Çay, çay, çay, it’s in the air, it’s in the streets and the souls of the people. I’m in a city known for Fez hats and great men who’ve shaped the world as we know it today. Istanbul, otherwise known as Constantinople if you conveniently forget Sultan Mehmed II conquered them. I have a warm spot in my heart for a city like this; you smell it in the air, see it in the eyes of the people and feel it in the beat of the streets. People here, have pride; they understand and appreciate diversity while embracing their traditions. With that being said, should you be surprised by a Turks love for country?

In the west we have neglected to educate our masses on the importance of the Asian gateway to Europe, we focus too much on the achievements of white people in our textbooks. If you take the time to research the history of Turkey, you’ll come to love and appreciate it as well. I fell for the country for the same reason many men do in far-flung “exotic” lands; food or women (preferably both). Haven’t you ever had a piece of Turkish delight? A bite of Baklava? A kiss from Merve? Oh, no? Well, I’ll own that anecdote for me myself, and I. Turkish people have mastered the art of sweets, strong bitters and the beer can kick like an ass in heat. Nevermind the chow, for now, let’s talk about Merve (the hot turkish chick)((she’ll hate me for this, and I love it)).

Back circa 2017, cold and alone in the desert nights of Kuwait. I was doing what I always did in Kuwait when I wasn’t working a 12-hour shift or drinking Chinese hooch; I was vigorously swiping on tinder in hopes of catching a Tinderette for the evening. Do you know that feeling you have when you swipe upon a total dime n a half? I caught the feels on a particular character, profile description was absent, but the photos said a million words; here her energy and savoir-faire rendered her indispensable in every department.[Agnes] I caught her at her tail end of her adventures in the desert, and we had a quick 3 hour rendezvous right before her flight back to Istanbul. What lastest from that experience was a great friendship, she somehow even deals with my gaucheness and shirtless photos, a strong comrade.

Fast forward to now, August 10th 2018, my 26th birthday. I’m in the city of Sultans & Attaturk with my homeslice, and she’s showing me some of the best of the city. I’m honestly in awe with what I’ve seen. More pics below:

Let me go over some of the critical aspects of this little adventure I’ve had conveniently separated by category:

Booze

Rakı

Sweet, aromatic and hits you like a sip of Soju. The Turkish call it Aslan Sütü or Lion’s milk for its milky appearance when mixed with ice or water; similar to the louche of absinthe. I call it courage juice because I was ready to do some stupid shit after I downed a whole ‘small’ bottle. My friend later told me that NO ONE drinks the entire bottle (well excuse me). Raki has a minty aniseed taste to it, very refreshing & similar to schnapps. I have to say even though Raki is a stiff drink; it is a delightful drink it goes does easily and gives you that “I just brushed my teeth” freshness feeling.

Raki, the milk of the strong is something ANY traveler should try. I would suggest you hit the lions milk in a group and late at night when you’re ready to knock out, if not you may be tipsy reasonably quickly at 3 PM.

Wine –
Karga

As I stayed in the Sub Karakoy (BK), chilling at the top of the balcony, I got the chance to try some of the local wine. Karga, a wine made by a local architect is blended of Kuntra and Sauvignon. Bozcaada is an island of Turkey in the northeastern part of the Aegean Sea. It is also the location of some of the best wineries in the country. That being said, it’s safe to assume most the wine you try that’s local will be a treat.

 

Chow –
Oysters by the water –

I have to admit; when I go to countries, I try to keep a keen eye on tourist trap type venues. When you walk along the seaside, you can’t help but notice the plethora of Oystermongers. These men tend to have a pretty warm demeanor and don’t chase you down with their eyes to buy their goods. Eventually, on one of my strolls with my GWB, she had me try one; one became two, and two became four. These Oysters were BOMB.com. The shells varied from medium to large, they were warm and stuffed with brown rice and slid down smoothly. I thought to myself as I was slopping down these mollusks “I could eat 10 of these easily. No, 15 on a cheat day ????”.

Needless to say, if you’ve read my encounter, I highly suggest you give one of these Oystermongers the opportunity to blow your mind & your taste buds. The Oysters fetch a fairly low price; I am not quite sure if it is always cheap. I traveled with a local, so maybe they just gave me the local price.

Chestnuts & Corn –

As I wandered throughout Kadıköy, I got the subtle scent of Christmas whispering through my nostrils. There was a noticeable lack of carols and snow, so I was fairly confused. If you aren’t by the sea, deeper into the city streets; you’ll see plenty of Chestnut & Corn vendors. I don’t know why they sell these as a pair, must be the equivalent of hot dog & chips in New York.

 

 

I am going to tell you to give these guys a shot but here are two warnings. Not all Chestnuts are tasty and not all corn is juicy. Be sure to make sure the Chestnuts aren’t overcooked, or they will have an off aftertaste. Also, be sure to look at the corn to see if it has dried from overcooking or just dried from the sun. I would say, I wasn’t happy with my Chestnuts and I didn’t bother with the corn because I prefer mine with butter.

Fish-Bread –


I can’t pretend to say this is a special meal; it’s not. This is peasant food, something you share for a cheap dinner with your brothers, something the fishermen grab before they hop on their ships, it’s bony, lightly seasoned and stuffed with veggies, I’d compare the Fish-bread with the French ratatouille or the American Oscar Meyer slapped between two white bread buns.

I will say, when in Rome, you eat as the Romans do. Experience some of the cultures and have a peasants meal. Sit there on the concrete seat and watch the people go about their way and the boats pass by. I enjoyed the moment of peace much more than the fish or bread.

Pancakes –

I hadn’t seen this one coming, a total delicious curveball. Sprinkled around Kadikoy (potentially elsewhere as well) are pancake cafes. These spots mostly sell sweet or salty platters with pancakes as the centerpiece. This is food for sharing, an event even. You’ll want to bring whatever tinderette you’ve managed to catch to such an establishment for chill vibes and tranquility. I can’t say anything is spectacular about any pancake you may encounter, no unique spices, no unique texture. What lies in the interest of many who visit are the sauces and meats that accompany the bread. Your taste buds will not be bored.

Baklava & Turkish Delight –

I feel goofy just saying this, but if you are visiting Turkey, you need to try Baklava AND Turkish Delight. Unless your kryptonite is a peanut allergy, you have no excuse. Why would anyone shy away from such a rich substance? “Well Brice, I don’t like sweets.” Listen here you the human embodiment of stale bread; food ranges from sweet to savory and if you call yourself a traveler you need to be prepared to try the sweetest dessert and the spiciest llama meat. Let me hop off my tangent and get back to the nitty-gritty of this nutty confection.

I spent my time at Karakoy Gulluoglu which is known as some of the best Baklava in Istanbul. I can’t say I’ve sampled every piece of this sweetness in the city, but I have been told you can find cheaper Baklava elsewhere on the streets. Albeit this is considered “expensive,” I spent no more than 40 Turkish Lira for a hefty portion of Baklava & çay. That’s about the price of a ‘cheap’ Starbucks coffee. While you are in the area, you should also check out KOSKA. They are a bakery that makes a ton of sweets including Turkish Delight of all types. I ended up packing a few up for my flight home from there.

Red velvet cake & pudding from the cafe –
Un Karaköy

My first meal in Istanbul outside of the airport was something special to me. Growing up in South Georgia, USA I used to rush to my grandma’s on every holiday or random church Sunday to grab a slice of Red Velvet Cake. It’s extra sweet, dark and thick and you feel like taking a 6-hour nap post meal. I was shocked to see a slice sitting under glass all the way across the world. I had to indulge.

I am not saying this particular restaurant is the gem of Istanbul. I will say the owner speaks excellent English, was very helpful and passionate about his business. Everything on the menu is sweet, and it’s kind of their shtick. If you make the smart decision and pick Sub Karakoy for your hotel, you must take the short stroll to Un-Karakoy and spike your insulin.

Turkish Kumpir At Taksim Square In Istanbul

One spot the GWB told me I HAD to see was called Taksim Square. Famous for many things specifically the market that runs deep in the veins of the city. You’ll find vendors shouting at you to try their Kumpir or similar sweet mix bowl. It is indeed a hectic experience, and I generally hate those, but I couldn’t help myself smirk at their talent for pulling customers with their charm.

So what is Kumpir? It’s not that complicated, it is a stuffed potato but taken to the next level. You get a variety of toppings that may seem irregular to the American pallet. Such toppings like olive mash or the pink substance I decided to try and fell in love with on my tater. It’s a good ass potato in every sense, great experience and cool time. I’ve been told you can return for new toppings if you run out before you finish your potato too.

Majo Waffles

If you haven’t noticed a trend here, I am going to a lot of new places and experiencing a lot of new things. I’ve traveled a lot over the years, and I sometimes feel like theirs not much left in that arena. Now and then I am pleasantly surprised. Istanbul is full of those occasions. One pleasantly drunk night, marching through the streets and with a fresh feeling of defeat by my comrade in a few rounds of PingPong. She introduced me into Majo Wafflles.

Molten chocolate covered tiny waffles, stuffed with some mysterious cream substance (it was good, reel good). To top it all off, the waffles are covered in your choice of toppings. This is the ultimate form of Waffles. (sorry Waffle House, I still love you)

Things To Do In Istanbul, Turkey –

I am NOT going to go over the basic top 10 places to see in Istanbul. Theirs’s a ton of articles already out there with generic descriptions and stock photos of some beautiful architecture in Istanbul. I would suggest you see as much as you can because the European and Asian side of the city has some truly awe-inspiring features and buildings. Instead, I am going to give you a quick list of things you simply MUST DO on your trip to Istanbul. Without completing this tiny list, you have failed, and you must restart your vacation.

Fishing –
Take an early morning stroll along Galata Bridge for a few sardines. I’d suggest going to one of the many sports shops in Karakoy for a little gear beforehand. Basic stuff, a rod and small hooks, bucket and some line. Heading to the bridge around 6 AM would be optimum to grab a right spot. You don’t need any licenses to fish in the area. Fishing is by far one of the most peaceful pastimes out there. At the same time, very few experiences compare to that jolt of excitement you get when the line starts to pull. Even if you aren’t much of a fisher, I highly suggest changing things up a bit and catching some sea critters.

Galata Bridge –
Once you’ve had your peace and tranquility catching sardines above the bridge. You can go right below to cook your catch. The Galata Bridge is a beautiful tourist trap with a view. Let me reiterate, it is a total tourist trap, but it’s tough to say no when you’re offered acceptably good tasting seafood right off the sea. Now there’s plenty of restaurants that offer this, but they all usually cost a grip (at least to Turkish standards). If you are aiming for a good meal with your view, I’d suggest Oba SteakHouse instead. The ability to fish on the bridge and chill right below cannot be understated.

Boat ride across the sea –

Just Across the way, the Karakoy way… Right down yonder from the Galata Bridge is the Karaköy Ferry Terminal. You can honestly just pick a random direction to travel. It’s more about the adventure and less about the destination, homie. I ended up in Kadikoy and got the chance to check out the tunnel markets, fish bread and spice markets in the same area. I would suggest finding a less populated spot on the boat somewhere up front.

A park I went to – Çamlıca Hill

What you quickly notice about this city is that it is quite green. I always appreciate a city that hasn’t destroyed it’s connection to the natural world. I would say you can find a park strolling into most parts of Istanbul. The only two problems with the parks you may encounter is some are too crowded, or they may be too close to loud street traffic. I took a walk to Çamlıca Hill from Kadikoy; you can quickly do this walk in about 20 to 30 minutes strolling with Google Navigation by your side.

This park is quite grand, centered around an old mosque and palace it is the perfect location to wind down and escape the city. You can spread out and find your own place to relax; the park is plenty wide to accommodate you without feeling crowded.

Kilic Ali Paşa Hamam –

Not many places in the world offer you a naturally heated spa. Even fewer places in the world offer you, Mahmood, scrubbing the hell out of you and rubbing his baklava belly all over your back. For a fee of course. What I’m getting at here is Hammams are by far one of the unique experiences you can have in Turkey. These baths have existed for centuries, giving you the pleasure and guilt of discovering just how entirely wrong your skin regime is.

I stumbled a bit on my first experience with a Hammam; I wasn’t aware that they were appointment only. Luckily you can set an appointment via the gift shop at Kilic Ali Paşa Hamam. I am suggesting this hammam because it is the one I visited and I can vouch for the service. Plus this was also the location for a James Bond movie, that’s just added cool points.

You’ll come in for your booking rendezvous in the morning for women and afternoon for men (it’s a segregated bath). Here’s how it goes inside, you get a cloth to cover your dangly bits and go upstairs to change. You’ll eventually be escorted into the bath. A stone room decorated in old ottoman symbols and architecture, in the center, a large round stone slab. As you lay on the tile you can’t help but stare at the ceiling, naturally lit by the sun. Because I am an old man, I ended up passing out (and snoring according to a guy). It’s THAT comfortable.

Mahmood, the masseuse, eventually came to sit me on the wall. Now let me tell you, folks, I ain’t afraid of hugging a guy that I’ve never felt the warm hairy embrace of a Baklava belly. You’ll quickly discover as the masseuse scrubs you down that you have A LOT of dead skin, you really needed this. I know I did. After the scrubs and in-between, you’ll get splashed with warm/cold water. You’ll be in and out within an hour a new wo-man (or whatever you identify as). Post bath, you can relax in the lobby on some of the softest couches I’ve ever laid upon. They have a small menu with juices and treats; I suggest the orange juice with an almond cookie. Theirs’s so much more to this experience that my little summary cannot give you. This is something that has to be experienced by all who visit Turkey. Don’t be put off by the man or woman bathing you or the fact you’re mostly nude. It’s by far one of the best experiences I’ve had in Turkey.

Visiting Istanbul has been a real treat for me. I have been to dozens of unique places in my life, and very few actually give me that warm embrace of hospitality and hope as Istanbul does. I can’t say much for the rest of the country, I think it’s fair to compare Istanbul to Los Angeles and the rest of the nation well they’re much like those middle states that voted Trump into office; a whole different world. Turkey is still a Muslim country, and you should stay aware of that and be sure to show respect to the religion. I was initially going to discuss dating and meeting people within the city, but I don’t believe I stayed long enough to give my opinion correctly. Just trust in tinder, my friends.

 

 

The moments of peace and adventure I had visiting Istanbul cannot be put into words. I actually intend on taking some time to live there in the near future, just to get more adventures under my belt.

Is it safe to travel to Istanbul?

This is a question I get a lot from Americans and other expats who aren’t accustomed to Muslim countries. Let me put it this way, I’ve lived on both coasts of America, throughout Europe and many parts of Asia. Turkey has by far been one of the most comfortable, least fear inducing places I’ve been. “As Turkey’s largest metropolitan city, Istanbul’s crime rates impacting foreigners are surprisingly low. However, travelers should be aware of petty crimes such as pickpocketing in crowded areas. Credit card and ATM usage is considered relatively safe with nearly no reports of fraud, especially when patronizing locations catering to an international clientele.” – OSAC