You know how sometimes when you are told something really exciting, you think its too good to be true, and you almost don’t believe it! Well that’s exactly what happened when I was told my next work destination was Turkey! So excited! And honestly I did not know what to expect, but I fell in love – the vibe, the history, the food, the people, the two continents, its got them all!
First of all, people in Africa – its super close! After a 6 hour flight from Nairobi, (also, with the BEST Flight Safety video I have ever seen! Big up to the Lego Movie!) you get to Istanbul in time for a nice lunch! And the fact that there’s no time difference makes it oh so great!
So, I went for work and Sam joined me a few days later. We chose to stay in Sultanahmet for all the great history! After much searching on Tripadvisor and other places we found the perfect gem! The Empress Zoe boutique hotel! (Note – if you don’t like little spaces or narrow staircases, then this place is not for you!) This hotel is really conveniently located, a couple of hundred metres away from Aya Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Basilica cisterns. One part of the building wall is connected to the first hamam in Istanbul – definitely a couple of hundred years old (my
guess is about 600!) A very small hotel, this place has the nicest staff -so attentive to detail! A lovely courtyard for summer (of course we were there in winter!) and such good breakfast food! Cheeses and coffees, dried fruit, all so yummy! Also, this hotel is 50 metres away from a lovely cafe/bar that we came to love -The Shadow Cafe – lovely nargile (sheesha), amazing food and drinks! Sam especially liked the local drink –raki, also known as Lions Milk for the colour the drink turns when water is added. The cafe manager, Ceko, was such a lovely guy!
Sultanahmet is a lovely neighbourhood – old, windy streets, restaurants, shops, noise and life. All so perfect. And not the typical sterile hotel joint that we usually stay away from anyway! On our first night there, we walked around to look for food, and came to this great restaurant – we just
wanted pomegranate juice (I think I am addicted to this!), chai
(black with lots of sugar, the way its loved here!) and some food. We stumbled upon Mesale cafe, a wholesome family space that serves all kinds of food and non-alcoholic drinks. As we sipped our juices, and listened to the live band playing Zikhr , the spiritual prayer music of Islam, we were blessed to also see a whirling dervish on stage. When you are Muslim like I am, and you are in that space and see that magic, your soul and spirit soar in ecstasy!
Now many people will tell you that shopping at the Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Spice Bazaar is great -it definitely is a great place to visit – the amazing frescoes and the building that still stands after all these centuries! But personally I found it quite expensive, and instead chose to go shop for souvenirs – lamps, coffee pots, fresh turkish delites, nuts, tiles and all other sorts of goodies -so we shopped outside the spice bazaar and at Eminonu after some guidance from a local friend -easy enough to walk to or take the tram – and where most locals shop! I highly recommend it!
Istanbul is a wanderluster’s dream – I highly recommend it and would go back in a heartbeat!
About Visas – if you have a valid US or UK visa, or a Schengen visa, you can go online and get your visa super quick – it took me 5 minutes! More info here – https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/ For Kenyans who do not have any of these, you can fill in the visa form and go to the embassy in Gigiri. Fairly simple!
About flights – if you have an e-visa you have to fly on Turkish or EgyptAir. Kenya Airways also flies there but we found Turkish fairly efficient!