Jason and Carla Go to Istanbul

Jason and Carla Go to Istanbul

Istanbul is a magical city filled with fairy tale streets around every corner. The biggest city of Turkey (Turkiye), it straddles Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait and has been called “The City of Wonders” for a good reason. We love it! The breathtaking views by the waterside are even better than you can imagine or see in pictures.

Istanbul has witnessed the rise and fall of many empires so it is full of the blending of lively cultures and religions – giving it a wonderful, rich history. There is so much to see, experience…and eat! The Turkish foods and experiences of savoring Turkish tea or the strong Turkish coffee just make each day a joy. Also, walking around or taking the ferries became our favorite activities. Everywhere you turn is a picture with your eyes!


We were in Istanbul for a week and would recommend this city to all who love to travel and haven’t been there yet. It was quite safe, and the famous Turkish hospitality is still alive. We stayed in the laid-back hipster zone of Kadikoy, a fun district (one of 39 districts in a vast city of over 15 million people). Umbrellas of all colors hung overhead in this little neighborhood and it was filled with cafes and cute shops.

We had been to Istanbul before on a previous trip. That time, our lodging was in the busier area of Taksim, which has lots of restaurants and nightlife and goes much later into the night – or even all night. However, Kadikoy is an area with less tourists and the type of foreigner you see here is more of an expat.

Istanbul is a city of incredible beauty and activity. You can marvel and admire the architecture, the beautiful waters, bridges and skyline. It is easy to take lots of pictures…and we did! Also we enjoyed taking pictures of the cats that are allowed to live all over the city and are well-cared for, (yes, the locals feed and take care of the street cats). You know how some cities have cat cafes? Istanbul doesn’t have those. Every place is already a cat cafe. This is a real “cat city”, and the locals like it this way.

Istanbul as a destination has a lot going for it. People are generally very friendly. We felt safe. Public transportation is available all over the place. Prices are in lira, and the food is affordable. A good bet for reasonably-priced food are the plentiful cafeteria-style restaurants throughout Istanbul – where you can choose your food dishes simply by pointing to it. We were also excited with the shopping in our walks. We found kind and caring people that didn’t just want our money. One shopkeeper near the bull statue in Kadikoy went out of her way to help Carla with a selection of cosmetics and even arranged a discount. On another walk, we went into a family wellness store, and the staff helped Jason pick out all kinds of wellness and health supplies, including body “scrubs”, and men’s energy herbal potions.

We went way out of our way finding hamams, which are Turkish massages, scrubs and saunas. At Turkish hamams, the men go to one side and the ladies are on another side, for modesty reasons. Some hotels even offer hamams. We went to a few hotel spas that feature the hamam experience. We can recommend a top quality one at the Holiday Inn”s E-Spa in Kadikoy. The spa management kindly allowed Carla to film Jason getting his luxury body scrub and massage, complete with a gallon of milk poured over his body by two ladies. Jason has posted some of these great hamam visits on his Jason Rupp YouTube channel. We not only went out of our way to experience hamams, but also for Jason to find and experience authentic Turkish barbers to make videos for his Jason Rupp YouTube channel.

We reminisced about our previous Istanbul trip where we set up barbershop appointments for each of us with Anil Cakmak (who is great at head massages), and with Pink Barber (called that because he likes the color pink and uses the color everywhere in his barbershop). We love these memories and special times. Jason has popular YouTube videos with each of them on his channel. We are grateful for these experiences. And thanks to Pink Barber for taking us on a day tour by public transport to the tourist center of the famed Sultanahmet Mosque area. Our favorite there is the iconic Hagia Sophia Mosque, from the Byzantine era. It features a soaring 6th-century dome and rare relics.

Each time we went to Istanbul, we walked the full length of famous Istiklal Avenue Istaklal happens to be in the touristy and fun Beyoglu district, a street where you can find just about anything. One end you can get pictures at the historic Galata Tower and of the colorful tram going the length. On the other end is Taksim Square. One of our goals this time was to find several restaurants we had liked the previous time. When you like something, it’s always nice to go back. The first place was for desserts that Jason especially loves called katmer and kunefe with pistachios sprinkled on top. We returned to eat these two desserts at Baran Lahmacun, the restaurant on a winding street off Istiklal. Falfool restaurant is where we ate a few times by our apartment, and we became addicts of their falafels and hummus. The owner was from Palestine and told us that the best falafels are from there, since that is where he said they originate. There was always a wait, which we were fine with. Their freshly diced veggies and falafel balls, so carefully made. We would order so much that we couldn’t finish it all. The owner even let us take the bowls home, and said if you bring it back or not – no problem. We did bring our bowls back!

Then we walked to find our friend who owns the Taxim Park Durum restaurant. It made us so happy to be reunited with Emi and his staff. We took pictures together with him, as he served us the yellow lentil soup we remembered and loved, with lots of raw veggies to add on top. We warmly hugged our gracious friend and said bye until next time.Turkish hospitality is real. Sometimes this meant that we had to insist on paying many times. It was hard to know when to stop insisting and just accept some of the gracious Turkish hospitality. But you can repay the kindness with some gifts from your own country when you travel Turkey. It is your call. It was getting into the evening and we didn’t know if the owner of another favorite Taksim restaurant, HK Kebab Home (run by chef Halil) was still around. The other time we went to Istanbul, we visited his restaurant many times. He made juices of all kinds at his primarily pasta restaurant. Luckily, he was there when we found his place and was so happy to see us. We smiled and hugged him. He had now changed his menu to feature kebabs and totally stopped making pasta and juices. But he went down the street where his friend makes fresh juice on the sidewalk and generously brought us freshly squeezed orange juice. He served us a big delicious salad. Chatting with this dear Turkish friend was done via the Turkish and English translation app on our phones. As it was getting late, we decided to take a taxi back to Kadikoy and said farewell to him.

The next day we packed and cleaned our tiny apartment and, with suitcases in hand, made our way down to the waterfront. Jason did some last minute shopping on the way. We also stopped at an outside table of a restaurant to have more rice pudding, baklava and Turkish coffee. When we reached the port, Jason found the Hava airport bus and bought our tickets, which was easy. Carla sat at a bench, admiring the scenery on the water, and the passenger ferries, while watching our luggage. Before boarding the express airport bus, Jason spotted a shoe shine man with a winning smile. So, he opened his suitcase, took out his fancy shoes and got a shoeshine. He was proud to post this shoeshine video later on his YouTube channel showing the scene.

We enjoyed every moment of our trip. Istanbul is one of the most beautiful cities we’ve visited. It’s got food we like, extraordinary scenery, exciting vibes, a great culture – including hamams and the best barbers. We have found kind locals for friends. Some things were relatively cheap and others not, but it was a deal when it comes to memories. We flew back to Bangkok via Thai Airways direct flight. Go to Istanbul. We enjoyed our week-long trip in Istanbul. The only problem was that it went by so fast. Jason Rupp and Carla Marie Rupp are freelance travel journalists. They love discovering and experiencing new places and returning to find people they have met on their trips. They run a YouTube channel called Jason Rupp – Travel & Pamper.

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