One of the best things about travel is when you can get off the beaten track and experience things that are unique and get to know the locals of the city– and that’s what the next two posts I’ll be sharing about Istanbul will focus on. My friend and I are very compatible travelers in the sense that we both enjoy this type of travel, just wandering and exploring. Our first day in Istanbul my friend and I were off on an adventure to check out the Asian side of Istanbul. Since we stayed in the main tourist area we walked around 20 minutes to get to the ferry terminal, confused ourselves and some very nice Turkish people trying to find the proper ferry to Kadiköy, not to be confused with Karikoy, which, for the record, sound the same when you say them in your American accent to Turkish people. On our way to the waterfront we stopped and got fresh fruit juice–something that is all over Istanbul and that I wish we had more of here in Florence.

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All of the public transport in Istanbul (or at least all that we took) operates on a token system; careful that you don’t put a twenty in the machine because it will give you change all. back. in. coins. The ferry arrived and boarded quickly and we were off. Below you can see the ferry terminal from the water and the view behind.

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So I know it’s a little confusing to envision the city, so check out this map. We stayed in Sultenhamet, which is a part of the bottom left section of land and close to the Topkapi palace, Blue Mosque and Haggia Sophia. Kadiköy is the land mass on the right, labelled. And the top section we’ll touch on next week, so keep this map in mind.

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The ferry ride to the Asian side is only about half an hour, and it was really pleasant. Since it was a Sunday morning most of the ferry was unoccupied and we got to enjoy the view in peace. Below, you can see the view of another area of Istanbul, including the Galata Tower. Refer back to the map above; the top section actually marks the Galata Tower so you can get an idea of the geography.

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We walked from the ferry stop at Kadiköy, intent on our destination. Along the way, we encountered some interesting things, such as these super creepy crows (below) and were lucky enough to meet some people that could direct us to the Starbucks, which was close to the apartment we were searching for.

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The reason that we were on the Asian side on this particular day was to hit the Istanbul Breakfast Club, something I stumbled across while doing research on all things Istanbul. Olga, who hosts the Istanbul Breakfast Club, runs a blog called Delicious Istanbul, full of helpful articles about where to shop (and where to avoid) in the major and minor markets and I read through some of her articles and noticed a box at the top of the page advertising the breakfast, so I checked it out. Olga is Russian but prepares a huge Turkish feast, only one a month, the last Sunday of the month, and it just so happened that my friend and I would be in town for the event. We finally found her apartment (luckily it was basically across the street from Starbucks) and were actually the first to arrive.

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Olga was very welcoming and chatted with us while she finished cutting cheese and arranging things from the brunch and answering the door. Around 15 people were attending the breakfast club and we got to chat with quite a few of them before the breakfast started and then throughout the meal as people sat, rearranged and departed, shifting conversational partners. The brunch was incredible, and all the food that Olga had made was so delicious. On the left is homemade strawberry jam and several sauces (a peanut sauce and some others) and in the back are savory biscuits that she made and in the front a type of cookie type thing and sesame seed candy.

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She made flatbreads at one point and there was a ton of fresh cheese including one similar to a ricotta in the bowl, vegetables, and this amazing pepper dip that we had tasted the night before at dinner and were thrilled to indulge in again.

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We filled our plates and Olga served everyone traditional black tea and we chatted with everyone while we ate. The brunch was mostly travelers so everyone had really interesting stories to share and swapped tips on what to do in Istanbul. We sat with someone who was originally from Istanbul and he gave us some great recommendations for the city. I’d highly, highly recommend the Istanbul Breakfast Club if you’re in town on the right day. If not, Olga also does foodie type tours, so be sure to check out her website!

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When breakfast wound down we ended up walking into town with a couple other people from the brunch. One was the local I mentioned before, who now splits time between Istanbul and San Francisco and the other two were a couple who had been living in another area of Turkey. We wandered back towards the ferry area together, grabbed coffee and stopped by a store in town that I had asked about to buy something for my brother. They headed back to take the ferry afterwards but we weren’t finished exploring the Asian side so we stayed over, wandered around the small streets behind the ferry station and opted to have dinner somewhere they had recommended to us earlier, one of their favorite spots in Istanbul. They have a self-serve appetizer dip bar, but I wasn’t too impressed with the main course we had, so I’m not sharing it with you here.

The Asian side of Istanbul doesn’t hold a ton of tourist sites, and I’m sure that most tourists gloss over it. For me, though, it felt every bit as much a part of the city as the other areas, and it was great to be out and about among mostly locals enjoying a calm Sunday. I imagine it’s probably a quieter area during the week, but I highly recommend getting out from the main tourist zones of Istanbul and checking it out if you have time. If you are able to, be sure to give Olga my best!

We took the ferry back across the Bosphorus (for the record, the cheapest ‘river tour’ you could possibly get) at sunset, the end to a perfect Sunday.

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