On our first visit to Istanbul in 1997 we stayed at the Alaaddin Guest House in Sultanahmet. This neighbourhood gets its name from the Blue Mosque (The Sultan Ahmed Camii) that is just around the corner. We long ago decided to always stay in the old city centres where we would be the close to the touristic attractions. We enjoy walking around in the evenings and experiencing the places where locals and tourists converge. And after dinner it is convenient to be near the place where you stay. After all, sightseeing and dining out can be exhausting activities!
We seldom stay in luxurious international hotels. Over the years we have learnt to trust the Lonely Planet guides. Later came the internet and we started to use Tripadvisor (http://www.tripadvisor.com/) with good results. We had memorable stays in less expensive pensions and guest houses. It is important to do your research and to read what other travellers say about their experience at a small hotel, guesthouse or pension. We only had a few disappointments over the years. We usually find them good value for money, small, clean and well managed. The owners are usually knowledgeable and helpful. Be sensitive to the price they charge. If it is too good to be true, it is.
We arrived on a Sunday morning. The Alaaddin was situated in a quiet street, Akbiyik Caddesi, among a number of other pensions, small hotels, backpacker hostels and little shops. It was everything that we wanted. Looking out from our bedroom window, one had a view of the Magnaura Restaurant across the road. A little girl was waving from a window across the street, calling hallo. We still remember finding a Land Rover called Boomslang, all the way from South Africa, parked in front of a backpacker hostel the next morning! We enjoyed our sightseeing during the day and our evening meals at a small restaurant just behind the Blue Mosque. There was a cat with her kittens that were fed every night by the restaurant staff.
That Wednesday morning we woke up to new sounds from the street below. It was the Wednesday street market! And what a feast for the eyes! Mounds of feta cheese, different kinds of olives, fresh vegetables and fruit were displayed under a makeshift canvas canopy. Moustached Turks and women with headscarves were buying, selling, talking, shouting and drinking tea (and smoking!) all day long. The Wednesday market was an unexpected bonus.
When we were planning our second visit to Istanbul in 2010, we wanted to stay in the same area because it is so near to all the things we as tourists wanted to see. The Alaaddin was there no more. We decided to stay at the Hanedan Hotel (it is more of a pension than a hotel) just around the corner. But what a surprise we had when we saw how the quiet street and the whole neighbourhood changed in 13 years! It was now a very smart, pedestrian street with a number of (expensive) restaurants, smart hotels, pensions and shops catering for tourists. A few of the buildings were still recognisable, but most of them have received a facelift.
We enjoyed looking for a different restaurant every night. We would read the menus, talk to the staff if they came to us as we were studying the menu and in the end decide on one. It was a totally different experience than before, but nothing stays the same. We were impressed by some of the fare we sampled. One night we had Meze (see the picture below) that was beautifully presented! What a privilege to observe and to taste and to experience the unfamiliar. We love Turkey and hope to return one day. It is something completely different to other countries we have visited. Here in Istanbul West meets East at the Bosphorus. Apart from all the buildings of great historical interest, the sheer energy of the city and the hardworking Turks, overwhelms you.