One of my favorite things to do when exploring somewhere new is to see it through the eyes of a local. Sometimes a great way to do that is through literature, and I was lucky enough to have a Turkish author from Istanbul recommended to me in advance of traveling to Istanbul. The book is called The Museum of Innocence and it’s really a great read, I would highly recommend it to anyone thinking of traveling to the city. Orhan Pamuk is from Istanbul and that clearly shows in his writing as he intimately describes the neighborhoods his characters traverse. I felt like I really got to know the city even before arriving, and I wasn’t disappointed when we got there. Pamuk conceived the idea for the book and a corresponding museum at the same time. The book was published in 2008, and the museum opened in Istanbul in 2012, a testament to Pamuk’s importance and high level of respect in the Turkish community. He has won the Nobel Prize in Literature and is a truly talented writer. The book isn’t for the faint of heart–it’s long and very introspective with a slow plot, but it is beautifully written. We were able to stop by the museum and explore the neighborhoods surrounding it during one of our days in Istanbul. Below you can see the front of the museum, which contains mementos that have significance in the book. If you’d like more details than that, feel free to ask, but I don’t want to spoil it for everyone!
We wandered around that area of town for most of the rest of the day, just walking and exploring, getting off the beaten track and for the most part seeing very few tourists. We wandered the backstreets, winding up (and up and up) hills and just exploring. We saw this really cool graffiti on one of our notable uphill climbs.
All this uphill walking was for a purpose– we were heading to the Pera Palace hotel, where famous people the likes of Agatha Christie and Atatürk have stayed. One of my DAR ladies had recommended we stop here and ask to check out the rooms, so we did. Christie’s room, is, unfortunately for a big fan such as myself, still rented out, so I couldn’t check it out, but I do definitely plan to try to sleep there someday! Atatürk’s suite was converted into a museum room and a manager in training took us around it and shared some stories with us, so that was really interesting. He had left many things in the room at the time of his death, and those objects are what are now displayed there (two rugs that were gifted to him, pajamas, documents, etc). From there we walked around the area for a bit, checking out the cable car and shops… this was a very bustling and busy area.
We wandered down to Galata Tower from there– it was nice to be walking downhill for a change!
The line was ages long so we didn’t end up climbing the tower but we walked around it before deciding to continue downhill and meander our way back towards Sultenhamet by walking across the bridge over the Bosphorus.
The bridge has great views and local Turks still fish off the bridge as well. You can see them fishing below with Galata Tower in the background.
The bridge has great views looking towards both sides of the river.
It’s a great reminder of how important the river was and is to Istanbul, both for trade and transportation.
In this instance, a great day was created thanks to the recommendation of a friend and being willing to get out and explore a different area of the city, but when traveling it’s just as important to be flexible and to go with the flow when things come up. Getting off the beaten track in a destination can be challenging at times, but sometimes it’s a simple as appreciating events when you stumble across them. After one long day in Istanbul we stumbled across a military band playing and took advantage of the opportunity to indulge in watermelon from a street vendor and a bit of music.
Istanbul is a beautiful city and exploring all of the hidden corners of it would take years. Finding all of the tiny things that make a place stand out to you is one of the greatest things about exploring new (and even old) places. For us, it was the reminder that Ramadan was coming, as we walked back through Sultenhamet at the end of our stay.
For me, living in a Catholic country at the moment, the reminders of daily Muslim life couldn’t have been more different than my normal life, but it was a really amazing way to become a part of the culture of the country.