.
Graffiti in Taksim and The Morissey concert that gathered thousands of people to a gigantic venue in Maslak.
A side street in Taksim
A historic wall on a side street in Taksim
Vintage store in Taksim
A cute vintage store in Taksim (streets of Galata and Cukurcuma)

After Istanbul, we headed to beautiful Izmir and Bodrum on the Aegean coast of Turkey to visit my family. Life is much easier on this side of the country and our time we spent by the peaceful Aegean sea definitely helped us relax a bit after the fast pace of Istanbul.

Ozdere, Izmir. I've spent every summer  in here with my family for 14 years!
Ozdere, Izmir. I’ve spent every summer in here with my family for 14 years!

BODRUM

After hearing the news about the snow storm approaching to Istanbul, we hopped in my brother’s car and decided to do a road trip to Bodrum, which is a beautiful coastal town also happened to be within a 4 hr driving distance from Izmir! Bodrum is a fascinating place as it has a pleasing contrast between the Ancient city (and a castle!), rich Turks and foreign visitors. Its bars, restaurants and beach clubs bustle in the summer months with visitors and paparazzi. In other words, Bodrum is like St Tropez of Turkey and it was so special to see her beauty in such peace during this time.

Bodrum
Bodrum Marina
Bodrum
The apartment complex where we stayed at in Bodrum. Walking distance to the center.
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Akyaka, Mugla
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6 Comments Add yours

  1. Susan Xu says:

    Hello Asli,

    My name is Susan Xu and I am the content manager and chief writer at Clapway, a New York based multi-platform company that houses an extensive collection of articles, videos, and marketplace services with a focus on adventure and travel. I came across your travel blog and really enjoyed your posts. Would you potentially be interested in writing for Clapway as a contributor? If so, please email me back at this address. We would love to feature your work.

    Best,

    Susan Xu
    Content Manager at Clapway
    195 Plymouth St #6/17
    Brooklyn, NY 11201
    sx@clapway.com

    Like

  2. These are some of the best pictures of Istanbul and Bodrum I’ve ever seen – I love the intensity of the colors. And yes, the AKP…

    Like

    1. Thanks so much! I realized it’s best to visit Turkey during the quiet/unpopular season 🙂

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      1. We live abroad and usually visit (and vacation by the sea) around the end of September, when the weather’s still warm, but half the tourists have already gone. It’s also not a bad time.

        Like

      2. End of September is great. It’s quiet and the weather is still awesome! Thank you for your recommendation 🙂

        Like

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