Home to Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman treasures, Sultanahmet, Istanbul’s ‘old city’, on the European side of the Golden Horn, is where first-time travellers to Istanbul usually stay. It’s where we stayed when we first visited the city many years ago.
But once you’ve seen Old Istanbul’s star attractions, Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya), the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii), Topkapı Palace, the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici), Süleymaniye Mosque etc – and they are special and should be visited – there’s little reason to continue to stay on this side of the water.
Linger longer in Sultanahmet than the few days it takes to see the sights, haggle in the Grand Bazaar, kick back in Gülhane Park, and have a hammam, and you could in fact come to dislike the city. Sultanahmet’s spruikers are some of the most irritating around and great food is hard to find among the many mediocre restaurants targeted at tourists.
Once you start to find your temper rising every time a carpet seller says “Where’re you from?” it’s time to head to ‘the other side’. Just over the Galata Bridge, Beyoğlu is, for us anyway, the ‘real’ Istanbul.
Beyoğlu is the commercial, cultural, art, and entertainment heart of modern Istanbul, and its main street, the pedestrianised İstiklâl Caddesi, which extends from Taksim Square all the way down to Tünel, near Galata Tower, is where millions of locals from all over Greater Istanbul converge on a daily basis.
Our ‘home away from home’ for two weeks in Istanbul, in Aysel Apartments, is one block from İstiklâl Caddesi and a block from Taksim Square. We’re in the thick of it and we love it! The narrow pedestrian street upon which we’re living is lined with casual restaurants, cafés where locals play backgammon and smoke narghile, little wine bars, countless men’s hairdressers, and tiny stores that all seem to sell the same dozen or so things.
Within a 15- to 20-minute stroll of our apartment is some of the city’s best shopping, markets, patisseries, restaurants, rooftop bars, and jazz clubs, and Sultanahmet with all its sights is just a 30-minute walk or 15-minute taxi ride away.
Our penthouse apartment is on the fifth floor of an historic corner building with just five apartments. There’s no elevator and the stairs are steep and narrow, so if you have heavy bags or aren’t fit and healthy, let the manager know in advance so he can organize a porter. Or book an apartment on a lower floor.
Renovated in a minimalist, modern style, our latest digs are super-comfortable and rather smart in an understated manner. There’s a light-filled, open-plan living and dining area with modular sofa, satellite television, and a wraparound balcony with table and chairs, and views to Taksim Square.
While the living-dining area is spacious, the bedroom is snug (although there is a walk-in wardrobe) and the kitchen is positively tiny, with room enough for only one person at a time. While Terence prepared both The Dish and Weekend Eggs in the miniscule space, it’s not the kind of kitchen you’d be happy in if you planned on taking Turkish cooking lessons and hosting a dinner party back at your pad, which is a shame, because the apartment is perfect for entertaining.
Despite its small size, the kitchen is well-kitted out with a decent range of plates, glasses, pots and pans, cooking utensils, and welcome extras like Turkish tea glasses (because you will get hooked on apple tea) and a traditional Turkish coffee-making pot. The sink is tiny, but thankfully there’s a good dishwasher. And the fridge is also small, though it’s big enough to hold plenty of snacks from the markets, which you can enjoy on the balcony with a glass of Turkish wine.
We were in Istanbul just as the weather was starting to get chilly and the apartment’s heating was excellent, making the place very cosy. The only problem with the place was with the occasional water cuts and power cuts (and resulting internet cuts), but these are a part of daily life in Istanbul, and (providing you don’t have a blog to update daily!) you can put the experience down to authentically living like locals!