Disclaimer: We were (fortunately) not involved in the recent events on the Taksim-square. The clashes between the protesters and the police started the day after we left Istanbul.
Following a log of the summer vacation in Turkey between 25 May - 8 June 2013.
Day 1: Arrival
On the airport it was already clear that some people in this country are not really strong at queueing. Without any attempt to generalise a guy and two families who cut in front of us have all Uzbek passports, it seems that's the way they roll there.
We took the Havataş-bus from the airport. The bus stop was not that easy to find in the jungle of taxis and other buses, but soon we were on our way towards the city.
The bus stopped dropped us off at Taksim-square. The Nicoleport hotel is only 15 minutes walk from there. A march of (peaceful) protesters crossed our way at Taksim. Since we don't speak Turkish we did not understand what their message was.
After an hour of nap, we started our tour around the city. We discovered the hotel's broad neighbourhood: the main shopping/promenade district, İstiklal Street, Galata Tower, etc. We mainly followed the recommendation of the two Istanbul travel books we have: Le guide du routard and the Lonely Planet.
It is interesting that the city shops of a certain kind are found in clusters. We passed through a quarter of Antiquarians, but we also saw many shops for power tools, carpets, etc. very close to each other.
For the honor of our Dutch friends we visited the Dutch embassy and we also found the Italian one.
It is impossible to miss the numerous cats all around the city. As the travel book puts it, they are no one's and fed by everyone. Indeed, we noticed many cat feeding/drinking stations, possibly made by shop owners, out of some plywood and PET bottles. Cats, of course, know very well that the best treats can be found near restaurants with lots of tourists.
In the evening we noticed the heavy presence of the police's riot squad: shields, masks, everything. We did not experience anything from the events in the park near the Taksim square (we did not even go to that park there at all). In fact, we only understood what was happening after we left Istanbul.
First impression of the city: chaotic but charming.
Day 2: Sultanahmet
We spend the day visiting places in the must-see category:
They are all incredibly beautiful. The big disappointment of the day, however, is the Hippodrome. If you've ever been to the Circus Maximus in Rome, you know what I'm talking about. Catchy name, but nothing to see.
The Mosaic Museum may not be as known than the others above (less tourists!), but it has a breathtaking collection of mosaics from the Byzantine period.
After the museums we walked a bit on the seashore where there's a wagon at every 100m or so selling green apples and salty gurkins as refreshment. We had dinner in Paşazade and returned to the hotel.
When we woke up in the morning, we found a nice market straight in front of the hotel. Below you can see what's left from it by the end of the day. The cleaning staff worked hard overnight and the next morning the street was clean again.
Day 3: More Sultanahmet
After buying breakfast at one of the stands in Eminönü, we continue exploring the old Istanbul:
Clearly others had similar plans too:
The lesson of the day is that the Grand Bazaar is really big. Moreover, if I say
,,Gimme that map, I'll show you the way out!''
I lie. Its shops are not worth mentioning, but its sheer size and architecture makes it really unique in the world.
Day 4: Fatih
We started the day in the Chora Church then walked through the quarter Fatih to reach the Istanbul Archeological Museums. Probably the best way to get closer to the city is to go one or two streets farther from the touristic places. The environment changes drastically: smaller (and poorer) streets, more people in traditional outfit doing their everyday stuff.
Navigation is challenging not only in the Grand Bazaar but also in the small streets around it. We spent quite a bit of time wandering around to find the Book Market. We did succeed but when we got there the were closing already. Bummer.
Day 5: Ortaköy
Day 6: Leaving Istanbul
We took the Havataş again to the airport and had a very expensive lunch at the airport. Then at 14:00 off we go to Izmir, where the holiday continues.