Since Taksim Square was a short walk from the Grand Hyatt, we went there on our second day.
- Grand Hyatt Istanbul
- Blue Mosque Istanbul
- Hagia Sophia Istanbul
- Topkapi Palace Istanbul
- Old Town Istanbul (at night)
- Doubletree Istanbul Old Town
- KLM Business Class Istanbul – Amsterdam – San Francisco
- 5 Things I Love About Istanbul
A slew of tour buses are in this area. The idea of a bus tour doesn’t appeal to me, but you might enjoy it. Just avoid hopping on close to rush hour, which starts around 3:30 PM.
Istiklal (Independence) Avenue is just off Taksim Square. It reminded me a bit of Market Street in San Francisco. There is a tram that runs from one end to the other. I recommend walking and then taking the tram back when you get tired (which you will).
For the most part, Istiklal has modern stores, restaurants, and even a couple of embassies. In the alleys, you can buy cheap shawls, souvenirs, and jewelry featuring the ubiquitous nazar. If its traditional markets you’re after, head to Old Town or the Egyptian Spice Market in Eminonou.
On this particular day, the Arguvan Turku Festival was taking place.
A crowd had gathered by the entrance gate to Galatasaray High School. A few men were playing instruments while the others participated in a group dance similar to the Afghan Attan. Strangers joined in and began dancing within the circle. It was a fun diversion and the crowd began making their way down the street.
It was a warm day, so when I came across this ice cream vendor I decided to try some Turkish ice cream. What ensued was a full-on performance. The guy started churning the ice cream like it was dough and when I took photos, he kicked it up a notch.
He gave me an empty cone, dropped the ice cream in, then proceeded to take it out of my hands, leaving me with a second empty cone. A few people stopped to watch and eventually buy their own cones. It was all entertaining, though I gotta say, the end product was not impressive. The ice cream had a gum-like texture and was flavorless. Still, I enjoyed the performance.
If you do come across one of these stands, hang around a bit and watch the show. Buy a cone if you can. It’s not much (I think 5 Lira) and these guys really sing for their supper, so be nice and support their hard work.
Despite Turkey’s status as a secular state, it’s a predominantly Muslim country. If the Turks (at least in Istanbul) don’t appear religious, it’s because they seem to associate more culturally with being Muslim than in a religious way. There aren’t many women walking around with headscarves (except for the elderly), and even some of their mannerisms were different from other Islamic countries.
For example, it is customary to turn off music, stop talking, and listen when the adhan comes on. We were at a rooftop restaurant one day when the adhan was broadcast outside the Blue Mosque. The restaurant kept the music on, and as far as I can tell, so did the others in the area.
My cousin, who lives on the Asian side, tells me religion is considered a personal matter that should be separate from one’s public life. This explains Turkey’s history as a religiously tolerant society.
As such, there are plenty of churches in the city. On Istiklal Avenue alone, we came across two. The Union Church of Istanbul, which is around 150 years old…
…and the Church of St Anthony of Padua, a Catholic church built in 1912.
Overall, Istiklal Avenue is a good place to shop, eat, and catch a glimpse of history. Istanbul is a fascinating city and the Taksim/Istiklal area doesn’t even scratch the surface.