Hey everyone! My last post was a recap about my time in Izmir, a beautiful, lively city on the Aegean. I also spent a few days at a resort in Antalya, and then went to Istanbul for four days. While I’ve been to Istanbul many times before, there is always something new to see, do, or eat, and I never get tired of going back. If you’ve already seen the main attractions, many of which I covered in a previous post, or want to try something new, here are my five suggestions.
Embrace your inner scientist at the Rahmi Koc* Museum.
I’d never heard of this museum before Burhan mentioned it, and it probably would not have been somewhere I was eager to visit at first. I’m so glad that I was wrong! The founder, Rahmi Koc, comes from a very wealthy and influential Turkish family, and with this wealth and influence, he amassed an enormous collection of machines and decided to share his interests in technology and transportation with the world. I saw an original Ford Model T, different Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Vespa scooters from the 1950s and 60s, boats of all sizes, agricultural devices, and horse carriages. The museum also has one of Thomas Edison’s original dynamos (an electric generator).
The Koc Museum is a great place to spend a few hours, especially on a rainy day like ours. I really enjoyed the rooms with videos showing how common electrical appliances work, such as ovens and washing machines, as well as a room that showed the process of making olive oil.
The museum also has a section dedicated to Ataturk’s life and legacy. I mentioned Ataturk when I first moved to Turkey in 2015. He’s the founding father of modern Turkey, much like George Washington in the U.S., and remains extremely loved.
The section on locomotives mentioned the famed Orient Express, which began and ended in Paris and Istanbul, respectively. I really wish this was still around!
The last thing I learned: Turkey used to produce cars! I noticed while living in Turkey that all the cars were foreign. Ford, Honda, Citroen, Volkswagon, etc.–but where were the Turkish brands? Starting in 1966, Anadol created seven car models. From what I read, although Anadol was popular domestically, the company couldn’t keep up with consumer demands regarding style and the model types. Anadol folded in 1991.
Ride a bike on Buyuk Ada.
A lot of people don’t know, but there are a series of islands right off the coast of Istanbul. The largest one is Buyuk Ada, which literally means “big island” in Turkish. Cars are generally not allowed on the island, and it’s very common to rent a bike or even take a horse-drawn carriage to get around. Without the cars, I felt somewhat safer as a pedestrian, even though the drivers of the carriages were just as aggressive.
I wouldn’t recommend going in March. The weather was cold and wet, so I didn’t take many pictures. We rode in a carriage, and I was more focused on keeping my hands warm as the wind whipped past us. We ate lunch at a really nice lokanta, a Turkish diner (often cafeteria-style) that serves home-style meals.
Eat a wet hamburger, or sprinkle some salt on a regular one.
The first time I heard about an islak hamburger, or a “wet” hamburger, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would the buns be soggy? Would there be yogurt? Burhan and I went to Kizilkayalar near Taksim Square, where people were crammed into the small space and spilling out in the street.
Sandwiched between two soft buns, the wet hamburger reminded me of a pulled pork sandwich, but with beef instead of pork. Or maybe closer to a Sloppy Joe. Either way, it was delicious.
In addition, I visited one of the famous (according to social media) Nusr-Et steakhouses for my birthday two years ago. Home of the beloved #SaltBae, I ate one of the better hamburgers I’ve eaten in Turkey. The buns reminded me of a pretzel but weren’t hard, unlike a kaiser roll. And I think they put oregano or some sort of Italian seasoning on the fries. Just watch your wallet because this place can be pretty expensive.
Attend a soccer match and witness some old rivalries.
Ankara is not a city known for its soccer team, so attending a game was not high on my priority list. Istanbul is different. Turkey’s first soccer league, now called the Super Lig, was founded in Istanbul in the early 1900s, and the city has some of the oldest teams in the country. There’s a big rivalry between the teams Galatasaray, Fenerbahce, and Besiktas, so whenever they play each other, it’s guaranteed to be an exciting game (like a Turkish El Clasico, the big match between Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain).
For my birthday in 2017, Burhan and I went to a Galatasaray game to cheer for his favorite team. I don’t remember who they played, but it didn’t really matter; most people were there for Galatasaray. Tickets are sold on a website called Passo, with an easy-to-use app.
I had enjoyed the game, but there were a few big differences compared to sporting events in the U.S. The first is that the food options weren’t as good. With two 45-minute halves and a short halftime, maybe there’s no need to really eat anything. Unfortunately, I was starving and ended up eating the worst doner kebab of my life. (I know, I know–what was I expecting? But it was either doner or pizza with olives, corn, and barely any sauce–why Turkey?!) I think I was scarred, as I still don’t really eat doner. Another difference is that people openly smoke in the stadiums, which I was not a fan of. Otherwise, the vibe was very energetic, and I liked how everyone sang along to the team songs.
Pose with wax figures at the Madame Tussauds museum.
Yes, my last suggestion is more touristy, but it was actually my first time at a Madame Tussauds museum anywhere, and it was very fun. The Istanbul location has everyone you would expect regarding American celebrities, like Beyonce, Brad Pitt, and Marilyn Monroe, but also a lot of famous Turks and historical figures from the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East. It was a cool opportunity to learn about people I would have never heard of otherwise and also to see what kinds of people are celebrated in another country.
Below is Baris Manco, one of the best-selling and well-loved musicians of Turkey. In the 1960s, when rock music was becoming more mainstream, he traveled around Europe, playing with different bands in Turkish and other languages. Eventually, he crafted the genre Anatolian rock, which blends traditional rock elements with Turkish folk music. For nearly four decades, Manco recorded music, traveled around the world, and hosted a popular Turkish talk show. A few songs by Baris Manco that I like are Unutamadim, Gul Pembe, and Nane Limon Kabugu.
*I’m using the English alphabet, so some spellings might be altered.
Thanks so much for reading! As always, please let me know if I missed something, or if you have any suggestions for Istanbul.